Merlin’s magic and jousting Horses
June 6, 2011
When I was growing up, I often imagined riding my horse to King Arthur’s court, arriving at the castle just in time for a grand feast. A huge hall would be draped in colorful banners, depicting royal arms from all across the realm. I would walk among the gallant knights, listening to them boast of their jousting prowess to the beautiful ladies dressed in flowing gowns and spire-hats. The long tables would be filled with wonderful foods, from bread to succulent fowl, while musicians played hearty drinking songs.
Magnificent horses with long flowing manes and tails, waiting for their turn at the jousting line would fill the stables … so it was a dream come true when I was invited to the Tournament of Kings dinner theater at the Excalibur Hotel in Las Vegas, Nev. Here kids of all ages can enter into the realm of Kings, Knights and Merlin’s magic at a spectacular family show.
I headed downstairs at the Excalibur and wandered pass zillions of kids playing all types of games, laughing and definitely having a great time in this vast arcade area. I think there were almost as many adults as there were kids but I had to hurry along as I was to meet with Jill Breslaw, who helps with the show. Amid people waiting to enter for the performance, Jill greeted me at the main doors of the arena and then escorted me down a maze of narrow winding halls. We were dodging knights and colorfully-clad kings pages, drummers and soldiers, all heading in different directions. I heard accents from a variety of countries as cast members in conversation bustled past me. I even spotted Merlin with white beard and flowing star-bedecked robes in one of the busy dressing rooms. It was a fun quick glance into the hub-bub before a show.
Reaching the end of this labyrinth, Jill invited me into a small office. I was excited to experience the tournament, but even more delighted to get a chance for a quick pre-performance interview with the show’s manager, Ivan Caulier. A handsome dark-haired man greeted me in a voice with a dreamy French accent, inviting me to sit down. It didn’t take me long to understand why Ivan was in charge of this show. He had worked for more than 30 years in France as a stunt rider, horse trainer, and showman at such places as the cabaret Club 78 and the Moulin Rouge. He had been in movies and commercials and in 1991 became a stunt coordinator in Las Vegas.
We talked about the horses and Ivan explained that each horse was a qualified athletic performer, with lots of training. Morgans, Arabians, and Fresians, as well as some cross-bred horses are used. The horses are housed in barns on the Excalibur site, with swamp coolers and misters in the stalls. Riding patterns for the performances are rehearsed with each horse and rider, so all the stunts are well coordinated. Ivan told me that no spurs were ever worn, “We use trust training.”
“Each horses personality plays a part, too,” Caulier said, “as some horses can really be show-offs. They love the energy level of the battle scenes and it’s a challenge sometimes to keep them focused so they pay attention to what their job is during the performance. Each horse has to be comfortable with flashing lights, loud pyrotechnics, and even walls of smoke, where both they and the rider cannot see for over 8-feet.”
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A voice from outside the office announced that show time was near. Ivan graciously shook my hand (very Knightly but don’t the French kiss a damsel’s hand?) and I was lead back through the maze of hallways and into the arena, where Jill took me to my seat/table minutes before the show began.
I looked around the royal-banner filled oval building and my dreams of King Arthur’s Hall came to mind. The feasting area had rows of long connected tables with seats extending all round three sides. They were divided into colors; each represented a knight and country. I was seated in the Russian purple. In the center was a huge oval dirt arena. At one end a castle, wooden draw-bridge gate, and towers with flags let us know that we were indeed in for a royal spectacle.
With a flash-boom of magic fire, Merlin arrived and invited everyone to enjoy the feast. We were served a bowl of “dragons blood” (tomato soup) and then a small roasted game hen and potatoes, all of which we needed to eat with our hands! Merlin taught us a drinking song, which we needed to sing loudly, as we raised our tankards, stomped our feet and pounded the tables when the King and his knights arrived on horseback.
Everyone at the show becomes part of the story, cheering for our sections’ knight as they joust. The horses were fantastic, as each knew its part in the play, galloping back into the castle when their rider would dismount or fall in battle, sometimes through thick smoke. A black knight then does evil and a battle begins with a huge pyrotechnics display and music ending.
This is a wonderfully choreographed show that I would highly recommend to anyone visiting Vegas. You will agree with Merlin when he says, “It’s good to be King” … and it was a dream come true for me!