Odysseo: full gallop gorgeous

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Toward the end of Odysseo, the new horse-and-human extravaganza from the creators of Cavalia, the massive stage is flooded with water to create a lake. Photo by François Bergeron. Below: Odysseo includes many examples of “liberty,” a trainer commanding horses with only vocal commands and body language. Photo by Lynne Glazer

If Bojack Horseman and Mr. Ed count, I can say I’m a horse person. I fell off the back of a running stallion as a child while visiting relatives on a farm in Idaho (that horse really wanted to get back to the stable), and I know people who love horses beyond all measure. But when it comes right down to it, I’m not a horse guy.

But I love to look at horses, especially horses in motion. Whether in a Western or on the Disneyland carousel, the equine form is a beautiful thing. The notion to combine that beauty with the artistry and acrobatics of Cirque du Soleil was an inspired one, and while the resulting show, Cavlia offered abundant delights, I still found myself a little numbed by the horses walking sideways and lying down – impressive things to horse people who know how difficult it is to master such skills, but dull for the likes of me who would rather see the beasts running really fast.

Well Cavalia creatore Normand Latourelle must have felt the same way. He has taken his original formula and, as they say, plussed it. His new horse and human show, Odysseo is big. No, it’s epic. I reviewed the San Francisco debut of the show for the San Francisco Chronicle. Here’s a sample:

“Odysseo,” for all its technical marvels, and there are many from the massive projection screen at the rear of the stage to the acrobatic gear that flies effortlessly in and out, comes down to the beauty of the animals. Some 40 horses appear in the show – in one scene alone the stage is filled with 32 horses – and they are beyond spectacular.
All the high-tech wonders can’t begin to compare to the primal beauty of the horses, and that seems to be the point.

Read the full review here.

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I also talked to Latourelle and other members of the Odysseo team for a feature in the Chronicle.

“In ‘Cavalia’ I tried to give the horses enough room to move,” Latourelle says. “I learned I could do better for them.”
For “Odysseo,” the idea was to create the kind of space you could only find in a place like Las Vegas but somehow take it on tour. So Latourelle and his creative team found a way to make the enormous big top work and remove the center columns that hampered views in “Cavalia.”
“A lot of what people loved about the first show was seeing the horses running free and the great relationship between horse and man,” Latourelle says. “It is the same with ‘Odysseo,’ but I wanted to push the limit of what could be done with horses. At one point in this show, we have 40 horses running free next to people, which is a fantastic, beautiful image. There are no whips, no reins. We call it liberty.”

Read the full story here.

Odysseo continues an extended run through Jan. 10 at AT&T Park, 1051 Third St., San Francisco. Tickets are $44.50-$264.50. Call 866-999-8111 or visit www.cavalia.net.

A galloping good time at Cavalia

Extended through Jan. 2, 2011!
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One of many gorgeous horse-and-man images in the captivating show Cavalia in the big white tent behind AT&T Park in San Francisco. Below: The aerialist/rider routine known as “La Vida.” Photos by Frédéric Chéhu

A few years ago, if you’d asked me what I thought about horses as theater, I’d have probably said something like, “Call me when Mr. Ed performs as Hamlet.”

But then I saw Cavalia, an inspired Cirque du Soleil-like spectacular built around the beauty and strength of horses. That was in February of 2004, and I’ve never quite looked at horses the same way since.

I joked at the time that the show was “Cirque du Horse,” but that shorthand quip doesn’t fully express the originality and power of this gorgeous creation. Sure, Artistic Director Normand Latourelle is one of the founding members of Cirque, and he brings that sensibility with him in the form of an immersive tent experience that combines high-tech theatrical wizardry wrapped around live music and acrobatics.

But the way he features the horses is really what it’s all about. You can have dudes doing backflips and ladies swinging on trapezes ‘til the cows come home. When the horses take the stage, Cavalia is part circus, part rodeo, part competitive dressage and entirely breathtaking.

Latourelle and director Érick Villeneuve (who also conceived the show’s striking visual design) wisely involve the horses in almost every act of this 2 ½-hour show. For instance, when Faiçal Moulid is balancing on a giant ball, it’s your typical circus act – well done but ordinary. Then a gorgeous horse trots out onto the giant, 160-foot-wide stage and starts playing with him. Suddenly the act is completely original.

The 30 humans on stage (with the six musicians above the stage and behind the giant screen that stretches all along the back of the stage) interact with dozens of horses ranging from quarter horses to Arabians to Lusitanos to Percherons. I don’t know my Mustang from my Comtois, but I know I couldn’t take my eyes off the animals.

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My two favorite acts are the same as they were six years ago. In Act 1, aerialists Andréanne Nadeau and Marianella Michaud fly around the center ring, where riders Thomas Aubron and Julien Beaugnon keep their animals running at a brisk pace. The combination of speed and flight, of galloping horse and airborne human is completely entrancing.

And in Act 2, Sylvia Zerbini spends a good long time cavorting with a crowd of nine equines. She seemingly controls them with soft commands, tossed sand and – I’m guessing here – her mind. The horses frolic like dogs at the beach, sometimes toeing the line, sometimes not.

We also get Roman stampedes, impressive jumps, saddle-bouncing high jinks, a snowstorm and minimal clowning that seemed to make the kids happy.

I admire how essentially restrained the show is in terms of razzle-dazzle. The costumes by Manon Desmarais and Mireille Vachon are tasteful and tend to look like medieval paintings. There are no Electric Cowboy atrocities, no Vegas schmaltz. Horses are dignified creatures, and Latourelle and his creative team are celebrating that fact.

Tickets for Cavalia are pricey, no question. But you see the money on the stage, especially when those beautiful beasts are in motion. Horsing around has never been so captivating.


Cavalia continues an extended run through Jan. 2, 2011 in the white big top adjacent to AT&T Park, Fourth Street and China Basin Street, San Francisco. Tickets are $64.50 to $139.50. A special “rendez-vous” package includes a visit to the stables, a pre-show buffet in a private pavilion, beverages (wine, beer, soft drinks) and a souvenir. Those tickets start at $229.50. Call 866 999-8111 or visit www.cavalia.net.