A Review

Majestic Equestrians, Magical Imagery

By R. J. Donovan

Cavalia's "Odysseo" has been described as "a show like no other." That's understating it.

Featuring 63 horses of 11 different breeds and almost four dozen international artists, this unique $30 million production marries the equestrian arts with high-tech theatrical staging to take audiences on a spectacular journey that salutes man and beast.

Presented under an enormous White Top Tent (which claims to be the largest in the world), the performance area for this majestic and ethereal evening measures a whooping 35,000 square feet and consists of ten tons of rock, earth and sand. It almost overwhelms you when you walk into the theater.

Creator and Artistic Director Normand Latourelle is one of the original folks behind Cirque du Soleil. Unlike Cirque, "Odysseo" is not a frenetic world populated by surreal creatures in somewhat bizarre costuming. Rather, the evening is completely realistic, whether the sets and high-def projections (splayed across a huge cyclorama the size of three IMAX screens) take us to a forest, an ice cave, the African plain, Easter Island, or -- in the grand finale -- the shores of a shimmering lake filled by a waterfall. (For the finale, the performance area is flooded to achieve an actual lake.)

Although the pacing is slower, allowing the horses to go through their motions with grace, the imaginative evening includes its far share of full gallop excitement.One of the most heart-pounding sequences involves trick riding, as the horses enter from the sides of the venue at break neck speed -- with the riders, dressed in earth tones, performing incredible feats as they zoom by, one after another. (One rider, in particular, defied gravity as he zipped out of his saddle, slid under the horse and back up the other side, all while sailing by at top speed.)

There are acrobats on blade stilts, pounding drummers, a rotating carousel that drifts down from the heavens, a dreamy female vocalist (Anna-Laura Edmiston), aerial artists twirling in sky-high hoops, and acrobats sailing through the air on silk sheaths.

The horses perform with elegant beauty (with riders and without), execute precision jumps, and preen against breath taking backdrops. It's hard to fully describe the artistry, because the effect is both massive and intimate at the same time. And all of it is accompanied by live music from a talented crew of musicians tucked into the treetops high above both sides of the stage.

"Odysseo," directed by Wayne Fowkes with equestrian direction and choreography by Benjamin Aillaud has already proven so popular that it's been extended three times since its opening night. Performances will now run through September 12.

Cavalia's "Odysseo," in the White Top Tent at 201 Assembly Square Drive, Somerville. Call 866-999-8111.

-- Production Photos: Pascal Ratthe, JF Leblanc, Francois Bergeron,

-- OnStage Boston




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