Arts Uncategorized

Horseplay under the big top


The big-box entertainment machine that is Cavalia is impressive; the cities that see Cavalia’s second creation, Odysseo, become canvases for the sprawling brand months before the show even sets up in town. So it’s hard to ignore that Odysseo is finally here, hence the buzz around the White Big Top as the show opened last week.

Much like its predecessor, Odysseo has everything that Cavalia creator Normand Latourelle could cram into a tent the size of an NFL football field, and every aspect of the show is double the size for Odysseo: there are circus acrobats, trick riders, a live band, a troupe of Guinean tumblers, plus a dense landscape of forestry and scenic projections on a staging area spanning 35 000 square feet—and it’s all covered in sand, a vast hillside taking up the rear half of the set.
The horses, frankly, are stunning. Even when they’re not doing much. And pooping on stage. The magical bits occurred as the horses appeared sans trainers, interacting with each other and just, well, being horses. Even for those who don’t know a lick about riding or dressage or breeds, seeing a pack of gorgeous beasts lazing about on the hillside, rolling around in the dirt for a back scratch, is recognizable as a rarity.

Unlike Cirque du Soleil shows of similar size, there’s not much narrative in Odysseo. And with the exception of the lively and deft Guinean gymnasts, the humans onstage don’t develop character; the show really is about the horses. The relationships between the animals and trainers were fascinating. Most memorably in the first half, trainer Elise Verdoncq leads six horses in a dream-like liberty dance about the stage; the horses are completely unbridled, yet sprint and halt in response to her inaudible whispers. Verdoncq appears again in the second half, riding in a full-on dressage sequence, where her uncanny connection with the animal is obvious.

Another sequence shows two-dozen horses, grouped in fours, led across the stage by individual trainers, the projections giving the performers the appearance of journeying through miles of plains. Perhaps not as flashy and exciting as the shrieking trick riders, this scene displayed a comforting respect between the species onstage—it was here that a renegade horse bucked out of line momentarily, only to be gently guided into place by a cooing trainer.

The production is dripping with posh staging and costumes, and the projection design guides the show through countless landscapes and forests. The scent of wet sand and grassy projections make the hillside believable, and when the stage floods for the closing scene, it makes for a glassy, shallow pond—subsequently sloshed and kicked up by sprinting stallions and their trick-riding trainers. (At that point, it’s tough to forget the poop spotted onstage earlier.)
Some will be more attracted to the acrobatic feats of the human performers, but it’s hard not to appreciate the lavish spotlight given to Odysseo’s cast of 64 horses. They, and the 46 human performers in the show, are in residence here until August 10—with a decent possibility of extending the run. Again.

Until Sun, Aug 10
The Odysseo Big Top (Intersection of Fort Road and Yellowhead Trail), $39.50 – $239.50

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