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'Cavalia,' the Cirque du Soleil-type show with horses, prances into fairgrounds

In the style of Cirque du Soleil and its outrageously flexible and fearless acrobats comes the equestrian counterpart, Cavalia.

The show celebrates the horse through a theatrical mix of circus arts, music and special effects. Think of acrobats on horseback in a dreamy, modern Renaissance-style setting.

The show opens Friday at the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa and runs for 11 shows. Preparations began weeks ago, culminating with the raising of the all-white castle tent visible from Interstate 4.

Here's a primer on the show, beginning with the name itself, from Cavalia publicist Bradley Grill.

Cav, uh, what?

Pronounced cah-VAH-lee-ah, the word has no meaning in any language and was invented to describe the magical connection between man and horse. It's a play off words like cavalry, cavalier, caballo and caballero, the Spanish words for horse and gentlemen, respectively.

The show is not affiliated with Cirque du Soleil, but it was created by Normand Latourelle, co-founder of Cirque. Headquartered in Montreal, Cavalia began touring in 2003 and was recently in Miami, where it was so popular organizers added seven shows. The next stop hasn't been announced.

Four-legged artists

Cavalia has 12 breeds of horses from all over the world — Arabians, quarter horses and Appaloosas, to name a few. All are male with long, flowing manes and train at Cavalia's farm in Quebec. Last fall, promoters rescued a neglected and malnourished horse in Atlanta and gave him a small role in the show.

Depending on the horse and his part, training takes six months to 10 years but is ongoing. A team of 20 people, including several groomers, two veterinary technicians and a blacksmith, work with the horses daily. In between the Miami and Tampa shows, the horses rested at a farm in Ocala.

The horses, ranging from 6 months to 18 years old, eat 17,500 bales of hay and 1,750 pounds of carrots a year. During the shows, they perform for up to two minutes at a time, often without bridles or any kind of tether.

Two-legged artists

The troupe's human star, Sylvia Zerbini, performs with her Arabian horses, a breed known throughout history for their intelligence, endurance and spirit. Raised in a circus family — her mother was a trapeze artist, her father trained animals — Zerbini joined Cavalia about a year ago. She stars in two "liberty'' numbers in which the Arabians are free on stage with no saddle, bit or harness.

Setting the scene

Cavalia consists of eight tents, including the White Big Top, the stables tent and VIP tent with chandeliers and hardwood floors. It takes 100 trucks to move the tour and 150 people 12 days to erect the village and prepare the site.

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By the numbers: The big top

110: Tent's height in feet.

71,400: Square feet of canvas.

45,000: Tent's weight in pounds.

12.5: Depth in feet that stakes are plunged into the ground to support the tent.

By the numbers: The stage

160: Stage's width in feet (same as a pro football field).

2,500: Tons of sand and dirt for the stage.

210: Projection screen's width in feet.

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Magical moments

The two-hour multimedia show has about 65 horses and 35 acrobats, dancers, riders and musicians. Shows are broken into scenes highlighting equestrian history and techniques. The Miami Herald gives a peek:

• "A horse, naturally, enters to find a large puddle of water on the stage. The stallion gracefully walks through the puddle, feigns a drink. . . . Suddenly, the puddle is replaced by acrobats who erupt on the stage while horses lie down where the pool of water should be. Eventually, all the performers exit, leaving the stage bone-dry."

• "Eight white horses, each paired with a rider costumed in Old World flowing robes, seem to dance, their legs moving in a delicate, precise manner set to . . . Michel Cusson's metronomic Ravel-like melody of the show's title tune."

Note published after Weekend deadline: The run of Cavalia, the Cirque du Soleil-style horse show that opens Friday in Tampa, has been extended. Additional shows will be 8 p.m. March 24-26, 3 and 8 p.m. March 27 and 12:30 and 5:30 p.m. March 28.

If you go

Cavalia runs Friday through March 21 at the Florida State Fairgrounds, Interstate 4 at U.S. 301 N, Tampa. Shows are 8 p.m. nightly, except for Sunday (2 p.m.) and Monday (no shows). There is also a 3 p.m. show on Saturdays. Adult tickets are $44.50 to $99.50, plus service charges of $4.50 to $9.50. Discounts for seniors and children. Some seats have a partly obstructed view. VIP packages ($139-$190) include stable tours and/or a cocktail and dinner reception. Go to cavalia.net or call toll-free 1-866-999-8111.

'Cavalia,' the Cirque du Soleil-type show with horses, prances into fairgrounds 03/12/10 [Last modified: Sunday, March 14, 2010 12:56pm]

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