Cavalia the mane event

'''REVIEW: Cavalia
Belmont Park Racecourse


In this year of spectacles, the biggest, if not unequivocally the best, has been saved to last. Cavalia, the Canadian equestrian show, is ensconced under its massive complex of white big tops at Belmont and selling through December (although the removalists haven't been booked until late January).

I don't share the palpable electric thrill that horses give those who love them. For me, Cavalia didn't have a moment quite as audacious as the mesmerising Sanddorn Balance act in Empire at Crown in July, or as overwhelming as the snowstorm finale of Slava's Snowshow at the Regal in August.

But for technical excellence, audience experience and pageantry, there's been nothing to top it in town this year.

Let's dispense quickly with the commonplace and irritating. The acrobats, trampolinists and aerialists in the show are as energetic as we've come to expect from the cirques but do nothing out of the, admittedly pretty impressive, ordinary.

There is a bit of that faux mythologising I've come to dread from these shows, girls in harem pants pointing significantly into the distance and so on but nothing as laborious and infuriating as we've had from Cirque du Soleil.

When it comes down to the main events, the horses and the performers who ride them, the excitement level rises dramatically.

The stage - the show is performed in a theatre, not a circus ring - is enormous, an oval on two levels with a straight runway 50m long across the front, so the horses have room to move and pick up speed.

The sense of speed is accelerated by the enclosed space, so when trick riders hurtle across from ring to ring, the pace seems, literally, breakneck, the risks enormous.

There's room also, for a horse to separate from the pack and stretch out to rejoin his mates, as one did in Grand Liberte, a lovely, free-flowing performance by Keith Dupont and six bay horses.

Dupont's charges may not be as finely tuned as head trainer Gregory Molina's half-dozen greys with their stern, robed riders, like a platoon of elves getting in a bit of dressage training before riding off to hunt orc but their beauty and grace was just as stirring.

So was the Roman riding, two horses with a single rider balanced between them, and the acrobatic bareback riding with great, old horses, the Percherons Merlin and Emilio, the Comtois Renato, solid as a rock beneath their tumblers and twisters.

The staging of the show is exemplary and often inspired - the ghostly form of horses reflected on sheets of falling water a "wow" moment - and the five-piece band led by Sylvain Gagnon is perfect, despite having to improvise around the action of the horses.

The quality of audience experience sets a new standard for Perth. From the efficient parking arrangements to the hospitality options available (you can pay anything from $64 to $294 for different packages), the air-conditioned tents to the guided stable tour after the show, it all made for a special night out.

I'll never get on a horse but in a Perth summer once again devoid of the entertainment people would enjoy at this time of year, Cavalia is a ride I'm sure many of you will want to take.