by Johnnie Walker
May 24, 2012
Toronto--In Odysseo, the new equine spectacular by horse circus Cavalia, 61 horses canter, gallop, and trot over a massive, raked stage under the white circus tent that recently popped up at the Port Lands. If we had you at “61 horses,” this show is probably for you. Dozens of majestic stallions and geldings (no mares, the pre-show trivia projection inexplicably tells us) do everything a horse can do while acrobat-jockeys do everything a horse can’t. If you’re a 12-year-old girl going through a Black Beauty phase, you’ll be in horsey-heaven. But even the most jaded circus-goer (if that’s even a thing) will be in danger of discovering their inner 12-year-old.
The title implies a journey, and while you’d be hard-pressed to find a narrative in all the tumbling and dressage, Odysseo uses video projection, setpieces, and, climatically, an actual torrent of onstage water to simulate a huge variety of terrain for its horses to run around on. But one of the simplest effects is the best: Quick lighting switches make the earthy stage look exactly like desert, snow, grassy meadow, or dusty prairie.
The show’s style is textbook horse-kitsch: A giant carousel descends from the grid, a longhaired woman wanders from stallion to stallion patting noses and singing a lullaby, and (with the notable exception of an African dance troupe), all human performers are dressed in a faux-Celtic/Elvish aesthetic.
Cavalia was created by Normand Latourelle, one of founders of Cirque Du Soleil, which has a restrictive human-performers-only policy. It’s hard not to compare the work of the two companies, and if you go to Odysseo expecting to see something like Cirque’s Robert Lepage-directed Totem, you might be slightly disappointed. Yes, you will see amazing physical feats from horses and humans alike—watch out for the guys with pogo-shoes—but you won’t see any clowns, or any of the bizarre, surprising, idiosyncratic moments that make Cirque shows so unforgettable.
This is more of a middle-of-the-road, straightforward, horse-based family attraction. It’s a highbrow Medieval Times, if you will. But if you can turn off your brain and lose yourself in the undeniable beauty of the horses, your inner 12-year-old is in for a treat.