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Jennifer K Mahal

THEATER REVIEW --

March 29, 2002

Think of every horse trick you've ever seen performed. Reach back in

your mind for the saddle reverse seen in that obscure Western, the woman

standing on the pony in "Jumbo," horses jumping over obstacles during the

Summer Olympics.

Add elements of theater -- lighting design, opulent costumes, live

music, dramatic makeup. Now imagine all of it in one show. Go beyond that

and you have "Cheval: Imagination at Full Gallop."

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Put together by Gilles Ste-Croix, former director of creation for

Cirque du Soleil, the show brings together 30 horses and 30 humans under

a hand-painted big top in the parking lot of the Orange County

Fairgrounds. It's a show dipped in magic, and sprinkled with sequins.

Whether you know the difference between a canter and a gallop or not,

there is something for you in "Cheval," which is French for horse. The

horses, of a variety of breeds from Andalusian to mixed quarter, are

beautiful and well trained. But it is the humans who steal the show --

and perform the most astounding stunts.

Acrobats vault off the sides of trotting horses, heedless of the

hooves. There are flips and double flips, both on, off and between the

equines. Performers balance themselves on the backs on moving animals and

then balance more people on their shoulders. One of the acts resembles a

1950s water-skiing show, with horses in place of skis.

There is no story line to "Cheval," but there are characters and

situations -- a lovesick clown, a team of fierce Cossacks, a royal pair

doing an equine minuet, a band of gypsies.

Christian Ferland and Voki Kalfayan amuse as the two clowns who follow

the action of each act and sometimes become a part of it. Whether riding

a hobby horse through the ring, pretending to do tricks or just chasing

one another around, the duo gets the audience laughing time and time

again. Ferland's performance in the last half with a real horse who

refuses to follow his direction is absolutely charming.

With her regal bearing and sharply cracking whip, Caroline Williams

commands the attention of the audience and of six Andalusians. The horses

glide one way, then the other, following directions by Williams, who

croons to them in a combination of French and English. It is an

impressive display of training.

The acrobatics of the Zamperla Zoppe brothers -- Matt and Olissio --

thrill and chill. Their performance, which includes Matt climbing on

Olissio's shoulders as he stands on a moving horse and then doing a flip

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