IT'S LIKE NO OTHER SHOW:
For three performances a day in the Pan American Arena, Dominique LeFort and his seven housecats will amaze audiences with their agility and fearlessness.
"Jumping through hoops or walking a tight rope, these simple housecats are simply amazing," LeFort says. "The cats love to have fun, and that makes the show fun."
A popular perfonner in Key West, Fla., LeFort holds nightly shows at the Hilton Pier as the sun sets beyond the ocean. There, he and feline friends Sharkey, Oscar, Cosette, Sara, Chopin, Georges and Mandarine entertain visitors from around the world. LeFort, better known as Dominique the Cat Man, has trained his housecats to be nothing short of gymnasts. The cats leap through the air, walk tightropes and jump through hoops, sometimes hoops of fire. In fact, their feats have gained the attention of PBS and televisions Animal Planet. And now they have gained the attention of the State Fair of Texas.
Much like the times Dominique the Cat Man and his amazing housecats perfonn at Disney and Madison Square Garden, the perfonnances at this years State Fair are a combination of comedy and agility: LeFort's comedy and the cats' acrobatics. Sometimes in pairs or even three at a time, the cats jump from pedestal to pedestal or delicately make their way along a tightrope. Other times, they take turns leaping through hoops.
leFort began his sunset show in the Florida Keys in 1984, but even before then, he was performing. His career began in rural France, where he performed in mime, theater and even circus shows. His daughter's cat, Chaton, became the first feline performer. Although LeFort says the show ended with him doing most of the act and the cat hiding, it was a beginning nonetheless.
Marlene, the first real feline star of the show, moved from Canada to Florida with LeFort and began the troupe of what is today Dominique and his Flying Housecats. "She was so smart, she even helped train the younger kittens," he says of Marlene. Gradually, cats just seemed to find their way to LeFort. Mandarine, who LeFort found as a stray after Hurricane Georges, is famous for jumping through hoops of fire. Chopin and Georges, also kittens found after Hurricane Georges, are naturals on the tightrope.
Now a feline performing troupe of seven, the Flying Housecats follow LeFort's every command.. .even if it takes a moment for the cats to build their confidence before leaping toward the next pedestal. LeFort takes his time with each cat, but will occasionally add a little humor to the show with comments like "no grooming onstage!" or "remember your lines." He choreographs every segment, setting the stage for the next big trick, with a little clowning around between.
"Cats can be trained as long as they choose you first," LeFort says. "And the way I train the cats is to be fun."
LeFort says he prefers not using treats to entice his cats to perform their incredible feats; instead, he develops a psychological connection with each cat.
Often, LeFort incorporates audience members into the show, calling children on stage to act as props. After he arranges a group of children to stand shoulder to shoulder, Sharkey, the oldest cat, leaps across the human bridge. Sometimes, LeFort asks audience members on stage to bend at the waist, creating a stepping stone effect; and once again, Sharkey rises, or leaps, to the challenge.
Dominique and His Flying Housecats, sponsored by Fujifilm, is free with State Fair admission at the Pan American Arena daily at 3:30 p.m., 4:15 p.m. and 6 p.m.