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.