Under the world’s largest White Big Top a new art form synthesizes stallions, stunts, stilts, circus, cinema, sight and sound
If the circus is for “children of all ages” Montreal-based Cavalia’s Odysseo extravaganza is for spectators, young and old, who are willing to embark upon an odyssey of awe, from Africa’s savanna and Sahara desert to an Easter Island-type setting to the Northern Lights to Monument Valley in the American Southwest to verdant rain forests and beyond. These tableaux are vividly brought alive with 67 male horses of 11 different breeds, 45 acrobats, aerialists, riders, dancers and musicians from at least eight countries, plus a high-definition video backdrop the size of three IMAX screens. This $30 million, many splendored psychedelic spectacle takes place on a curved 15,000 square foot stage the size of a hockey rink, made up of 10,000 tons of stones, dirt and sand, under the world’s largest White Big Top.
This 110 foot high, elaborate canvas and steel structure is almost the size of a NFL football field and seats 2,000 ticket buyers. The White Big Top is specially-designed to be intricately assembled and erected for traveling shows. This writer saw Odysseo in Burbank, where the spacious tent added a whimsical conical element to the SoCal skyline. Cavalia’s sister show, A Magical Encounter Between Human and Horse, is currently being presented in Brisbane, Australia.
Odysseo is composed of 15 vignettes expressing various themes and places. Through stagecraft’s sleight of hand, using a scrim and projections on the colossal backdrop, the show opens with a serene forest setting featuring equine insouciance. In “Rêver L’Odyssée” 10 geldings loll about in repose on the carefully landscaped stage: Chocolate Chips, Indigo and Timeo (Appaloosas), Jazzy (a Canadian), Amigo (a Paint Horse), Xuto (a Lusitano), Tunante (a Spanish Purebred), Eagle and Hawk (Quarter Horses) and Nezma, an eye catching ebony Arabian. From on high Cajun crooner Anna-Laura Edmiston of Lafayette, Louisiana performs the vocals, accompanied by a live four piece band. The steeds rise, awaking as if from a dream, and Odysseo is literally off and running.
Throughout the two-act production there are plenty of equestrian thrills, with pounding hoofs, breathtaking jumping, stunt riding, trick riding and classical dressage. Male and female riders skillfully straddle two galloping horses while standing on their saddles; towards the end of Odysseo one stallion dramatically rears on his hind legs.
Although the four-legged creatures are the stars of the show they are not necessarily featured in every scene. In one skit a dozen or so young men from the same village in Guinea lithely hurtle through the air so swiftly and deftly that they seem to defy gravity. The African acrobats resemble those flip books with sketches on different pages that appear to be moving when they are flicked. The youthful athletes also exuberantly sing and dance in a number that ends with these words projected on the rear screen: “No more war on Earth.” In the “Fête de Village (Village Party)” episode horses and urban stilters in “blade runner” type of appendages leap over different obstacles.
Not every vignette stresses daredevil derring-do. During “Carruselo” an elegant merry-go-round descends from the roof of the White Big Top with humans horseback riding on the still life steeds. The aptly named “Vol (Flight)” seems to combine religious pageantry with Victoria’s Secret couture, as a quartet of scantily silk-clad angelic aerial artists all in white dangle from the heights of the Big Top, twirling about from their heavenly perches in this horse powered, visionary vignette. “Vol” is literally a flight of fancy, a celestial form of exquisite pole dancing for the gods.
The grand finale almost defies description, as the stage is flooded with 80,000 gallons of water which a herd of horses ebulliently splashes through. This lake stands at the foot of waterfalls imaginatively rendered on the sprawling backdrop. The entire company — four-legged and two-legged, equine and Homo sapiens — romp upon the stage in a dazzling display of merry maritime mise-en-scene.
This equestrian-acrobatic-acoustic-eye popping experience is the brainchild of Cirque du Soleil co-founder and former Executive Vice-President and Director General, Normand Latourelle. Following creative differences with Cirque’s other top bananas the multi-talented Latourelle created Cavalia in 2003 as its Artistic Director and President. Odysseo is the second of the multi-media company’s productions. In 2007 Latourelle was awarded the Ordre National du Québec.
Odysseo is directed by Englishman Wayne Fowkes, who became Andrew Lloyd Webber’s resident director when he was 30. In 2000, Fowkes became the artistic coordinator of London’s Millennium Dome and artistic director for Notre-Dame-de-Paris.
Benjamin Aillaud is Odysseo’s equestrian director and choreographer and Guillaume Lord its set designer. Odysseo’s visual concept is by Geodezik, which, according to press notes, has conjured up stage concepts for Justin Timberlake, Cher, Bette Midler, Cirque du Soleil, Tina Turner, Taylor Swift, Usher and Katy Perry.
Cavalia includes a “Rendez-Vous” VIP tent where, for a higher ticket price, attendees can enjoy a sumptuous pre-show buffet and open bar. During the intermission desserts and drinks are served here but best of all, after the show those wearing Rendez-Vous credentials can visit the stables and see the stallions and geldings up close and personal.
Odysseo’s horses are from Spain, Portugal, France, The Netherlands, Germany, U.S. and Canada. The 45 globetrotting artists are from America, Canada, Brazil, France, Guinea, Russia, Spain and the Ukraine.
The multi-media Odysseo is far more than a mere horse opera; it is virtually a new mode of expression that transcends the doors of perception. Early in the last century, as director D.W. Griffith was co-creating the art of motion pictures, the pioneering filmmaker said: “The task I’m trying to achieve above all is to make you see.” A century later Latourelle and Cavalia are empowering audiences to see, sense, smell, hear and above all experience through a mélange of mediums, live and virtual. Cavalia is creating a brand new 21st century art form combining the high tech with man and beast that would have blown even animator Walt Disney’s mind.
Odysseo has been extended in Burbank through at least March 31, while Cavalia’s Australian tour plans to travel to Melbourne and Sydney. From Southern California Odysseo travels to Laval, near Montreal in Quebec, Canada, opening on May 14. For more information see: http://www.cavalia.net/.
Saturday, 24 March 2013