May 26, 2018

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Odysseo a dazzling, in-your-face spectacle

Horses and acrobats come together for a mesmerizing circus performance

Live nude horses.

If Odysseo wasn’t the largest touring production in the world and had the need of a carnival barker to entice audiences into the grand White Big Top that popped up on the corner of Kenaston and Sterling Lyon Parkway, that particular ballyhoo might be appropriate... if not technically necessary.

The show is two and a half hours (with intermission) of dazzling, in-your-face spectacle, filled with impressive acrobats, elaborate visual tech and candy-coloured heavy machinery that fools the eye into thinking it is looking at something delicate and ephemeral.

Still, the highlight of the evening is a segment in the beginning of the second act wherein 27 of the 70-horse cast, stripped of saddles, ropes, reins and hardware, gallop around the huge landscaped stage in a kind of equine variation of a close-order drill.

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Live nude horses.

If Odysseo wasn’t the largest touring production in the world and had the need of a carnival barker to entice audiences into the grand White Big Top that popped up on the corner of Kenaston and Sterling Lyon Parkway, that particular ballyhoo might be appropriate... if not technically necessary.

THEATRE REVIEW

Click to Expand

Odysseo

● White Big Top (corner of Kenaston Boulevard and Sterling Lyon Parkway)

May 15 to June 17

● Tickets $47 to 125.50 at cavalia.com or Ticketmaster.

★★★★★

The show is two and a half hours (with intermission) of dazzling, in-your-face spectacle, filled with impressive acrobats, elaborate visual tech and candy-coloured heavy machinery that fools the eye into thinking it is looking at something delicate and ephemeral.

Still, the highlight of the evening is a segment in the beginning of the second act wherein 27 of the 70-horse cast, stripped of saddles, ropes, reins and hardware, gallop around the huge landscaped stage in a kind of equine variation of a close-order drill.

It looks pure and simple, but of course, it is the product of intense training and co-ordination. The trick of it is that you can fool yourself into believing you have touched down in some equine Eden, where horses run free in their picturesque, pre-ordained paths.

Looking back

Click to Expand

When Odysseo was last in Winnipeg in 2015, Erin Lebar also gave it a five-star review:

"There is an epic feeling surrounding every part of Odysseo — the scale and intensity of the performance is at almost a biblical level. So, it should come as no surprise the production value of the show is about as good as you’re going to see anywhere."

Read Erin's full 2015 review.

That illusion is crucial because, of course, Odysseo is mostly a sustained circus animal act crossbred with the fanciful, wordless esthetic of Cirque du Soleil.

When it was first conceived in the mid-1980s, the Canadian Cirque deliberately pivoted from the usual Ringling Bros.-style circus show by eliminating performing animals from the mix, and concentrating on clowning, acrobatics and sheer gorgeous spectacle.

The perverse ingenuity of Odysseo is that it re-introduces animals into the circus mix. But in this iteration, we aren’t subject to the guilt that accompanied animal acts of old. Recall the lion-tamer of circuses past, armed with a chair, a whip and a gun.

No such brutish dynamic or violent motivation is in evidence here. The horses often seem to go off-script, breaking loose of their paths occasionally with no harm done.

Odysseo, it seems, let horses be horses. In this especially, it deviates from its most obvious inspiration: the RCMP Musical Ride. (Replace red-serged Mounties with screaming medieval wenches and you’ll understand the appeal.)

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p>

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Also, in an early first act segment, when lively Guinean acrobats take the stage, one can see a certain egalitarian philosophy at work. Both horses and men —some wearing spring contraptions on their legs — alternate jumping barriers. It’s as if the horses aren’t being asked to do anything the humans wouldn’t do.

As such, the quadrupeds have, collectively and individually, a lot of charm and even star power. (Love the seldom-seen but memorable white miniature horse.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p>

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

It seems unlikely that anyone would get bored watching them, but to be on the safe side, the show balances the horsey energy with two-legged acrobats including aerialists who carry on the equine theme on a set that looks like a giant carnival carousel descended from a Spielbergian UFO.

The set is embellished with a projected screen backdrop that often lulls you into a belief that you’re on a prairie, an African desert, Russian steppes or a Tolkienesque landscape. (Yes, once again, water rises up from seemingly nowhere in the finale, necessitating a splash zone in the front rows.) When the scene changes, the effect can be downright dizzying, even trippy when the scene starts to resemble some especially spacey ’70s album cover art à la Roger Dean.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p>

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Evidently, Odysseo hits us Winnipeggers where we live. This is the second time Cavalia, the company behind the show, has put down its stakes here, first in the fall of 2015. Perhaps it’s that the show is best appreciated by people who dig the wide horizon of its stage. An added bonus for locals is the presence of Winnipeg songbird Maria Aragon, layering the onstage magic with the singing that recalls another ethereal Manitoban vocalist, Loreena McKennitt.

Well, they don’t come for the story. One can detect a loose vaguely historical narrative having to do with humans interacting with horses. Odysseo doesn’t really have a comprehensible tale (but then, Cirque du Soleil doesn’t either, narrative pretenses notwithstanding). It’s more like stringing different colourful beads on a fun, gaudy — but decidedly not cheap — necklace.

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @FreepKing

Read more by Randall King .

Mane Attraction
Photos by: John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press
JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
Performers entertain at the Cavalia Odysseo Tuesday.
JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
Performers entertain at the Cavalia Odysseo Tuesday.
JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
Performers entertain at the Cavalia Odysseo Tuesday.
JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
Performers entertain at the Cavalia Odysseo Tuesday.
JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
Performers entertain at the Cavalia Odysseo Tuesday.
JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
Performers entertain at the Cavalia Odysseo Tuesday.
JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
Performers entertain at the Cavalia Odysseo Tuesday.
JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
Performers entertain at the Cavalia Odysseo Tuesday.
JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
Performers entertain at the Cavalia Odysseo Tuesday.
JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
Performers entertain at the Cavalia Odysseo Tuesday.
JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
Performers entertain at the Cavalia Odysseo Tuesday.
JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
Performers entertain at the Cavalia Odysseo Tuesday.
JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
Performers entertain at the Cavalia Odysseo Tuesday.
JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
Performers entertain at the Cavalia Odysseo Tuesday.
JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
Performers entertain at the Cavalia Odysseo Tuesday.
JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
Performers entertain at the Cavalia Odysseo Tuesday.
JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
Performers entertain at the Cavalia Odysseo Tuesday.
JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
Performers entertain at the Cavalia Odysseo Tuesday.

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