Cavalia’s Odysseo makes impressive artistic leap in Vancouver

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      Artistic direction by Normand Latourelle. Directed by Wayne Fowkes. Equestrian direction and choreography by Benjamin Aillaud. A Cavalia production. Under the White Big Top at the Village on False Creek on Tuesday, December 10. Continues until January 5

      With Odysseo, Cavalia, the Quebec company that produces equine spectacles, successfully completes a huge artistic leap, but that leap doesn’t always result in more fun.

      Vancouver audiences saw the company’s first show, which was simply called Cavalia, in 2011. Conceptually, it was a bit of a mishmash, with cheesy, calendarlike projections and an unintegrated combination of acrobatic and equine acts. But the show overflowed with shared human-animal joy and dazzling, daredevil skills.

      Odysseo is shaped by a massively more coherent—and often stunning—vision. There’s no story, but the piece moves us from one vast landscape to another, including the African savannah, Mongolia, and Monument Valley. Odysseo’s playing area is immense—the size of two football fields. And in an inspired move, artistic director Normand Latourelle has had an enormous (10,000-ton) hill constructed upstage. The rear wall, onto which the various landscapes are projected, is as big as three IMAX screens. This configuration and scale make for the best entrances ever. When humans and horses come over the crest of the hill, they feel so far away, and it feels so compellingly like they’re emerging from alternate realities, that the effect is breathtaking.

      Director Wayne Fowkes has also sculpted a much more successful integration of equine and acrobatic skills for Odysseo. In a piece called “Fête de Village”, for instance, galloping horses leap over ever-higher jumps—and so do humans, who spring and flip, propelled by the carbon-fibre blades that are fitted to their feet.

      The teamwork between humans and horses is as impressive as ever. In “Le Sédentaire”, Elise Verdoncq directs a team of 12 gorgeous—and untethered—white beasts as they dance around her. And in a heart-stopping piece of trick riding, Clément Mesmin does a complete 360 under the belly of his galloping steed, Ripple.

      Not everything works, though. Not all of the acrobatic skills are awe-inspiring. In the long, lyrical “Carusello”, for instance, the acrobats are impressively strong, but the horizontal poses they strike as they cling to a carousel’s poles get repetitive. An extended number in which four women perform on silks is sometimes pretty, sometimes dull. A troupe of Guinean acrobats adds enormous warmth to Odysseo, and their backflips are stunning, but their textures, too, repeat. And, somehow, the slickness of Odysseo flattens the sheer, show-offy fun that fuelled Cavalia.

      Still, a lot of gorgeous horse flesh and human flesh goes thundering and spinning by. If you’re looking for spectacle, Odysseo delivers.




      Dec 19, 2013 at 12:16pm

      I highly recommend against attending Odysseo by Cavalia. As a person of color, I found the show to be highly offensive and left at intermission.

      In 2013 you can’t claim ignorance about the implied connotation of a performance featuring white people in fine robes riding horses as black men dance a jig and perform acrobatics at their feet, bare-chested and grinning. I happened to run into the performers a few days earlier, they were not speaking in English and through a Google search I discovered that they are from Guinea (this is not on the show’s web site). It’s possible that they do not know the context of their performance in North America and how black people have been depicted as the “happy-go-lucky savage” among other degrading stereotypes over the years. It’s possible they were happy for the job. I’m not going to victim-blame here.

      But the responsibility for this mess is on the producers and creators of the show. Could they really not find horsemen or horsewomen of color (there’s a rainbow out there people) to be a part of the show? Could they really not have a mixed cast of acrobats? And the responsibility is also on the audience. Endorsing this disgusting portrayal of black men in this day and age, cheering along and site-stepping the obvious racialized tone contained

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      Dec 19, 2013 at 7:20pm

      Loved the show,as much as Cavalia!Only difference was the horses.Well cared for,obviously,but very sour and not happy!Did not see one happy horse in the entire show,guess it's bound to happen when performing so much.

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      Dec 24, 2013 at 12:15am

      Overall fantastic. I agree that the Sub-Saharan dancers were out of place and should not have been a part of this show. They have not contributed to horse culture.

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      Old bob

      Jan 12, 2014 at 8:28am

      I found the show left a lot to be desired. Well trained and impressive horses but not anything more than mildly entertaining. I have to saw I don't care for choreography so a big part of the show left me wondering what the point was. I tried to nap out because I was pretty much bored in the first half of the show, except the music wouldn't allow that. In reality the acrobatics were Ed Sullivan show calibre except for one slightly overdone spot in the second half.

      My wife says she liked it so maybe it was just me, but we didn't find anything about the show to discuss on the drive home.

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