In 13 years as a dance critic I have reviewed a lot of performances that aren’t strictly dance – ice shows, circuses, kids’ entertainment, even a circus on ice, but never before a horse show. Other than a pony ride as a child, I have absolutely no background in equines, so I can only judge The Horseman From Snowy River as a theatrical experience.
I can appreciate the difficulty of the activity on display and clearly see the unwavering passion and equestrian talent of Rene Gasser, affectionately dubbed “horse whisperer,” and his team of horsemen and women who devote their lives to training and caring for their stable of various breeds of horses. But as good ole’ fashioned entertainment The Horseman From Snowy River doesn’t hit the exhilarating heights that it could, despite the best attempts of a hard working master of ceremonies and the participation of a handful of stage crew who enthusiastically mind the horses’ entrances and exits.
The tent and circular dressage ring work well, and the horses, which include Arabs, Andalusians, a Clydesdale and a miniature pony are gorgeous and immaculately kept. Other than some Driza-bone jackets and Akubra hats there are not many Australiana or outback elements about the show and there is little reference to the poem of the show’s title and no narrative elements. Various acts display examples of dressage and Spanish Riding School style, with a peppering of corny jokes along the way (a horse washing machine shrinks a large black Andalusion into a pony). But other than a big finale of athletic trick riding by Monica Duncan and Jamal Charopov (more an offshoot of rodeo riding than dressage) and a segment where Michael Harrison rides two horses, with one foot on each horse and an Arab horse running between his legs, the presentation is contained – there’s not a lot of dramatic tension or striking visuals.
While the acts certainly do show various skills – Gasser’s amazing ability with his prize stallion, Harrison’s sharp whip cracking and the “dance for two” by Arab horses who trot, turn and bow in unison – they need a more dynamic direction for general public appeal. With the exception of some larger jumping variations and the power of several horses all moving together, most of the show will appeal mainly to horse lovers and those that understand the details of the equestrian art.
More of the bolder highlights and a stronger structure for the acts could create accessibility for audiences who are not horse afficionados. Not that Gasser should water things down – there is a purity to his material that is all too rare these days, but if he could frame it in a more exciting context – whether that be larger groups of horses, the addition of other kinds of performers or even offer a commentary to the action for the neophytes, The Horseman From Snowy River would be a more compelling audience experience.
The Horseman From Snowy River
Where: Burnley Oval, Swan Street, Burnley
Dates: Opens January 9, 2009 for limited season
Performances: Friday & Saturday night & Sunday matinee
Bookings: 1300 365 700 or Ticketmaster 136 100 or www.ticketmaster.com.au