You’ve seen the giant white tents in St. Louis Park — drive on Interstate 394 and they’re impossible to miss. The ads have been everywhere — on TV with soothing music and a white stallion — and I’m sure you’ve seen Larry King’s praise plastered over Billboards.

But what exactly is Cavalia?

While it’s been coined as “Cirque du Soleil with horses,” after a sneak peek Tuesday afternoon I can tell you, it’s so much more.

Normand Latourelle is the founder and artistic director of this highly unique show. After spending many, many years as the co-creator of the smash hit Cirque du Soleil brand, Latourelle said he wanted to try something new.

“I wanted to move to something different, so I brought horses to the stage,” he said. “I have integrated the performing arts with the equestrian arts, which is totally unusual. I wasn’t a horse person when I had the idea, but I decided to explore the world and I found out they were a very friendly animal and very playful.”

Latourelle said once he got into the logistics of the show, he realized there was something truly incredible in the concept.

“It was a huge playground that allowed the horse and the rider and the performers, the acrobats, to enjoy themselves on stage,” he said.

(credit: CBS)

The show combines the horses and acrobats, with special effects, dance and multi-media. Put it all to a live band and you’ve got quite the spectacle.

Working with horses certainly isn’t something that can happen over night — Latourelle said it takes years to train the horses, and most importantly, for the horses to become accustomed to their riders.

“When we bring in an artist and a horse onto the stage, they have to be linked together,” he said. “So we take a lot of time for the horse to understand who the rider or the artist, the acrobat, is. They have to get to know each other.”

Part of that process is for the horse to be able to recognize its counterpart on stage. Unlike Cirque du Soleil, the performers in Cavalia wear very natural, minimal make-up so they continue that familiarity.

“It’s the same people that are on stage that are the ones who take care of them backstage,” Latourelle said. “So every artist is dedicated to one or two or three horses. They groom them, they brush them and they give them their shower and they braid them after the show. So we create that relationship.”

Latourelle said one thing he learned about these magnificent animals is that they are similar to dogs — they understand who is taking care of them and become friends with that caretaker.

“If it’s a friend, then they are much happier on stage to play with them,” he said.

The show consists of several pieces of entertainment, ensuring there’s something for everyone. Included in Tuesday’s preview was a skillful set of Lasso maneuvers, fast and furious Roman riding and some seriously incredible trick riding that infused bungee performers, acrobats and the oh-so-limber Russian Bar (like a movable bamboo-like balance beam).

(credit: CBS)

The show is dazzling and the horses couldn’t possibly look more beautiful. After all, they are the stars of the show. And that’s a spotlight that’s well deserved. Latourelle said finding the right horses to put in Cavalia is a very long process.

“Before we even buy one, we see 40. We have 10 different breeds and we try to have every breed have a specific purpose,” he said.

Not to mention, the process to train the horses can take six months or six years, Latourelle said — it all depends on the horse.

“We don’t push the horses, we just go to their temper. We don’t use a whip, or hit the horse to say, ‘Go, go, go.’ We just say take your time, we’ll take our time, you have to be happy,” he said. “We have to find a balance between the riders and the trainers and the horses.”

The show opens Wednesday and Latourelle said they’re extremely excited to show the Twin Cities what Cavalia is all about.

“It’s a one-of-a-kind show, a feel good show,” he said. “The public enters into the show like you enter into a dream. After two hours of the show, I wish for everybody to dream for months and months afterwards.”

Fun Facts:
— Cavalia is actually located on two cities: St. Louis Park and Golden Valley.
— The show has visited 41 cities in North America.
— 200 people are hired locally in each city visited.
— 100 trucks are required to move the show’s material.
— The White Big Top is 110 feet high (the equivalent of a 10-story building).
— Cavalia has 43 horses consisting of 10 different breeds.
— 32 artists, acrobats, dancers and riders make up the show.
— The horses consume 17,500 bales of hay a year.

Gallery: A Sneak Peek Of Cavalia

Cavalia opens Wednesday at the White Big Top near The Shops at West End. Tickets are $64.50 to $99.50, plus applicable fees. Special pricing and packages are also available. For more information, showtimes and to buy tickets, check out the website.

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