BRINGING HORSE SENSE TO POLITICS
by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Seeing the breathtaking "Cavalia," the Cirque-du-Soliel-type show with horses in Boston a few weeks ago, made me think somewhat wistfully about the confluence of art and politics.
"Cavalia" was created by Normand Latourelle, co-founder of Cirque du Soleil, and stars the famous French horse trainers Frederic Pingon and his wife. Magali Delgado. It is performed in a fairy-tale of a tent, with a 160-foot-wide stage in front of a cyclorama on which is projected everything from cave drawings to medieval stonework to deep forests. The stage is filled with 1,500 tons of sand and gives the show's 40-plus horses a natural footing. Half the horses are stallions, the rest geldings; there are no mares. A host of acrobats, aerialists, dancers, riders, musicians and singers perform with the horses.
The show unfolds as pure play - horses dancing together, horses jumping, horses ridden bareback, horses racing at full speed while acrobats do stunts on their backs, horses cantering while young women on wires dance with their riders. There's an unforgettable scene in which a woman races four horses together; she straddles the two back ones, a foot on each, and races the four around the stage, occasionally jumping them over obstacles.
The show's climax is Pingon's dance with his three white Lusitano stallions, their long white silken manes and tails flowing.
"Using only hand commands, body language and gentle words Pignon leads the three white liberty stallions, Templado, Fausto and Aétès in fanciful routines that look like play-and they are play," writes Kip Mistral in his book, "Behind the Scenes in Cavalia - the Horses of Dreams." "Horses and man chase each other in choreographed figures, the horses completely free of tack, Pignon occasionally holding a delicate strand of mane to subtly hint to a horse to stay close, or a slim wand to indicate direction or movement.
"Pignon and Delgado bring an approach to horses marked by kindness and respect, which shows in the horses' eyes. Their training involves using finger and body gestures, clicking their tongues, and making a game out of routines. The normal aggressiveness of a stallion is channeled into playful focus. Pignon exudes patience and love for these horses. With his own mane of hair reaching far down his back, and white flowing robe, he becomes one with them, eyes never leaving theirs, and smiling with enjoyment all the while."
How does this art of enchantment with horses lead me to politics? Well, it's human nature, isn't it, to want your own way? But it's the method you use and the results you get that count.
The instinct to dominate by fear and force is deeply conservative. In politics, we have seen it in everything from trying to keep young women from enjoying sex to developing rigid educational systems based on tests to ramming our own brand of democracy down the throats of the Iraqis. Because this kind of domination is one of human nature's deepest instincts, it is the reason Republicans seem to have a political lock on national security and policing issues.
Opposed to that is an instinct towards domination by affection. It is most often aligned with liberalism, and manifests itself by offering counseling, support, understanding, financial assistance. It's the reason Democrats have traditionally had a lock on domestic issues.
Pignon shows us a third way, liberty training, which we have never seen in politics.
"He treats horses with great respect and tenderness, speaking to them through subtle body gestures, without restraint," wrote Cappy Tosetti in The Draft Horse Journal. "Many say this incredible man is part horse - literally dancing with these magnificent creatures as if he had hooves and wings. Watching him interact with his beloved herd is breathtaking, especially at home at the couple's breeding farm near a small village in France. There they can romp and play together, running through fields of flowers with sheer delight, flopping down by the creek for an afternoon nap - such contentment, such friendship. Their approach, called ethological dressage, is founded on an intimate communication with the horse based on mutual love and understanding, above all, on freedom."
Freedom based on play. Freedom based on mutual love and understanding. Freedom based on listening, on communication. Freedom based on art.
It may seem like a mad fantasy, in a world of suicide bombers, to think about a real world politics based in love and play, but perhaps we should. After all, as Joseph Campbell once said, "The goal of life is rapture. Art is the way we experience it."
Joyce Marcel is a free-lance journalist who writes about culture, politics, economics and travel.