Hope for Japan: Bartabas Delivered It on Horseback Last Night in Paris

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I just heard the news that another earthquake has hit off the Fukushima coast of Japan. The first reports are that it is in the 7.4 range. I can't imagine how unstable the earth must be to keep quaking in that one spot and my heart goes out even more to the Japanese people.

How much can they take? Can hope live in the rubble?

Some friends of ours believe it can.

In Paris, a fundraiser for Japan was held last night at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees. Hope Japan filled stage after stage with a star-studded cast of dancers, actors, musicians...and a horse.

Not just a horse, but a centaur, half of whom is played by the great showman and artist Bartabas himself.

The production Le Centaure et l'Animal is the latest from the creative mind of Bartabas. He collaborated with Japanese butoh artist Ko Murobushi and musical composer Jean (Jay) Schwarz, long before any earthquakes trembled in Japan.

("Butoh" is an avant garde Japanese art form--part performance, part martial art, part spiritual expression, part whatever-you-interpret-from-watching-it.)

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This is the only English-language video available about? Le Centaure et L'Animal.

Bartabas is one of the artists I admire most in the world, even though it is difficult to follow his work from half a world away, and in another language. Bartabas is founder of the Equestrian Academy at the Palace of Versailles outside Paris and leads the Zingaro troupe of performers and horses. They might show up anywhere in the world and be able to interpret through equestrian movement, music, and theater some aspects of a culture's darkest or brightest metaphors. They can mix the music and mysticism of gypsies and Buddhist monks and Mongolian tribesmen without blinking an eye. They just piaffe on. Or canter backwards. Once Bartabas dumped truckloads of footing onto the floor of the cathedral at Rouen and performed among the massive columns.

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One of Bartabas's concrete contributions to the world of equestrian art has been the establishment of the equestrian academy at Versailles. While the program has had its stops and starts over the past ten years or so, the performances in the hallowed riding hall are legendary, and the students have been trained in equestrian art, fencing and theater in one of the most unique and elegant educational programs in the world.

Some people call Zingaro theater. Some call it circus. Some call it confusing. Some call it magic. Whatever you call it, Zingaro's productions and artistic director Bartabas move the world to think of horses as able to express large creative concepts. That's something that generations of horsemen the world over have known all along, and have interpreted and passed down through art and poetry and film and music. It's something Bartabas feels compelled to share with the world in his own special way. And I'm so glad he does.

Hope for Japan will be broadcast nationally on French television on April 11 to mark the one-month anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami. The fundraiser featured many of France's top music, stage and film celebrities. And a horse.

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