Review: ‘Odysseo’ creates a beautiful, utopian fantasy world

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“Odysseo” by Cavalia creates a fantasy world where horses and humans live together in perfect harmony. (Photo by cavalia.net)

In conversing with my parents about Cavalia’s “Odysseo,” playing through January 10th in the big top next to AT&T Park in San Francisco, they asked me what it was about.

In the most simplistic terms, I described it as Cirque du Soleil, with horses.

The comparison made more sense as I did a bit more research on the show. Artistic director Normand Latourelle spent five years with Cirque du Soleil in the 1980’s, a show that has performed around the world, creating an entirely new art form that now sits on just about every corner of Las Vegas. The airy and ethereal quality of the show creates a fantastical dreamland where women in flowing white dresses prance around the most beautiful horses in the world.

And not just any beautiful horses. The animals that are the drawing card for this equine masterpiece are the stars of the show, with a performance area that serves as an amazing paradox of intimacy and vastness.

In addition to the animal prowess, the show creates a fantasy world that clearly showcases the bounds of what the human body is capable of. It also tests the power, grace and beauty of these regal animals, and the special bond that is shared between a horse and its rider. There is no other way to explain how far that bond and skill can go when it comes to what a rider is capable of.

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Trick riders perform death-defying stunts in “Odysseo” (Photo by cavalia.net)

No expense is spared in this surreal production. Whether it be the epic Imax screen that portrays lush backdrops full of bright greens and blues, a stage that checks in at 17,500 square feet filled with 10,000 tons of rock, earth and sand, or the fact that the stage turns into a lake where horses slosh around with surreal speed, Latourelle’s company oozes with spectacular spectacle.

The show’s sound is just a wonderful blend of various,fantasy-like sound, something that penetrates deep to provide just the right feel for the show, led by the silky pipes of Valentina Spreca. The sound of the band also comes through richly, with beautiful Flamenco stylings by guitarist Serge Gamache and a deep bass line powering through by bandleader and bassist Eric Auclair. The five piece band helps to create this world where gravity is a concept that only exists in a futuristic textbook of some kind. Performers climb on the poles of a carousel and become human flags that rest 15 feet above and parallel to the ground, making for decadent, striking tableaus.

And while other performers come out and jump on springing stilts, flying all over various barriers, another group of African acrobats begin doing the same thing with no stilts, going seemingly just as high.

There are certainly poignant moments in the show, as when the group of acrobats gets a crowd to chant a phrase in an African language, with the audience learning later that the phrase was translated as a plea to end war.

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African acrobats which blend powerful rhythms and amazing athleticism are featured prominently in “Odysseo” (Photo by cavalia.net)

While so much of the show is built on the spectacle in that Cirque fashion, the horses are the stars. Whether they are going at breakneck speeds while riders slide underneath the horse and come out the other side, or prancing with the right amount of sass, these animals put a spell on the adoring audience.

Since we are dealing with animals in real time, there were certainly things that weren’t planned, giving the audience plenty to coo about. One horse in particular, while the others were dutifully marching along in their formation, decided he had enough of that horse s***, and moseyed on over to wherever he wanted to go. This provided some nice laughs, while the trainer tried in vain to get the horse back within the pack.

Living in the Bay Area gives people the unique opportunity to see so many different styles of performance. But what makes a show like “Odysseo” special is that it creates a peaceful utopia, one where animals and humans live together in perfect harmony. It may be a quixotic dream, but “Odysseo” teaches us to never stop striving for it.

WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO

Cavalia presents “Odysseo”
Created by Artistic Director Normand Latourelle
Through Jan. 10th
The Word: A show that clearly spares on expense, “Odysseo” is a marvel.
Stars: 5 out of 5
The Big Top on Lot A next to AT&T Park
AT&T Park – 24 Willie Mays Plaza, San Francisco, CA 94107
Tickets range from $44.50 – $264.50
For tickets and more information, please call (866) 999-8111 or visit www.cavalia.net

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