Cavalia: Odysseo

Elise Verdoncq Credit: Pascal Ratthe
Elise Verdoncq
Credit: Pascal Ratthé

Under the White Big Top in the Village on False Creek until January 5

***Extended to January 26, 2014

Posted December 11, 2013

At this time of year we wish comfort and joy to everyone. For comfort, you can dive under your duvet. But for joy there’s no better place than under the White Big Top where sixty-seven horses gambol with forty-eight two-legged performers. This is Odysséo, Cavalia’s new show that brings men, women and horses together in such an atmosphere of mutual respect that your heart will almost burst with delight.

Created by Normand Latourelle (co-founder of Cirque du Soleil), the show combines tightly choreographed acts with periods of complete liberty when the horses wander and play in the 1,626 square meter, sand-filled stage. They nudge each other and kick up their heels. What is it about horses rolling side to side with their legs in the air that makes you go all happy inside? Such moments of complete animal pleasure radiate off the stage, filling the tent.

La Sedentaire Credit: Color-ish Company
La Sédentaire
Credit: Color-ish Company

The show is full of bigger, better ‘firsts’: the world’s largest touring big top, the biggest stage and the greatest number of horses at liberty. Ten thousand tons of rock, earth and sand form the vast stage that includes two, three-storey high hills. Like Odysseus, you will travel to exotic lands through high-definition computer graphics projected on an immense cyclorama the size of three IMAX screens: the steppes of Mongolia to Arizona’s Monument Valley, from the African savannah to Nordic glaciers and from the Sahara Desert to Easter Island.

Human Pyramid Credit: Francois Bergeron
Human Pyramid
Credit: François Bergeron

Ten Guinean acrobats (with washboard abs and dazzling smiles) perform almost continually: dancing, spinning, back-flipping like a spilled bag of Mexican jumping beans. They combine a sense of child-like play with the rigors of performance excellence; the fun they have is infectious.

A full-size carousel is lowered for breathtaking feats of balance and strength performed by another dozen performers. And there are ‘silks’ – moth-like acrobats trailing meters of white silk – flying high above the stage in an almost meditative act accompanied by live musicians.

But in the end, it’s all about the horses ridden at high speed around the set, trailing blood-red banners; horses moving slowly shoulder to shoulder in measured step; horses galloping in pairs with a single rider standing astride them; horses all lying down as if asleep at sunrise and slowly rising to greet the day; horses wandering freely until petite Elise Verdoncq begins to move amongst them, whispering to them, stroking them, encouraging them to come together, move together, perform together and finally, to rest their heads against the adjacent horse in an image that is both tender and beautifully fragile.

Nomades Credit: Pascal Ratthe
Credit: Pascal Ratthé

No show with horses would be complete without trick riders. They are the daredevils who ride sideways, backwards, upside down, underneath – even running alongside. Up one side of the horse and down the other. It’s all done at high speed with manes and tails streaming out behind and sand flying off pounding hooves.

And then comes the capper: the finale. Three hundred thousand liters of water flood the stage forming a vast but shallow pool. It begins with one horse, one rider in an exercise of impeccably focused dressage. And just as everything in you cries out for all the horses and riders to be let loose in that lake – it happens! Water splashing, horses running, riders drenched.

The two-hour show is larger than life but, at the heart of it, it’s simple and heart-warming in its exploration of the age-old bond between horses and humans. Elegant, epic, thrilling and spectacular – these are words that only just begin to describe the Odysséo experience. See it if you can.


Finale Credit: Francois Bergeron
Les Voyageurs
Credit: François Bergeron