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article imageReview: The world’s greatest horse/acrobat show blesses T.O. once again Special

By Jeff Cottrill     Apr 9, 2015 in Entertainment
Toronto - How often can you say that a live theatrical show has utterly convinced you that you’ve travelled through time and space? Cavalia’s extravaganza “Odysseo” really is that kind of show. It’s almost like a dream, or an out-of-body experience.
Opening last night for another run in Toronto, following its first visit here in 2012, Odysseo combines stunning acrobatic feats a là Cirque de Soleil with some beautiful equestrian choreography involving literally dozens of horses. But director Wayne Fowkes and artistic director Normand Latourelle work these two art forms into a much grander multimedia vision. They take the audience on a journey through numerous settings around the world – from a South American forest and a canyon in the old west, to Easter Island, the African desert, medieval Japan, even a summer beach — all under what’s reportedly the largest Big Top tent in the world.
What differentiates Odysseo from Cirque and other circus acts is that it’s not all about impressing you with physical stunts. Yes, the acrobats are amazing, but they’re not just showing off; they’re part of a cohesive whole. Odysseo is a blend of many art forms — theatre, dance, equestrianism, live music, circus, even cinema — that results in a kind of visual poetry. I assure you, you’ve seen nothing like it before.
The elaborate set includes a flat ground that stretches back into a sloped floor, which can be turned into sand, grass or rock depending on the lighting – and it even fills with water at one point. The backdrop is an enormous digital video screen that alternates between locals, even adding details like flying birds and blowing, rippling desert sand at times.
Each set piece features a different style of stunts, choreography and music, depending on the setting and the period. Capoeira dancers in a Brazilian jungle setting bounce and flip around on bizarre, bouncy prosthetic stilts that look sort of like curved snowshoes; your kids will be begging you to get them a pair. Other performers dangle and swing on large hanging hoops, sometimes barely even hanging on. Acrobats pile on each other to create human totem poles or back-flip all over the stage, seemingly as easily as you and I walk around the block.
And of course, there are horses. Dozens of horses. Stallions and geldings, trotting, running, leaping over obstacles, side-stepping, dancing, sometimes only one or two at a time and sometimes in large groups, all performing in perfect balance and harmony with the stunts of their human partners (one of whom actually crawls under his horse and climbs up the other side while in motion). Equestrian director and choreographer Benjamin Aillaud is a multiple champion of carriage riding, and his love and respect of equine beauty and grace is evident in every move. Even the horses seem to be having fun.
But one of the most graceful numbers, ironically, doesn’t have real horses in it. It involves a lowered, turning carousel set, with long poles along which acrobats slide and turn in ways that make you wonder if they’re immune to gravity. Another great bit later in the show involves Japanese-clad performers hanging from hoops while tied to aerial silks being dragged in circles by horse riders on the ground. There’s African drumming and a call-and-response number; there are even lasso tricks.
Odysseo is a show that’s hard to describe. If my review seems random and unfocused at times, it may be because the show is so rich and full and hypnotic with colour and beauty and physical skill that encapsulating the whole takes more thinking time than I have. What I can state clearly is that Odysseo is a unique work that anyone with any serious interest in the arts shouldn’t dare miss. Nor should horse lovers or, for that matter, anyone who likes great spectacle. At three hours including a lengthy intermission, the show feels far shorter than it is (although the second act is, strangely, longer than the first).
Montreal-based company Cavalia has been touring the show around North America since 2011, and it’s no wonder the sellout crowds keep coming. See this one while you’ve got a second chance: it’s a journey that will stay with you.
Odysseo runs at the Port Lands tent (Lakeshore East and Cherry Street) until May 10.
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