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Cavalia canters into town with a stunning theatrical display of acrobatic and equestrian arts

Cavalia’s Odysseo mixes the equestrian arts with acrobatics, theatrical effects, and live music with spectacular results.

Cavalia's Odysseo final scene with dressage horse on the edge of a lake
In Odysseo's finale, the stage is flooded to create a lake as a horse and rider perform dressage. Photo courtesy of Cavalia. Photographer credit: Lynne Glazer.

Cavalia’s second production, Odysseo, mixes the equestrian arts with acrobatics, theatrical effects, and live music. The original self-titled performance came to Vancouver in March 2011 and was focused on showing off and thrilling the audience. Odysseo concentrates on the artistic side—although you’ll certainly see trick riding, aerial acrobatics, and awe-inspiring feats. However, comparing the two productions is futile, as the Quebec-based company continues to outdo themselves. Odysseo includes the largest White Big Top tent in the world which is 125-feet tall and spans more than two football fields. 

The theme of Odysseo is the joining of horse and human, as scenes transport us across distances and through the seasons. Trick riding and equestrian vaulting resulted in gasps, laughter, and applause from the audience, whereas acrobatic feats and aerial silk performances stunned the crowd into silence. The 48 human performers seem to relish the experience, whooping and hooting to get the crowd cheering and clapping. The skills of the performers (two- and four-legged) are complemented by a high-tech stage featuring a video backdrop the size of three IMAX screens with 18 projectors.

'Grand Cavalia' during Cavalia's Odysseo. Photo credit: François Bergeron
'Grand Cavalia' includes a video backdrop with moving hills and clouds. Photo credit: François Bergeron, courtesy of Cavalia.

Of the 67 horses owned by Cavalia, approximately 40 perform regularly while the others are in training. They have 20 stallions and 47 geldings (neutered males) and during the two-hour show, each horse is only on stage for approximately 12 minutes on average, according to Cavalia's website.

Creator and artistic director Normand Latourelle says the horses understand they are performing, but they see a lot of it as just playing. With 11 different breeds, some are more suited to certain tasks. Teasing nips, racing each other, and other herd behaviour all comes naturally to a breed like Arabian; whereas the Spanish Purebred and Lusitano are used more for dressage and liberty (unbridled) performance.

'La Sedentaire' scene during Cavalia's Odysseo. Photo credit: Color-ish Company
'La Sedentaire' scene features eight horses at liberty. Photo credit: Color-ish Company, courtesy of Cavalia.

Cavalia trains their horses at a young age for two to six years before they begin performing on stage, by which time they’re 8-10 years old. During Grand Cavalia, watching 16 riders weaving in and out across the stage and completing lateral movements in formation is impressive. As a horse person, I know the amount of work that goes into training something as simple-sounding as getting two horses with riders to walk in tandem, so seeing Roman Riding (where the rider stands on a pair of horses with one foot on each) is astounding.

'Nomades' during Cavalia's Odysseo. Photo credit: Pascal Ratthé
'Nomades' features Roman Riding, a type of equestrian stunt. Photo credit: Pascal Ratthé, courtesy of Cavalia.

Latourelle’s vision is incredible, and the work involved to pull off a show of this scale and visual display is mind-blowing. The stage itself is larger than a hockey rink and features a huge hill rebuilt with every city they visit. The costumes, footwear, and makeup add to the aesthetic and stunning visuals.

Even scenes that only briefly involve horses were remarkable, such as Carosello, where a working carousel descends from the rafters and acrobats display feats of upper body strength to the vocals of a live singer.  My favourite scene was Les Anges, where four women performed aerial silks in tandem with four men on horseback, creating a twirling display of breath-taking skill.

'Les Anges' scene during Cavalia's Odysseo. Photo credit: Pascal Ratthé
'Les Anges'. Photo credit: Pascal Ratthé, courtesy of Cavalia.

In the final scene, Les Voyageurs, they flood the basin of the stage with 300,000 litres of water as one horse performs dressage movements (passage and piaffe) in silhouette against the backdrop of a waterfall. Whispers spread through the crowd as the audience noticed the water trickling onto the arena, admiring the subtleties of the stage and dedication of both horse and rider. The two-hour performance left me feeling wonderment and amazement of the spectacular display.

While the tickets are pricey (ranging from $29.50- $229.50) when you consider the care of 67 horses and the work involved to in training for and creating the show, it does make sense. To attract a production of this scale certainly complements Vancouver’s clout as a “world class city”. Following their stay in Vancouver, Odysseo is scheduled to visit Seattle, Calgary, and Edmonton. 

Artistic direction by Normand Latourelle. Directed by Wayne Fowkes. Equestrian direction and choreography by Benjamin Aillaud.

Cavalia's Odysseo is in Vancouver from December 7, 2013 to January 12, 2014. Under the White Big Top in the Village on False Creek. For tickets call 1-866-999-8111 or visit cavalia.net

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