Monday, July 2, 2012

From big top to table

The Scugog Standard (Ontario, Canada)


By Tracey Coveart/The Scugog Standard
Thanks to an incredibly generous gift from my brother and his family, Stephie, Rob and I got to see Cavalia’s Odysseo unfold under the white big top in Toronto’s Port Lands last Friday night.
_It was magnificent.
_Of course, that’s the way I feel about horses in general. There is nothing more graceful, more elegant, more gorgeous than a horse in motion. That these gentle, companionable creatures allow us the opportunity to move in concert with their effortless rhythm - will tolerate a saddle on their back, stirrups at their side and a bit in their mouth - is testimony to their limitless generosity and enduring affection.
_Normand Latourelle understands this. The Montreal artist and Cirque du Soleil pioneer was inspired to create his equine spectacle by the horses he saw from the windows of his home.
Everything about this show, Latourelle’s second, is big: from the tent (the world’s largest traveling big top); to the set (a 27,000 square foot stage complete with a small mountain and an 80,000 gallon lake); to video viewing surfaces twice the size of IMAX screens.
_There are 61 horses in Odysseo - 22 stallions and 39 geldings - ranging in age from three to 12. It takes anywhere from six months to 10 years for horses to learn their part in the production. At one point there are 30 on stage, wandering freely, following the script. Occasionally, one or two will break from the choreography, but Latourelle gives the actors “the latitude to express themselves.” Most can be persuaded to rejoin the program, but they are never forced, just quietly coaxed. Such are the challenges of live theatre.
_That these equine actors are so willing to perform with and for us is amazing in itself.
_Horses were once wild creatures. Earliest evidence of their domestication by humans dates back to 4000 BCE. Since those earliest days, Equus ferus caballus have been used for transportation, agriculture, sport, hunting, policing and warfare. They are the muscle of mankind, serving for more than 5,000 years as our greatest servant and one of our closest companions.
_The bond between horse and human cannot be described by science. It cannot even be precisely articulated in words. As Sir Winston Churchill once said, “There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.”
_What we can say without question is that the relationship between humans and their equine partners - whether they are used for policing, herding, racing, sport or pleasure - is an intensely emotional one based on trust, need and, at least on the part of the horses, unwavering commitment and sacrifice.
_Consider this: 81,000 Canadian horses were sent into battle in the First World War. Sixty returned home. The average lifespan of a horse on the frontlines was just 40 days. On the Western Front, more than 256,000 horses and mules perished. They went into battle without question. Served without hesitation.
_Look into the eyes of a horse and you will see its soul. Stroke a horse’s muzzle and you will feel its kindness. Ride a horse’s back and you will share its spirit. Spend time in the presence of a horse and you will know peace. Press a horse into service and you will know dedication. Earn a horse’s trust and you will have a companion for life.
_Surely the qualities we have been exploiting for thousands of years should give the horse elevated status in the human emotional hierarchy? It appears to the case, but in a society wired to maximize profit at all costs, the wallet triumphs over the heart.
_In just 17 weeks in 2011, 28,401 horses were cruelly slaughtered for human consumption in Canada - an average of 1,671 horses a week. This despite the fact that a February 2012 poll by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals showed 80 per cent of Americans are opposed to horse slaughter.
_Sadly, prevailing public sentiment is not enough to keep our trusted allies, our selfless partners, off the table. In corporate North America, it is okay to torture, slaughter and eat our friends, as long as their butchered, packaged flesh turns a buck.

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