There's a reason terms like "horsing around" and "horseplay" are common in English. Horses are some of the most naturally playful animals known to humans, but like people, they're not quite as playful when they're saddled and harnessed. That's why the trainers have taken the harnesses off the stars of Cavalia. This French Canadian circus, founded by one of the architects of Cirque du Soleil, features more than 30 stunningly beautiful horses frolicking, dancing, and even playing tag, all without the use of saddles or whips. Dazzling white Lusitano stallions -- one of the oldest and purest of breeds -- along with quarter horses, Percherons, and Belgians, perform amazing feats of grace as they careen around a 150-foot-wide stage against dreamlike projections of falling leaves and rain beneath a tent that stands over nine stories tall. Of course, it's not all horseplay. This is a circus, after all, and what would a circus be without acrobats, aerialists, and musicians? No politicians as far as we can tell, though.
Ride off into the sunset Thursday night at 8 at 600 Gilman (at Eastshore), Berkeley. Tickets are $29-165; call (866) 999-8111 or visit www.cavalia.net.
-- Jack Karp
Our town's haunted folkie
Local bird Odessa Chen has been compared to a lot of other singers, all of them good. For example, the irresistibly sweet-voiced Jeff Buckley comes up a lot. For us, Chen brings to mind post-punk folk deity Mirah. The two have pretty but complex voices, lyrics good enough to break the flintiest heart, and strong connections to their respective scenes -- qualities we wish more musicians had.
But what really reminds us of Mirah is Chen's use of innovative instrumentation. Whether onstage with only drummer Rich Douthit and double bassist Devin Hoff or surrounded by washes and glittery decoration on her first recording, One Room Palace, Chen produces a sound that flits gorgeously between acoustic goth and pared-down orchestral folk. Eric Simonian and John Vecchiarelli open at 8:30 p.m. at the Hotel Utah, 500 Fourth St. (at Bryant), S.F. Admission is $6; call 546-6300 or visit www.thehotelutahsaloon.com.
-- Hiya Swanhuyser
To be Nina, gifted and black
Nina Simone was a singer, a social commentator, and a fighter. Often called the High Priestess of Soul, she was revered for her command of folk, blues, protest songs, and show tunes. So is it any wonder that Kim Nalley's show "She Put a Spell on Me: Kim Sings Nina" has been so popular? Nalley, whose hand in reopening the North Beach hot spot Jazz at Pearl's has made her into something of a hero in her own right, seems the perfect choice to interpret and pay tribute to the late, great Dr. Simone.
"Spell," part of the AfroSolo Arts Festival, starts at 2 p.m. in Yerba Buena Gardens, Fourth & Mission streets, S.F. Admission is free; visit www.kimnalley.com.
-- Hiya Swanhuyser
Why are a squad of lefty activists visiting fast-food restaurants from here to NYC? They're trying to persuade slackers to vote. Support their mission (and bankroll their vegetable-oil-fueled "Votemobile") at the "Just Vote Tour Kickoff and Fundraiser," a party with music from Aphrodesia and Rock Me Pony, tonight at 8:30 at Mighty, 119 Utah (at 15th Street), S.F. Admission is free-$20; call 626-7001 or visit www.aphrodesia.org.
-- Joyce Slaton