Where: Cavalia’s White Big Top, Soldier Field South Lot, 1410 Museum Campus Dr.
When: through April 23
By ANNE SPISELMAN
“Odysseo,” the second show from Cavalia, the Canadian company created by artistic director and Cirque du Soleil veteran Normand Latourelle, is not all about the horses—although there are 65 magnificent stallions and geldings representing 11 different breeds from quite a few countries. And it is not all about the humans, despite the impressive skill of the 48 riders, acrobats, aerialists, musicians, and more.
Greater than the sum of its parts, the extravaganza showcases the collaboration of humans and horses packaged in a most spectacular way. The staging alone is a huge undertaking requiring a staggering amount of engineering, artistry, and coordination. And virtually every detail seems to be carefully thought out, except perhaps some of the choreography.
The set design by Guillaume Lord not only requires tons of dirt and sand for a field and three-story-high mountain backed by a cycloramic state-of-the-art video screen three times the size of the largest movie screens, curtains keep opening to surprise us with new depths. The visual concept by Geodezik features spectacular projections that take us around the world to exotic locations (the Easter Islands, Africa, etc.), through the seasons, from day to night and back again with everything from thunderous storms to the Northern lights along the way. Magical special effects range from a full-size merry-go-round that descends from the ceiling to a lake that appears right in front of us for the finale.
While the splendid steeds, each with his own personality, figure in scenes showcasing dressage and circus arts, such as Roman and stunt riding—not to mention a delightful dance from a horse named Omerio and his rider Elise Verdoncq—the main point seems to be to suggest how they might behave if they were actually outdoors, even free. In a number of scenes, they run around at various speeds, both without and with riders, playfully nuzzle each other, and in small groups, follow a trainer who simply speaks to them in soft tones.
The acts spotlighting people follow a fairly familiar format with a few twists. A troupe of terrific tumblers from New Guinea—who got the biggest round of applause after their second-act African dancing and drumming on opening night—somersaults and flips its way into our hearts, then joins forces with stilt jumpers and horses vaulting over horizontal poles. The acrobats perform feats of balance and beauty on the static and rotating poles of the carousel. Aerialists take to hoops and weather a real rains storm for a breathtaking ballet in the sky. For the silks number, the they arrive via horse and rider, and their flowing white gowns become the angel wings that support them (though the construction, with a central loop, makes this less dazzling than other silks acts I’ve seen).
Despite the visual splendor and able support from a five-piece band and singer Valentina Spreca, “Odysseo” does have a few shortcomings. It might benefit from an overall story arc rather than being just a series of vignettes. The choreography is a bit sloppy at times. Although the action builds nicely, it also becomes repetitious. (At one point, I found myself thinking of “Gulliver’s Travels” and the negative aspects of gelding and training beautiful horses to have them run around in circles for the pleasure of people) Even with a lake, the finale comes across as a rehash of what’s gone before. And fans of “Cirque du Soleil” may grouse that the horse-less circus’ acrobats and aerialists are better.
Still, whether you love horses or not, “Odysseo” is an accomplishment worth applauding. It takes enormous dedication and determination—not to mention $30-million—to pull it off.