On Saturday, March 4, 2017, my family and I went to see the horse spectacle “APASSIONATA: Cinema of Dreams” at the Lotto Arena at the outskirts of Antwerp. According to its website, this is the twelfth time that the Apassionata franchise, widely considered Europe’s most successful live-entertainment show featuring horses, has come to Antwerp. For us however, this was our first visit, and we truly enjoyed it. At times the sold out show was thrilling and even breathtaking, but what truly stood out were the intimate moments between a trainer and his horses, which the crowd was allowed to witness.
The main storyline that ties the different segments of the show together is the history of two friends, Tom and Eve, who share a passion for their local movie theater: “the Cinema of Dreams”. The show takes you through time from the theater’s opening in the 1920s, to its peak period in the 30s and 40s, its decline in the 1950s, and its resurrection in the 1970s. Each segment of the show is loosely tied to an era, and focusses on a type of movie, a popular theme, or what the theater is going through at that time, seen from Tom and Eve’s perspective.
With the storyline, the changing backgrounds, the dance group, and the sound and light show, the creators have tried to elevate the show beyond the traditional horse and pony circus show to an allround spectacle. This was not always equally successful though. Some segments were a big hit with the crowd, like the funny but charismatic ticket salesman who warmed up the crowd by playing the age-old game of testing which side of the audience could make the most noise. Other acts, such as the dance group, were less able to captivate the audience. This was mostly because of the settings in which they had to operate: they had to dance in loose sand while avoiding the occasional mine left behind by the horses, while constantly being upstaged by their four legged friends. The same goes for the decor and music: they served their purpose but did not leave a lasting mark. Looking back at pictures and videos of the show I even realized I had not noticed half of the decor changes on the screen at the far end of the arena. What did stand out however were the beautiful original costumes that fit the atmosphere perfectly.
The stars of the show were and will always remain the horses and their riders. I am not an expert in anything to do with horses or animal training. In fact, my somewhat overweight dog has been more successful in training me to slightly overfeed him and let him out in time than I ever was in teaching him any tricks. Still, even I am able to judge that these performers are world class in their respective disciplines–be it acrobatics, dressage, or horse training.
The show’s most thrilling moments came from the acrobats who seemed to effortlessly take on various complicated and dangerous poses such as handstands and planks om the horse’s back or jump on and off the horses at breakneck speeds. One of the most memorable moments was when an acrobat stood on the back of two horses, while guiding two-and later four-other horses over a series of obstacles. I later learned that this trick is called the “Hungarian Post”.
Most highlights of the evening however came from one man: “Bartolo Messina” who in a gentle, endearing fashion, was able to seamlessly get the horses to do what he wanted, at first with his tiny Shetland ponies and later with the XL version during the show’s finale. Although it was an act, it did not feel like it. One could easily imagine Messina practicing with his animals on a farm without any onlookers. He loves his animals and they clearly love him back. This alone made the show worth seeing.
As soon as the show was over, the crowd received another surprise: we were allowed to walk up and examine and pet the horses. This was the best part of the evening for my almost five-year-old daughter.
As I mentioned earlier, I am not a horse expert or even a true horse enthousiast. Still, the show captured me and left me wanting more. The acrobatics and neck braking stunts were great, but the calm tender approach of the horse whisperer stole the show. Sometimes, less truly is more. I could easily imagine going to see Apassionata’s new show next year when they pass through Antwerp.
Did you also see Apassionata in Antwerp or anywhere else? I would love to hear your feedback.