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Review: Odysseo by Cavalia is the best show in the world under the white big top

Friday 17th, February 2017 / 13:58
By Erin Jardine

Nomads.
Photo: Jak Wonderly

VANCOUVER — This is the furthest thing from a horse show. Cavalia is a tribute to the history of the human’s partnership with the horse, showcasing a spectrum of equestrian disciplines within a gorgeously designed stage. On Wednesday night (February 15th), meticulously balanced from act to act, the horses and specialized acrobats, stilters, dancers, and percussionists produced a dreamlike atmosphere.

The Arabian horses of the Liberty segment captivated the audience. With Elise Verdoncq as the only handler in sight, eight grey horses freely followed her subtle cues. The quirks of working with animals was not lost on the audience, as the occasional nip and pinning of their ears brought some welcome imperfections to the show. We were watching animals in a live performance after all, a far cry from the heavily edited and chopped horse movies that many grew up with.

The projections on the backdrop and a slight hill at the back of the small ring made the stage appear endless. Spanning images of deserts, waterfalls, mountains, and the plains of Africa broadly changed the mood of the performance. The special effects were flawlessly integrated, with a carousel of silk acrobatics, a full rain simulation and, for the grand finale, the flooding of the ring to create a pond within which the horses danced.

The Angels.
Photo: Andrew Miller

While stunting on horseback has been a source of entertainment for thousands of years, I’ve not seen it fused into such a delicate art form as Cavalia has done. The Cossack stunt riding had the audience absolutely screaming as the performers galloped in a tight circle, the only thing holding them to their steed was a flexed ankle. They flipped over the horse’s back, dragging their heads on the ground, and one performer did a full revolution around the horse’s barrel at a gallop, his entire body under the horse for a split second.

Not to be outdone, the acrobats appeared to be more comfortable with being 30 feet in the air than on the ground. They utilized hoops and aerial silks in a perfect performance, inciting gasps throughout the audience as the silk performers pulled of some incredibly fast drops, spinning through the air in total control. Underneath them, four horses and riders appeared to drive the aerial silks in a circle, completing the image of a living carousel.

Fete de Village.
Photo: Chris Waits

Various worldly influences were seen throughout the show, with African acrobatic performers pulling off flips and human towers with unparalleled enthusiasm. Percussion went well with the thundering horses that often surrounded them, their energy fuelling each other. Live music accompanied the entire show, with vocalist Valentina Spreca as a highlight. She would make her way onstage, integrating with the performance and also sung in the musician balcony. She remained a constant positive energy. Live music was integral to the show, as the musicians would react to the animals’ movements, making the hoofbeats and musical beats appear perfectly synced.

As a dressage rider myself, the tension that was built within the final act absolutely took my breath away. Verdoncq stole the show yet again as she held her beautiful Lusitano Stallion, Omerio, in a perfect frame, silhouetted against a tropical waterfall projection. In a solo performance, she executed difficult classical dressage movements, the piaffe, pirouette, and the Spanish walk. As the ring slowly flooded, Verdoncq guided the stallion into the water, every step accentuated by a vigorous splash.

Odysseo by Cavalia runs in Vancouver at Under the White Big Top until March 12.

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