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vancouverplays review


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— Production photo


This was Jerry's review of the 2013 production at Olympic Village.

Odysseo is an ode to joy. The new show from Cavalia under the big top at Olympic Village celebrates the sheer physical wonder of animality, both horse and human, in a multimedia interspecies spectacle. It might be described less pretentiously as Cirque du Soleil with horses, or a horse show with acrobats. Whatever you call it, Odysseo is magnificent.

Against a backdrop of three large Imax screens that change with each scene to establish locale (steppes, desert, savannah), dozens of horses and their exotically costumed riders illustrate the synergies that horses and humans have developed over the millennia. Alternating with the horses or sometimes sharing the stage with them, Odysseo's acrobats exhibit similar grace, power, beauty, precision and speed in their routines.

The show opens with riderless horses meandering out of a forest background onto the bare stage, a large ring that looks like a grassy field descending from a hill. The performing area is separated from the audience by a very low rim, so you almost feel like you're sharing their space. The animals by themselves are beautiful--Arabians, Spanish Purebreds, Lusitanos. Gradually they're joined by mounted riders. When they start galloping around the perimeter it's thrilling.

Following the introduction comes a parade of six Stevie Nicks lookalikes in white gowns, each woman standing on the back of a pair of horses. With the new age music and ethereal female vocals it's hard not to think of Galadriel from Lord of the Rings.

Next a troupe of ten African men with sculpted bodies perform rapid-fire tumbling routines while other men with large springs on their feet do flips high in the air. Soon the horses get into the act with riders galloping at high speed across the stage, and everyone, human and equine, taking turns jumping or springing or flipping over rails. The effect is to blur the line between animal and human. They're all creatures, flying through the air to a driving musical crescendo. A friend of mine did remark, though, on the apparent racial divide: no evident riders of colour on those horses.

The pace changes again. One of the highlights of the first Cavalia show was the horse whisperer, a woman who stands centre stage and choreographs the movement of six horses using just her soft voice and subtle hand gestures. This act is back for Odysseo. The horses walk around their mistress in formation, changing directions and doing spin-o-ramas. They're almost like puppets with her pulling the invisible strings.

But at our matinee, at the end this act, three of the horses refused to leave the stage. Each time she gave them an obvious command they would approach the exit, then one would turn back and the other two canter after him. This happened five times before the slightly flustered whisperer grabbed the naughty horse by the mane and led him firmly offstage with the other two following.

I loved this unscripted scene. It showed the spunky independent horsiness of the horses that hasn't been totally trained out of them. You see it at other times in the show when a horse suddenly rolls around scratching his back on the ground, or breaks from formation and does a little run on his own until rejoining the pack. These aren't automatons but animals with brains that have made a pact with their humans that they will do what's asked of them--most of the time.

The trick riding seems even more impressive when you understand that. Horses blast across the stage as their riders bounce on and off the saddle or lie across it with no hands or do handstands on a stirrup. One rider swings himself completely underneath his speeding horse and back up the other side. These are literally death-defying feats. Good thing the horses choose to cooperate.

The show foregrounds human athleticism with beautiful balletic acts on silks, rings and the poles of a carousel. The African acrobats return with drums, song and their spectacular tumbling. And there are many more amazing horse routines.

The finale is grand: a gorgeous dressage routine in silhouette, a marvelous cavalcade of horses coming over the hill, and everyone splashing across a stage that has transformed into a lake with giant waterfalls in the background. It's a sight to behold.

In addition to the performance you can access the Rendezvous tent before the show and during intermission for an elegant buffet meal, extravagant desserts, and an open bar by paying a VIP premium. The premium also includes centre-row seats and a tour of the barns after the show, where you can get up close and personal with the equine stars.

The price of Odysseo with the VIP perks is about equivalent to a Canucks ticket. But afterwards you'll never hear anyone say, "They just didn't have the horses."

Jerry Wasserman