“Cirque du Soleil for Horses” – Odysseo Show Comes to Vancouver

Photo courtesy of Cavalia.   Credits: François Bergeron

Photo courtesy of Cavalia. Credits: François Bergeron

A horse is a horse, of course, of course.  Unless it’s a horse from the new Cavalia Odysseo show in Vancouver.

Then it’s a few hundred kilos of purebred, rippling muscle sure to entertain, enchant and quite possible awe.

The new horse-centric show, playing at the white big top on Vancouver’s False Creek through Jan. 5, features no fewer than 67 magnificent horses.  The animals are put through their paces during a nearly three hour performance featuring some fancy riding and carefully choreographed horse and human stunts.

So how does all this old-fashioned, animal-based fun stack up in the world of digital wonders and computer-generated excitement?

After seeing the show earlier this week, I can confidently say quite well.  As fans of Cirque du Soleil know, there’s something about a live spectacle – about seeing highly trained performers do incredibly difficult things right in front of you – that no YouTube video can ever replicate.  And Cavalia’s Odysseo is, if nothing else, one huge spectacle.

For starters, the 2,000-seat big top is twice the size of an NFL field, a cavernous space perched on the edge of downtown’s False Creek.  The show starts with a dozen or so horses – Arabians, Lusitanos, Quarter Horses and other breeds – capering about the ring, which is beautifully designed to look like a forest meadow.  The audience gets to admire the animals in a more or less natural state for a minute or two.  Then the stunts start.

There’s really no storyline or plot to speak of in Odysseo.  Instead, what you get is a series of set pieces, one after another, all set to the kind of epic, pan-ethnic, vaguely Moroccan live music that Cirque du Soleil has popularized over the years.

Beautiful maidens in flowing white robes enter the ring, standing on the backs of pairs of beautiful white horses with flowing white manes.  Then dashing horsemen sweep on stage showing off some high-speed, white knuckle trick riding.  They bounce in and out of the saddle, run alongside galloping horses, hang upside down off the animals and – in maybe the night’s most impressive stunt – crawl completely under the belly of a horse running at full tilt.

Photo courtesy of Cavalia.   Credits: François Bergeron

Photo courtesy of Cavalia. Credits: François Bergeron

Equally amazing, however, are Odysseo’s human stars.  Between the horse stunts, a troupe of incredibly flexible and supremely athletic acrobats bound on stage.  They somersault across the dirt floor of the ring with all the dexterity of an Olympic gymnastic team.  Shirtless guys with rippled physiques, they whip each other through the air and form human pyramids, offering a pleasant diversion from the equine action. (One concern here: All of the shirtless acrobats were black men, while all of the elegantly-garbed horse riders were white . . . a casting decision that left many audience members scratching their heads.)

Interspersed between these high energy stunts are more languorous, visual spectacles, with dozens of horses parading across the ring at once in beautiful formations.  Over the course of the evening, the stage transforms itself several times, becoming a mountain pass (complete with a hillside that must have required untold truckloads of dirt to build), a vaguely lunar landscape, Easter Island, the American Southwest, a swathe of frozen tundra and other evocative locales.

This all builds to the finale, which is worth the wait.  In a matter of minutes, the entire lower portion of the ring is flooded with some 300,000 litres of water.  One horse, at first, reluctantly trots into the rising tide.  Then dozens more follow, as the stage is turned into a giant splash pool.  Visually, the sight is pretty unforgettable – thundering horses whipping up long trails of water that glitter in the stage lights.

Cavalia’s Odysseo runs through Jan. 5 inside the big white top erected on False Creek, adjacent Vancouver’s Olympic Village neighbourhood (For mapping, the address is 299 W. 1st Ave.).  Adult tickets start at $44.50.  

Anyone else catch Cavalia’s Odysseo? What did you think?  

For more updates on Vancouver and beyond, follow me on Twitter @RemyScalza

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