There have been many clones of the unbelievably successful Cirque du Soleil in all its magnificent incarnations over the past 21 years, but each has been a pale shadow, and most direct imitations of the original concept. The continuous marvels those innovative people from Montreal keep reimagining with their work have always proved a hard act to follow—that is until 2003 when original Cirque cofounder Normand Latourelle took the abstraction he helped create one step further.

With Cavalia: A Magical Encounter Between Horse and Man, now playing at the Verizon Amphitheatre (the former Irvine Meadows), Latourelle and director Érick Villeneuve have added 33 gorgeous and multi-talented four-legged performers into the ring to mix with the acrobatics skills of their human counterparts, then combined them all with surreal images by set designer Marc Labelle, Mireille Vachon’s Mystere-meets-Arabian Nights costuming, and the ethereal beauty of Michel Cusson’s haunting original musical score.

During my recent annual anti-holiday stay in Las Vegas, I caught the final performance of Cavalia at the Rio Hotel where, actually, Christmas was celebrated in a spectacularly non-festive hourly extravaganza with traditional “Winter Wonderland”-y carols delivered over loudspeakers by scantily-clad showgirls and those buffed-up Chippendale boys gyrating seductively and throwing carnival beads into the crowds from enormous Mardi Gras floats suspended—and traveling—over the casino’s grand concourse. Ah, Vegas.

It was just a day before the Cavalia troupe packed up shop from its long and successful Vegas run and headed our way for a too-brief Southland appearance through January 21. With its massive high-tech 2,000-seat, 110-ft. high, 160-ft.-long big top now plopped down right here in Irvine, Cavalia is guaranteed to instantly transport its mesmerized audience into a brand new world, as riders do amazing things on the backs of galloping horses and a new kind of multi-species ballet is created before everyone’s wondering eyes.

Without a doubt, the stars of this show are the true magnificent equine performers who so magically energize this unique production. At first, as two unfettered horses are quietly released into the sandcovered playing area, it’s almost an eerie feeling, the pair roaming the stage at will, looking ever-ready to leap the short wall that separates them from their audience. But after 90 minutes spent watching the animals prance and dance and work splendidly with the gymnastically-gifted human comrades they so obviously adore, looking even more pleased than their partners when they are applauded, all thoughts of a differentiation between horse and man vanishes.

It’s a wonder to observe the seemingly unlimited ability of both man and beast to conquer gravity and work together to make real magic happen right before our eyes. Above all, that unique relationship is the true inspiration here; it’s clear how much these people and these animals love and respect one another. If only men could get along as well with each other, maybe we would have a less bewildering and dangerous world in which to live.

The Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre is located at 8808 Irvine Center Dr, Irvine; for tickets, call (866) 999-8111.


TRAVIS MICHAEL HOLDER teaches acting and theatre/film history at the New York Film Academy’s west coast campus at Universal Studios. He has been writing about LA theatre since 1987, including 12 years for BackStage, a 23-year tenure as Theatre Editor for Entertainment Today, and currently for ArtsInLA.com. As an actor, he received the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Best Actor Award as Kenneth Halliwell in the west coast premiere of Nasty Little Secrets at Theatre/Theater and he has also been honored with a Drama-Logue Award as Lennie in Of Mice and Men at the Egyptian Arena, four Maddy Awards, a ReviewPlays.com Award, both NAACP and GLAAD Award nominations, and six acting nominations from LA Weekly. Regionally, he won the Inland Theatre League Award as Ken Talley in Fifth of July; three awards for his direction and performance as Dr. Dysart in Equus; was up for Washington, DC’s Helen Hayes honors as Oscar Wilde in the world premiere of Oscar & Speranza; toured as Amos “Mr. Cellophane” Hart in Chicago; and he has traveled three times to New Orleans for the annual Tennessee Williams Literary Festival, opening the fest in 2003 as Williams himself in Lament for the Moths and since returning to appear in An Ode to Tennessee and opposite Karen Kondazian as A Witch and a Bitch. Never one to suffer from typecasting, Travis’ most recent LA performance, as Rodney in The Katrina Comedy Fest, netted the cast a Best Ensemble Sage Award from ArtsInLA. He has also been seen as Wynchell in the world premiere of Moby Pomerance’s The Good Book of Pedantry and Wonder and Frank in Charles Mee’s Summertime at The Boston Court Performing Arts Center, Giuseppe “The Florist” Givola in Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui for Classical Theatre Lab, Ftatateeta in Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra at the Lillian, Cheswick in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest at the Rubicon in Ventura, Pete Dye in the world premiere of Stranger at the Bootleg (LA Weekly Award nomination), Shelly Levene in Glengarry Glen Ross at the Egyptian Arena, the Witch of Capri in Williams’ The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore at the Fountain, and Dr. Van Helsing in The House of Besarab at the Hollywood American Legion Theatre. As a writer, he has also been a frequent contributor to several national magazines and five of his plays have been produced in LA. His first, Surprise Surprise, for which he wrote the screenplay with director Jerry Turner, became a feature film with Travis playing opposite John Brotherton, Luke Eberl, Deborah Shelton and Mary Jo Catlett. His first novel, Waiting for Walk, was completed in 2005, put in a desk drawer, and the ever-slothful, ever-deluded, ever-entitled Travis can’t figure out why no one has magically found it yet and published the goddam thing. www.travismichaelholder.com