Source: BBC Magazine
“Anyone who can empower an Equine to influence and speak to our own inner-selves is a saint, in my book; and today’s installment is a true work of art, like no other. Enjoy!” ~ R.T.
Bartabas could only afford to buy his ponies for a few francs from the meat markets, saving the animals from certain death…
The Theatre Equestre Zingaro has an unusual stable of performers – the leading stars of its dramatic shows are horses. They combine dancing and acting in a remarkable way, writes Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore.
Flip through the early programs of Theatre Equestre Zingaro and you will find a sketch by the late cartoonist Cabu. It shows a butcher’s shop in disarray with the door knocked down. Bartabas, Zingaro’s flamboyant founder, is running away, a rescued horse on his back.
The cartoon harks back to the pioneering French equestrian theatre’s earliest days. Bartabas, then in his early 20s, could only afford to buy his ponies for a few francs from the meat markets, saving the animals from certain death.
Last year marked Zingaro’s 30th anniversary and Bartabas has come a long way. He now owns 37 trained horses, from elegant Arabian stallions to piebald shires and bonny Shetland ponies. His shows tour the world over, often featuring dozens of performers. And, since launching in 2003, his Academy of Equestrian Arts has occupied the grand stone arches of the royal stables at Versailles.
Celebration, however, is tinged with tragedy – 2015 was also the year when Cabu, Bartabas’s close friend, was killed in the Charlie Hebdo massacre alongside his colleagues from the satirical magazine. In reaction Bartabas premiered his show On Acheve Bien les Anges – Elegies (They Shoot Angels – Elegies) at Les Nuits de Fourviere festival in Lyon last June.
Elegies delves into a darker side of humanity, touching on grief, death, loss, and religion. Horses plunge, gallop, and rear, evoking otherworldly spirits, or spin around in a mass of fluffy cloud-like foam, conjuring up images of an uncanny, uneasy heaven. Some acts feature skeleton riders, others fallen angels atop snow-white horses, their wings drooping with despair.
“It’s not just a terrorist attack,” Bartabas, 58, insists. “It is an attack on artists. They were artists and that’s why they were killed.”
He adds: “In the past I used to do very provocative shows. But now, as [the world] is quite aggressive, my new way of doing things is the contrary: to be softer, tender, and to define the poetry of things.”
Equestrian theatre, or hippodrama, has graced Europe’s stage since the late 18th Century. Plays were written for large numbers of horses and mass audiences, with early riders often cavalry veterans, and themes touching on war, chivalry, hunting, and highwaymen. Scripts were minimal; after watching one rehearsal of Hamlet, the British hippodrama star Andrew Ducrow famously said: “Cut the dialogue and come to the ‘osses'”.
By the mid-19th Century the trend had travelled the Western world, with hippodramas being staged in as far-flung cities as Sydney, before falling out of fashion.
In recent years it has come surging back. Canadian hippodrama company Cavalia often plays to crowds of thousands, and in 2009 Franz Abraham directed a £6m re-enactment of Ben Hur at the 02 Arena in London, featuring 400 actors, 45 horses, and an epic chariot race.
But other companies care less for extravaganza than for high art. They include the Icelandic equestrian centre Fakasel, which opened in 2014 and celebrates the beast locals dub “the most useful servant”. In France Baro d’Evel, an equestrian circus, features just two horses and a black-and-white African pied crow.
It is Bartabas, however, who nearly single-handedly revived the genre, giving it panache, soul and a dose of celebrity – the renowned American composer, Philip Glass, is one collaborator…(CONTINUED)