Tonight it was my great pleasure to witness the opening night of Odysseo in the big tents set up beside the Hershey Centre in Mississauga, presented by Cavalia.
Cavalia is a company led by Normand Latourelle that features live music, dance, acrobatics, aerials, and above all, horses, either ridden or led as part of the multi-media show that is Odysseo. The sample in their trailer (at the bottom) might mislead you, as much of the musical flavour of their performances is very gentle but passionate, punctuated sometimes by something more dramatic when there’s suspense.
There are 50 performers in various disciplines in the show, sixty-five horses, and a huge complement in support. Tonight was my third time seeing the show, having seen it twice in its previous incarnation in the east end of Toronto a couple of years ago. I like it better each time I see it.
The evening was framed by an announcement from Latourelle at the beginning of the show: that he had welcomed 800 refugees as his guests, drawing a warm ovation of welcome. I got a bit teary eyed when, after a few welcome messages, the usual instruction to turn off our mobile phones and to refrain from taking flash photos because it would startle the horses, we were then hearing the same instructions in what must have been Syrian. I couldn’t help noticing that this show, just a few days before our 150th birthday, captured so much of what it means to be Canadian. While there are displays of virtuosity and skill, there are no real class distinctions. Whether you are the one on the horse leaping over the bar, or the guy standing there holding the bar for the horse to leap over, you’re part of the team. The riders high-five the guys holding the bars.
This is true team-work and without any sense of vanity. And while there are perhaps more males than female, it’s a multi-racial cast. 2017 or not, the one gender gap is among the horses who are all males (either stallions or geldings). But we don’t see cruelty. We see horses running without bridles, without much visible evidence of control –there are some tiny whips although I didn’t see them used very much—and with a breath-taking sense of freedom. The horses seem as though they could go anywhere they wish. So of course it’s that much more impressive—and beautiful—when the horses stay in perfect lines, obey their handlers, and look beautiful.
Let me back up to the most obvious thing about Odysseo. This is a happy show. You watch beautiful animals, stunningly beautiful humans –specimens rippling with muscle—jumping or flying or riding. There is no suffering, no sadness. Yes there is the suspense generated watching the performers, who risk life and limb, sometimes hanging perilously from fast-moving horses, sometimes flipping and flying through the air. But the longer you watch the more you see the harmony between human and animal, between the members of the team onstage, and between the parts of the show (sets, CGI projections, music, and performers) brought together so smoothly.
They say the exception proves the rule. And so tonight. There were two remarkable moments, when things weren’t quite clockwork precise, possibly because this is opening night. And the slight departure from perfection shows a lot about this company and their values:
1) At one point an acrobat, flipping over a bar didn’t quite make it. The ones holding the bar let go instantly. They helped up the acrobat, who shook it off, got up, waved and the made his exit. It was nicely handled
2) At one point one of the horses mounted another horse, perhaps unable to resist his equine compadre. No harm done. They were given some space, and –not sure how, whether it was whistles or running beside—the horses found their way back into the proper formation. No harm done.
They’re all so friendly. At one point we were singing about world peace, which seems like the most natural thing in the world. The acrobats had something like a dance-off, competing against one another with ferocious flip & jumps, and getting us to sing along with them. But while there was a bit of friendly competition it’s a loving thing.
Odysseo will be in Mississauga for at least a few weeks. I would like to see it again, as it’s the happiest presentation I’ve seen in awhile.