Frisco — Cavalia’s Odysseo, currently playing under a big top in the parking lot of Dr. Pepper Ballpark in Frisco, has plastered the city with beautiful billboards (maybe less ugly is a better term) featuring gorgeous horses and making big promises for the cirque-like show. Advance materials describe it as “…a theatrical experience, an ode to horse and man that marries the equestrian arts, awe-inspiring acrobatics and high-tech theatrical effects.”
If the first reaction is “hmmm,” then viewing it erases any initial skepticism. The audience is swept away on a fantastical journey to horse-centric cultures around the world.
The spectacular show was created by Normand Latourelle, one of the founders of Cirque du Soleil, which pioneered a highly creative take on the traditional circus. Their elaborate productions attempt to recast the circus as a dramatic presentation where the familiar circus acts—acrobats, high wire walkers, trapeze artists, aerialists, clowns, etc.—are incorporated in such a way as to be part of the script as opposed to separate and unrelated acts. All this is created by fantastical costuming, projected backgrounds, a story of some kind and a new-ageish but original musical score, performed live.
With Odysseo, this formula reaches an apex. The circus acts are completely melded into a seamless and fully choreographed ballet. It sounds unlikely that there can be a ballet involving 60 horses but that is the only way to describe Odysseo. It is as much a ballet as Swan Lake—maybe Billy the Kid is a better comparison.
No, there aren’t any rail-thin women in tutus dancing en pointe or pirouetting men in tights, but it is as carefully choreographed as anything at the Bolshoi. All the circus acts are still present but so completely absorbed that you have to think “Oh, these are trick riders” or “these guys are the tumblers” to realize it.
Like all of the cirque extravaganzas, the athletes are magnificent. One of the wiry tumblers does a series of backflip handsprings that travels completely across the huge performing space and gets faster and faster until he becomes a circular blur. Tumbling runs make those in the Olympics seem rudimentary.
But it is the horses and their riders/trainers that amaze most. As precise as any corps de ballet, they move through elaborate formations and synchronized movements—sometimes at full gallop. There are even moves right out of the Rockettes, such as the kick lines that pivot on the center person (no high kicks however). All of this is elegant and atmospheric without a hint of circus glitz.
A team of tumblers from Guinea is the continuity of the performance, taking on the duties of the clowns as well as their own amazing act. They usher in the cast members for their time on stage and move out the last ones. Their own antics are truly jaw dropping.
Since there are horses, there are many trick riders. Joined teams of three horses with standing riders go through elaborate choreographic moves, bringing to mind Swan Lake’s famous Danse des petits cygnes (Dance of the Small Swans), with the four ballerinas turned into one unit by holding crossed hands. These groups of three horses are just as graceful and precise as those dancers.
The performance is held is a humongous tent, supposedly a record-setting one at that. It covers 26,264 square feet, about half of a football field. The stage is better called “the ground” because it is a recreate piece of sandy pseudo real estate with a hillside in the back. Yes, a real hillside! The horses ride up and around on it. An immense backdrop acts as a screen for highly creative projections that change the landscape.
Those projected landscapes take us to locations that infer places around the world where horses are important to the culture. We see the rugged landscapes that are reminiscent of places such as Arizona’s Painted Desert, the savannahs of Africa, verdant bamboo forests in China, Easter Island and lush forests in Brazil. At least that was my impressions of where we were. Others may have been reminded of completely different places.
That is the magic of Odysseo: It infers rather than states. It takes familiar characteristics of whatever is being portrayed and pushes it through a filter. What comes out is a physical manifestation of an impression. This allows the audience to make their own decisions about what is happening.
While those performing with aerial silks still do all of the same derring-do, here, the draped fabrics are manipulated by artists, on horseback, on the ground to make cascading shapes from ceiling to floor. A huge carousel descends from the ceiling and becomes equipment for gymnasts to display their acrobatic abilities, which are impressive.
Trick riders flash by as they leap on and off their steeds. One even makes a complete trip from one side to the other by passing under the animal. One very graceful horse and rider to a graceful dressage ballet with moves such as trotting in place and a high stepping prance.
Incredibly buff shirtless men and gorgeously outfitted women (the sumptious costumes in the show are by Michele Hamel) do a ballet on suspended hoops, full of graceful moves that require amazing strength. Instead of a trampoline act, the athletes dance around on jumping stilts, getting much the same height.
All of the performers have a wonderful time. They exude happiness at being able to perform for us. Rider and horse are incredibly affectionate; exchanging nuzzles and hugs at every opportunity.
The grand finale sees half of the show’s 64 geldings and stallions on the stage all at once and takes us to one last place that you would think is impossible to create, but almost nothing is beyond the creative team behind Odysseo.
I won’t give it away.
» To view of slideshow of images from Odysseo, click the slideshow icon in the floating menu at the bottom left of your screen.