Cavalia’s Odysseo – 5 stars
Review by Revonda Mehovic
Cavalia’s Odysseo, originally conceived of by Artistic Director, Normand Latourelle. Directed by Wayne Fowkes. Equestrian direction and choreography by Benjamin Aillaud. Set Design by Guillaume Lord. Visual concept by Geodezik. Costume designs by Georges Levesque (1951-2011) and Michele Hamel. Choreography by Darren Charles and Alain Gauthier. Performance includes 63 horses and 47 artists. “Odysseo” shows now through at least August 25th, 2013 under the White Big Top at Assembly Row in Somerville. Tickets are available online at http://www.cavalia.net/ or by calling 1-866-999-8111. The performance typically lasts 2 hours 30 minutes, including a 20-30 minute intermission. For more information, please see http://www.cavalia.net.
Watching Cavalia’s new production “Odysseo” is a bit like walking into another world. From the outside, the immense white tents which have popped up in Somerville’s Assembly Row are relatively unassuming, considering the spectacle that they house. Once through the entrance, I sometimes found it difficult to believe that I was inside at all, much less inside a tent, because the illusion is so powerful. For those of you who have ever wondered what it might be like to stumble upon a real-life version of Disney’s “Fantasia”, Cavalia’s “Odysseo” can show you. Inside of this 125 foot tall tent, Cavalia’s Artistic Director and Creator Normand Latourelle somehow manages to transport us into what could be described as a living fairy tale. In “Odysseo”, the members of Cavalia create a production that transcends ordinary spectacle to become a mesmerizingly visceral dream world.
“Odysseo” attempts to tell the grand tale of how the lives of horses and humans have been intertwined through history and across the globe. Latorelle does not do this literally, but rather through richly textured scenes that convey the emotion and power of this relationship. In the first scene, horsewomen in long, white flowing dresses each ride a pair of Arabian horses Roman style with a graceful lyricism. In this trick style of equestrianism, the rider has each foot placed atop a different horse. They ride through a forest that seems directly pulled from one of Tolkien’s, the writer of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, works. In another scene, we are transported to a more desert-like vista that has the ambiance of an African Folk tale. In this vignette, which happens to be the favorite of both myself and my friend, horses, men and creatures which seem like half-man, half-gazelle cavort together with a joyful ease that belies the difficulty of the aerobatics. There is a frenzy of back flips and seemingly impossible heights are jumped. My friend even remarked that it seemed like some of the dancers were able to leap as high or higher than the horses. They do so with an unbridled enthusiasm that is contagious. In this scene, and in many of the others, it does not feel as though the horses are following orders of their trainers as much as they are playing together. I even overheard one child near me remark on how they felt they got to see the individual personalities of the horses. There is an almost effortless unity in the shared dance between humans and horses, as devised by the collaboration between choreographers Darren Charles and Alain Gauthier with the equestrian director and choreographer Benjamin Aillaud, that makes this incredibly lavish work seem organic rather than contrived.
Cavalia’s “Odysseo” is likely the most extravagantly gorgeous production I have ever seen or expect to see in a long time. Guillaume Lord’s stunning set design includes such wonders as a working carousel that slowly descends from the sky, beautifully detailed video backdrops projected onto immense screens which create the illusion of being in many different places and times. That is not nearly all though. During the grand finale, Cavalia goes so far as to flood the set with 80,000 gallons of water, allowing the performers, both human and equine, to create a variety of visually rich effects.
Rather than being a distraction, the ornateness of the set accentuates the abilities of the artists. The dancers and equestrian performers show a range of athleticism and liquid grace that at times go beyond even that of their doppelgangers in “Cirque Du Soleil”, those famous performance artists and acrobats of which Cavalia’s Latourelle was a founding member. During each scene, the elaborate and often dangerous choreography is accompanied by a live orchestra and at times includes a soloist as well. The end effect is compellingly ethereal. Cavalia’s “Odysseo” is the sort of show that only comes around once in a great while and sometimes only once in a lifetime. It involves a level of artistic and entrepreneurial daring that is unfortunately rare. If you can, you should go see it. If you do not, there may not be another opportunity.