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SHOWS: Horsing around with Cavalia's Jesse Lee Cooper
by Andrew Davis

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Pictured: openly gay rider Jesse Lee Cooper. Photo by Andrew Davis. Cavalia has been extended to Aug. 9.

Cavalia--the odyssey of a show that combines horses, aerialists, acrobats, dancers and then some--has been extended through Aug. 9, at Racine and Jackson. Windy City Times spoke with openly gay rider Jesse Lee Cooper ( who's based in Atlanta, Ga. ) after a media preview, and talked about animals, home and relationships.

Windy City Times: So, give me the 411. [ Cooper laughs. ] Is it easier to work with humans or animals?

Jesse Lee Cooper: Definitely animals. Most of the time with animals, and horses in particular, they are looking for someone to guide them and they're very open to suggestion. With people, it's their opinions and ideas, and they want you to do it their way. Some horses do have personalities, but as long as you present an opening for them to understand where you're going, they get it.

WCT: Was one of the animals sick? There was a lot of saliva coming out of one of them.

JLC: Oh—that's actually a good thing, especially if you're on a competition horse because that means the saliva softens the tissue in the mouth, so it makes them more sensitive to the bridle and what you want them to do. If the horse really focuses, it's salivating.

WCT: This show has been called "Cirque du Soleil with horses." Do you think that's accurate?

JLC: In some ways, yes, because have some of the same concepts—lighting, acrobats. In some ways, no, because, in my opinion—and I love Cirque—there's an extra piece where we can't control what's happening. These horses have their own lives. With Cirque it's always the same show; here there's a different show every time.

WCT: What's the weirdest moment you've had onstage?

JLC: During the Vol [ segment ] , the previous horse—this was a new one today—would buck like crazy so I would tell the girls, "Do not get on this one." He would start carrying on like a mad horse and, of course, we have to make it look all pretty [ laughs ] , so that was pretty difficult.

WCT: There are a lot of perks to traveling around. Any drawbacks?

JLC: Yes. The biggest one for me is [ missing ] family, because I am so family-oriented; that was a big challenge for me. I only go home every six to seven weeks.

The other one involves relationship issues. We have cast members who have boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands and wives, and they're not always here. You meet someone you're interested in, and it's like, "Nice to meet you—bye." [ Laughs ] The good thing is that our staff is very supportive, so we've actually had people meet someone on tour, and that person comes along with us.

WCT: Are you kidding me?

JLC: [ Laughs ] No. When we were in Scottsdale, Ariz., one of the Moroccan acrobats met a young lady early in the visit. They continued their relationship long-distance for two or three months in Montreal, and now she's joined us. That happened with our stage manager and his boyfriend, too. Relationships are probably the biggest drawback.

WCT: What's your favorite part of the show?

JLC: I'd say the Vol, which I wasn't originally hired for. I never knew what the story behind it was, but it's about angels. Actually, there's a Japanese myth that every rider has a guardian angel. I love angels—obsessed with them, actually.

WCT: So when you're in a town, how often do you get a chance to enjoy the city? Chicago has a lot to offer.

JLC: I'm finding that out. The other day I was in [ Boystown ] , and I loved it; we were at Minibar and Sidetrack. Of course, it's been work, work, work for the most part. We have to be at work early in the morning so we can't stay out too late. [ Laughs ]

WCT: What's the LGBT scene like in Atlanta?

JLC: It's really good. We're kinda spread out, although we're localized at the park. I'm not downtown a lot, but there's a lot happening there. [ Interviewer looks at Cooper quizzically. ] Not like that! [ Laughs ]

Tickets are $45.50-$98.50. Call 866-999-8111 or visit .

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