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Cavalia's Odysseo a four-legged feast for the eyes

Cavalia’s biggest-ever touring tent hosts a new show, Odysseo, running May 15 through June 3 at Toronto's Port Lands.

3.5 out of 4 stars

They cavorted and circled in precision, their thick luxurious manes blowing and bouncing to the gallop. They were lithe, leap-happy and elegantly muscular – uniquely bred types, extraordinary. Their feats were significant, their enthusiasm was unbridled and they were seemingly conscious of the applause.

In short, these wild-eyed but choreographed creatures were magnificent – near unimaginable.

And then there were the horses.

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Odysseo, a show of divine equine and drastic human acrobatics, is literally up and running under a big, white, pointed tent at Toronto's Port Lands. In front of more than 2,000 applauders on Tuesday, Cavalia offered up its second production, a sequel to the stunts of 2003's Cavalia: A Magical Encounter Between Human and Horse.

That touring show, a sort of a Cirque du Soleil offshoot, was a smash success. Saddled with expectations of producing something superior, the Montreal-based company went bigger in terms of staging, horses and live music.

Is bigger better? Having never seen the original spectacle, I can't say. I will say that Odysseo is an audacious undertaking, and quite the scene.

As the title suggests, Odysseo involves a journey – across seasons and varying terrain. As for a plot, let's just say there is more horseplay than actual play. There is no narration, no dialogue – just an emotive, soulful, Gypsy-styled score with an impassioned Roman female singer.

Twenty-two stallions – with no distracting mares – and 39 geldings make up the four-legged portion of the cast. Some breeds were jump-happy and swift; others were more choreographed, whether simulating sleep, writhing on their backs or moving in unison.

The penultimate scene saw a Lusitano stallion in silhouette on a hilltop, raising a leg, ballet-like. The haute-école hoofer's name is Omerio – a prancer that undoubtedly receives the sweetest hay in the stable, a star on its stall gate.

There was costumed trick riding, of course: Fabio-like males and crimp-haired female stunt doers standing on horses – Roman riding – and dare takers riding backward and hanging fearlessly from a stirrup. One fellow did the so-called "death drag." Another managed to climb down one flank of his steed and manoeuvre underneath and back up the other side.

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A wintery, dreamy, aerial-silk-acrobatic scene was a highlight. Kids will delight in the merry-go-round.

Horseless acrobatics involved hoop hanging, where lives depended on the crooks of knees. Leapers, with curved prosthetic devices for feet, flipped outrageously. A troupe of tumblers and drummers from Guinea were non-stop with smiles and somersaults and offered a crowd-baiting call-and-response number.

The journey (two acts, with one 30-minute intermission) ended with the sandy plain of a stage flooded. Equestrian destination was reached; splashes happened. Cavalia leads horses to water, but so much more.

Cavalia's Odysseo

  • Directed by Wayne Fowkes
  • Under the White Big Top
  • In Toronto on Tuesday

Odysseo continues in Toronto through June 3.

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