Cavalia’s Odysseo an incredible horse show, the acrobats not so much

Horses are incredible creatures. And, there is likely no better group of people to showcase them than the fine folks at Cavalia. Last night, the Montreal-based troupe returned to Toronto with their second and long-running production Odysseo, which runs until May 10 at the Port Lands.

At its best, Cavalia offers up wondrous scenes that come across as paintings sprung to life. They are full of depth and beauty. And there are a number of moments like this in the production.

When the horses first trot onto the expansive stage and start wandering freely about, rolling around in the same, we are entranced. When a solitary figure commands a dozen gorgeous horses with just her hands and her voice, we are stunned silent. It is breathtaking. The roman riding, which sees a person stand astride two horses whizzing by at breakneck speed? Gasp. And oh the tricks. Imagine one person able to contort his body under the horse and up the other side without touching the ground while said horse is maintaining a hefty pace cantering around the ring. Wow.

But here’s the thing. This isn’t just a horse show. There are a number of performances that are more traditional circus acts and invariably involve feats of strength and dexterity on rings and hoops and fabric sheets and even an old carousel. Not to knock the incredible talent on display, it really is quite something. Kudos to all. But the presentation needs work. The music is maudlin. And, it generally comes across as more of a time-out until the horses come back. And, since these performances occur with regularity that’s a problem.

I will call particular attention to the carousel scene. Here, a carousel of sorts spins slowly around while acrobatic types undulate along poles and it just went on and on with very little variety, and the most droning, Muzak-syle accompaniment. It was one of a few instances in the show when one could almost hear heads dropping from boredom.

Jazz it up people. The production values here are sky high with the biggest big top in all the land, a gigantic wrap-around screen projecting a variety of landscape-style images, live and obviously talented musicians at the ready, a good vocalist, and all kinds of effects. Invest a bit of that in these numbers. Don’t save it all for our equine friends. Either that, or ditch the acrobats altogether.

My guest for the evening was a nine-year-old girl. She loves this stuff. And even she was distracted and fidgety waiting for a horse to return. Any horse. —

The only crew that seemed to approach the enthusiasm generated by the delightful horses was the acrobatic troupe that perform again and again and again throughout the night. But, good grief, one can only see so many back handsprings before they become a bit boring for the audience, and I’m sure for the acrobats themselves, although their level of excitement was maintained throughout, so good on them.

Even the trick riders, ahem, trotted out the same old tricks with shocking frequency. If I had a nickel for every time a horse flew by with the rider simply extending his arm to the crowd in a way that suggests the words, “hey, check me out, I’m on a horse,” I would be able to afford to get my shoes cleaned after tromping through a sea of mud in the parking lot to make it inside. Ah, springtime in the big city.

And the highlight of the night was saved for basically the last performance which, again, featured one rider and one horse dancing across a small (actual) lake, splashing away and having a grand old time. Is this not crystal clear? That’s what this show is about and that is why it works. Leave the horses alone, let us sit back and watch the magic unfold and the show will be sensational. As soon as too many of us people get involved, all that good work and good energy is just lost.

For more on Cavalia’s Odysseo have a look at our Q & A with Amanda Orlowski, who stars in the show.

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