Saturday, October 2, 2010

The finale of the opening ceremonies

The final portion of the evening was titled "The Cadence of our Country" and was, I guess, somehow supposed to showcase the role horses have had in the history of the United States. Or was it supposed to touch on different cultures across the country and how the horse is a part of that? I am not really sure.

It opened in "The Big Apple" with Mario Contreras (who, if you don't know, is actually from Medieval Times in Chicago, nowhere near New York!) riding an Iberian horse. It was, perhaps, to the average person, lovely to look at. I was not particularly impressed, but he did put on a show. I did appreciate the moments that involved a solo dancer from the Lexington ballet mirroring the horse's spanish walk, but had enough of the horse doing the spanish walk backwards about two strides after it started.

Staying in the New York theme, they brought out renowned opera singer Denyce Graves, who sang some fabulous selections from Carmen. I had a bit of deja vu here, as I was once a member of the University of Miami Chorale singing these same pieces behind soloists from the French Opera under the direction of Alain Lombard. Great memories of that time. Again, I digress. So the singing was phenomenal, and the soprano Cynthia Lawrence was beautiful opposite Denyce singing the Flower Duet from Lakme. Look it up on YouTube - you will recognize it instantly. They were really top notch.

Unfortunately though, there was not much going on with horses during this segment, and a significant number of people left at this point. Really quite a shame, as it was musically a highlight of the evening. Note to future WEG planners - keep the horses coming or the horse people will get bored and leave. The tenor that joined the ladies for the last piece from La Traviata was fine, but just not really in the same league as the stars from the Met.

From the Big Apple, we headed to the "Wide Open West" where we met the California Cowgirls, and saw Vince Bruce and the Riata Ranch Cowboy Girls do some trick roping before Eitan Beth-Halachmy came out and demonstrated his "cowboy dressage." I have heard of Eitan before, and maybe seen a video or something, but never thought much of it. Last night, I was really impressed. Sure, it is not exactly dressage in the same manner that competitive dressage is. Then again, how often is competitive dressage really what "dressage" is meant to be? Another discussion entirely. I loved Eitan's riding. Quiet, soft, lovely to watch. Headset of course a bit different than "on the bit" in traditional dressage. His aids were virtually invisible though, and he rode like a true gentleman.

Following the cowboy dressage came an entirely different pair of cowboys - Tommie Turvey and Dan James, who both do a kind of natural horsemanship trick riding sort of show. Fun to watch; crazy to imagine training a horse to do what they did. Each rider (Tommie is from the US, Dan from Australia) came out bareback on their respective mounts, and later, a matched pair of each was sent out at liberty to join the show. Tommie had two paints, Dan two bays, and they both rode one horse while the liberty horse followed and mirrored their movements. Even to the extreme of laying down prone on the ground on command. If they can train their horses to do such things, shouldn't we all train our horses to do the simple things like stand still to mount or walk politely on a lead? It is all about consistency, and if we as the rider or handler are not consistent, the horse would never think it necessary either.

A visit to the Heartland was the next stop on our tour of America. This was perhaps the simplest part of the program. To me, it was the best. Sarah Lee Guthrie sang some of her grandfather Woody Guthrie's classics (including This Land is Your Land, for which the audience was asked to sing along) while Stacy Westfall rode with no tack. No saddle, no bridle, not even a rope around the neck. The music choices were a beautiful soundtrack to one of the best horse and rider relationships I have ever witnessed in person. Stacy rode from a walk to a flat out gallop and looked as if she was part of the horse. I kept noticing the horse licking and chewing now and then throughout their performance as if it was having just as much fun as its rider. Really made me want to have that level of bond with a horse again someday.

The final stop on tour was to "The Big Easy" of New Orleans. Again, another great musical moment with the American Spirtual Ensemble singing some well-known spirituals that even got some of us singing along. Once more though, no horses involved in the moment, so more people got up to leave. Gotta keep the horses coming! As the singers finished up, the Jazz at Lincoln Center group started to play traditional jazz while a parade of circus carriages came in and around the ring. The carriages were neat to see, and there were some cute "acts" interspersed between them (a miniature donkey got a few laughs when he stopped and refused to move!) but as a finale sort of thing, it was not very exciting.

The closing musical number was "The Impossible Dream" sung by Ronan Tynan, whose voice was as great in person as it is on recordings. I personally felt the song choice to be a little bit cheesy, but the addition of children's choir members from Haiti was touching. And then it was over. I think they brought some of the previous performers back out for a final curtain call, but to be honest, I don't remember, since by that time I was tired and ready to go. And so was everyone else! Add a bit of aggravation to that once we got to the parking lot where I literally sat still for 20 minutes before my lane could start to inch toward the exit. By that time it was almost 11pm. At least I had no trouble finding my car - there were quite a few people looking very lost and worried. Plenty of security staff around to help them. Wish there could have been more staff to help figure out traffic flow!

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