The VIP Gold Experience is probably the best way to get full enjoyment of this horse and circus extravaganza. What looks expensive on paper turns out to be reasonably affordable, given the perks that come with it. Rose Cherry Place was hitherto a well-kept secret to me because though I have lived in Mississauga for over 30 years, I did not realize how accessible the site is for all who live in the suburbs and Toronto. The location is close to the Hershey Centre, and there is a huge outdoor parking lot, where the parking fee of $15 is less than what Torontonians pay for the privilege of convenient parking in the entertainment district around the Royal Alex, Roy Thomson Hall, and the Princess of Wales. And you can book online. Just show your parking receipt when you enter and exit, and you can enjoy a long, pleasant experience under the big white tops that are truly a magnificent example of engineering and technical prowess. You simply park, and cross the street to the VIP Rendez-vous site outside the first tent.
You are greeted by a host or hostess, given a colour-coded beribboned identity card to wear around your neck, a complimentary full-colour souvenir program ($20 value), and then line up for the 6.30 pm entrance to the gourmet buffet and open bar tent that can seat over 400 guests at tables or banquettes. This tent also has merchandise boutiques (a large plush stuffed horse toy is the most popular buy) and art gallery exhibits of horses rendered in various media to while away the ample 90-minute dining period—not that you need to rush things. An open bar, staffed by young bartenders (mine was most congenial Hannah), serves up your choice of beverage. Wine-lovers may select from Jackson Triggs Pinot Grigio and Cabernet Sauvignon or may settle on a cool, effervescent Cooks Brut (a sparkling Californian). Beer guzzlers can decide on a selection ranging from Molson Canadian, and Coors Light to Steam Whistle. Or if you wish to be daring and mix your drinks, you can do so. For those who wish to be alcohol-free there are assorted pops, orange juice, and bottled water. Coffee and tea are also available but from a different bar in the tent. The good thing about the service is that it is all by young Mississaugans, one of whom (who looked barely into his adolescence) served kids and their parents at a special kids’ corner, where popcorn in bags could be buttered, pizza slices served on paper plates, or where hamburgers could be all dressed on heated buns.
The buffet is not really gourmet quality, but it suffices nicely, with an ample selection of salads (including kale, red lentil, pasta, Israeli couscous, and stuffed vine leaves), smoked salmon platters, top sirloin, curried chicken, king-sized shrimp, and cheese trays with fruit. Dessert is served after the sixty-minute first act that begins around 8 pm. An array of sliced cheesecakes, pies, fancy cookies, chocolate cakes, fruit, and cheeses are guaranteed to add to your avoirdupois.
VIP Gold ticket-holders get choice centre aisle seats in a 125-foot tent that seats a couple of thousand in the manner of a Big Top. All the tents are hand washed by a team of 10 climbers. The White Big Top spans 58,000 square feet, with the stage area covering 17,500 square feet, and includes a technical grid that weighs 70 tons. A 250-ton crane is needed during the first installation and such an installation can take several days. Moving the show from city to city requires 120 vehicles. There is a pleasurable warm-up quiz projected on the filmy front curtain, in which you learn that there are 65 horses of various breeds (including Appaloosa, Hanoverian, Holsteiner, French Saddle, Lusitano, Percheron, etc) in the show, with 16 stallions, 49 geldings, but no mares for obvious reasons. Stallions are more difficult to train that geldings or mares because they have a fighting side that can sometimes take precedence over their playful sides. It takes between 2-6 years to train the horses, their average ages being 9, with the oldest being 14 and the youngest 6. The expert riders (numbering 57 and drawn, like the horses, from various parts of the globe, though based in Quebec) train the horses, and the animals take an appreciable amount of time to be prepared for the show and to be cooled down after their performances. One of the highlights of the VIP experience is the backstage tour of the arena and the stables, where you visit the warm-up ring (mind the dung), climb the steep rise that brings several exotically costumed riders into view during one of the many spectacular sequences.
Michel Hamel and the late Georges Levesque were responsible for the costumes of riders and horses. The costumes and accessories are of faux fur, linen, leather, cotton, and silk in vibrant colours, decorated with ornaments ranging from gold sequins to turquoise stones and metallic ribbons. No fewer
than 365 costumes are used during a performance, and there are many duplicates, even some triplicates because the wear and tear can be extensive under the hot top lights and the rigours of performance.
The actual show (in two acts) runs two hours, beginning with a wonderfully tender pastoral scene in which a single Arabian steed enters tranquilly to graze, followed in turn by other horses. From the very outset, the décor (enhanced by expertly harmonized videography from 7 projectors on a giant backdrop the size of three cinema screens) and lighting (by Alain Lortie) create a marvellous environment, with changeable geography of woods, plain, mountain, snowy peaks, and waterfalls by video projection from 7 projectors on a giant backdrop the size of three large cinema screens. The seasons change, and video yields to reality where, most climactically, a shallow lake created before our eyes by concealed pumps that flood the sandy soil with 40 thousand gallons. The sequences are spectacular in their tonal and performance ranges, ranging from cool, synchronized bareback riding by females atop two horses, a village fete involving hurdles and athletic male blade runners out-leaping the horses, equine nomads, lots of trick or stunt riding, and a romantic carousel number with beautiful carved white horses and gymnasts performing on rotating metal poles. There are, however, sequences that, despite their evident excellence in music, dance, and gymnastics, don’t quite fit the equestrian theme. One, for example involves splendid males from Guinea, who execute amazing backflips, leaps, and somersaults at amazing speeds. Their drumming, singing, dancing, and gymnastics culminate in an anti-war message, which is admirable but which seems beside the unifying point of the show. Other such sequences are really circus acts on high Roman rings or on long, flowing cloth harnesses (the Angels sequence)—all excellent in themselves but not quite fitting Odysseo.
But overall, this is a minor complaint and every show needs some special distraction or embellishment to allow time for scene changes, and the show never drags—one reason being the music (there are five musicians) and solo singing. The music conspires perfectly with the videography, lighting, costuming, and horses to effect the sense of a dreamy ode to man and horse. What an enviable distinction for Mississauga to have this acclaimed touring production in its very midst. The VIP experience multiplies the pleasure.
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