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17 August 2008

Alfons Alt / Bartabas


It’s only just five years since neighings and the ring of horseshoes resounded again in the north wing of the main stable at the Palace of Versailles, unused for over fifty years. Founded by Bartabas in February 2003, the Académie du Spectacle Equestre is already an unrivalled institution: a unique performing group/school for the third millennium, offering entertainment for the public as it hands on the riding tradition to its students.

After a lightning restoration of the stalls and manege – simply but superbly done by Patrick Bouchain – the new academy set about combining the experience of the Zingaro Equestrian Theatre with the different disciplines taught at the School for Pages in the era of the Sun King.

From classical riding skills to Japanese horseback archery, the Académie du Spectacle Equestre embodies a way of being rather than a state of mind. The students do not settle simply for learning, they live their art in the same way as Yehudi Menuhin: asked by an astonished journalist why he had to practise every day, the virtuoso replied, ‘Because it must be as natural as for a bird to fly. Have you ever seen a bird get up in the morning and say, ‘Oh, I’m a bit tired today, I’ll skip flying’.

If Bartabas is fond of quoting this riposte, it’s because for him the equestrian art demands the same commitment. And because, in this grandly renovated royal stable, a cavalier approach to the world really means something.

Shown here for the first time, these photographs reveal the life of ten rider-performers in charge of forty-five horses and bent on learning much more than just how to ride.

Exhibition venue: Magasin Électrique, Parc des Ateliers, Rencontres d’Arles 2008.