Arts and Entertainment

Equestrian opera returns to Kitsap with the World Famous Lipizzaner Stallions

The most acrobatic of the Airs Above the Ground — the Capriole. See a full-list with descriptions and video at www.lipizzaner.com. - Courtesy Photo/World Famous Lipizzaner Stallions
The most acrobatic of the Airs Above the Ground — the Capriole. See a full-list with descriptions and video at www.lipizzaner.com.
— image credit: Courtesy Photo/World Famous Lipizzaner Stallions

These World Famous Lipizzaner Stallions are kind of a big deal, so too is the equine culture in Kitsap County.

Horses born and bred for war have found a niche in peacetime entertainment, across generations.

The Lipizzaner Stallions are in their 39th year of entertaining audiences across the world with spectacular physical feats and grandeur and are bringing their act to Kitsap.

The White Stallion Productions' world-famous road show, built around the rare and storied breed emulating the dressage principles of the historic Spanish Riding School of Vienna, is one of the United States' longest-running, touring family arena attractions — following the Ringling Brothers Circus and the Harlem Globetrotters.

It's a world-traveling tradition, an equestrian work of art, celebrating the even greater tradition of the Lipizzan breed and its history. The tradition returns at 7:30 p.m. May 27 to the Kitsap County Fairgrounds.

The Lipizzan is a true horse of royalty, developed exclusively by the Hapsburg monarchy of The Austrian Empire in the Middle Ages at a state-funded stud farm in the village of Lipica — Lipzza in the Italian spelling — in what is now Slovenia. More than 400 years of selective breeding and multiple dramatic rescues from extermination have made the Lipizzan one of Europe's oldest, most glamorized and most significant breeds, according to the Lippizzan Association of North America.

"They were born and bred for war," said Troy Tinker, the 19-year veteran emcee who travels with the World Famous Lipizzaner Stallions' road show. "They were the 'shock and awe' of their time."

Employing the same steps and maneuvers once used on the battlefield, the Lipizzaners are in today's high society of the equestrian world. They are celebrities.

"They're a little more exotic, it's a little different demographic that goes out to the event," said Kitsap Fairgrounds' Special Event Coordinator Frank Abbot, the man behind the Kitsap Fair and Stampede. He also stocks the event center with various entertainment like the Lipizzaner show throughout the year. "It's a little more refined, as opposed to the more Western rodeo crowd, not that there's not a lot of Western folks there."

The Stallions, Abbot said, pack a diverse crowd of a couple thousand into the Fairgrounds' pavilion when they come around. It's said to be one of the smaller arenas that the storied horses play.

The show is something of a horse ballet — or an equine opera.

In absence of war, the meticulously trained stallions strut before audiences, performing a set of leaps, steps and maneuvers largely unchanged since the 1500s, choreographed to a soundtrack of Mozart, Bach, Chopin and Strauss.

"A lot of this music is what they originally debuted with the horses," Tinker said. "I think it's a wonderful way to introduce kids to classical music, these horses intersect with so many different parts of history."

The Lipizzan breed has a long regal history of both battle and ballet.

They were the most feared beast on the battlefields of Middle Ages' Europe. Tinker noted Mozart as the first composer to have debuted a piece of music and asked for the Lipizzaners to dance to it — which gave the military trainers an outlet to keep their horses in top shape during peace time.

"And it became very popular," Tinker said. "It was like a night out at the opera."

That tradition gave rise to the more relaxed, though refined, traveling Lipizzaner Stallions road show. In 1970, lauded concert and event promoter Gary Lachinski produced the first touring unit of The World Famous Lipizzaner Stallions. Since then, with an average 140 shows a year, they've captivated millions.

"I love to watch that stuff," local horsewoman, barrel racer and co-captain of the Kitsap Starlets riding team Dawn Oien said. "It's truly awe-inspring, how they get those horses to do those leaps and all that fancy stuff they do. It is incredible."

The Lipizzaners' style of dressage, emulating the historic Spanish Riding School of Vienna — with its trots and cantors and leaps and kicks — is a style of training quite different than that of a barrel racing horse. Whereas a barrel racing horse is taught to get out and around the course as quickly as possible, dressage training focuses more on the subtle harmony between rider and horse.

"In dressage all the cues are non-verbal," Tinker said, "the cues are balance of weight in the saddle or a touch. I think people can often find it a little boring because the whole essence of dressage is that it doesn't look like the rider is doing anything."

Then there are the Airs Above the Ground, arguably the most exciting part of the show, an impressive set acrobatic and aerial maneuvers which were once used to protect the rider on the battlefield that now wow audiences.

THE WORLD FAMOUS LIPIZZANER STALLIONS come to town for one show only at 7:30 p.m. May 27 at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds’ Pavilion. Tickets are $22.50 general, $20.50 for seniors and kids. For tickets, call (360) 337-5350, (800) 882-8258 or go to tickets.com. Info: www.lipizzaner.com

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