is an eye-popping spectacle that provides an emotional wallop. At one point I counted 32 horses onstage, but I can't vouch for accuracy because I was continually distracted by another visual detail or treat. For anyone who is a fan of horses, the show is a delight, but for those who never gave equines much thought beyond a general appreciation: prepare to be converted. The animals are extraordinarily beautiful -- their flowing manes, glistening coats and taut muscles -- and while trained to perform and obey, they also seem to have been allowed -- encouraged? -- to exhibit playfulness and affection for each other. There is a lot of animal nuzzling and mock disobedience blended into the strict formations and tableaus.
Too much spectacle can dwarf performers -- especially circus acts -- but Odysseo
takes full advantage of a set that appears capable of creating any world the creators can dream up. After an introduction to the horses, the second segment builds relentlessly to a climax that most shows would never be able to live up to or top. A troupe of impossibly fit -- bare-chested with rock-hard abs, chiselled pecs, Madonna-strength arms and big smiles -- African acrobats and dancers explode onto the stage and tumble and gyrate astonishingly. They are joined by a set of Kangoo-wearing acrobats who are just as erotically stimulating and athletically amazing. Cue the horses and riders, who thread through the mayhem; audience members hold their breath and dampen their seats until it ends triumphantly and applause fills the immense tent. Where to go from there? The back of the stage opens, the surrounding screen fills even peripheral vision, the entire world seems to tilt on its axis and the audience is propelled, as if on a speeding roller coaster, into the next scene. It is a coup de théâtre that astonishes.
A giant merry-go-round descends from the ceiling and is covered with lithe pole dancers who ride the revolving and rising-and-falling carnival horses. A blond Adonis aerialist soars over the audience, but why stop there? Suddenly, there are a dozen aerialists filling every corner of the cavernous space, now in the midst of a turbulent tropical storm. If it wasn't so exhilarating, it would be exhausting.
And throughout, there are the horses and the riders. Appearing out of nowhere to do the impossible and the death-defying, or demonstrating the bond between man and animal. Sidesaddle, upside-down, double mounted: the variations on defying death while remaining in the saddle appear to be endless -- and terrifying. Somehow in the midst of all the spectacle the tiny moments register -- a rider pats a horse affectionately or a horse nose nudges the side of a head for attention -- there is a gentle physicality that belies the size and musculature of the animals.
One of the side products of a stage filled with horses is the inevitable dung. Whether deviously or accidently, one loose-bowelled bronco dropped a sizable pile centre stage. While the four white-clad silk performers -- trailing giant trains that horsemen gripped while galloping to spin the fragile-looking flyers into circles of flowing fabric and heart-stopping falls -- flew overhead, the suspense grew, as one of them was sure to land with her dainty white slipper directly in the shit. One did, and it was amusing, tragic and distracting. It made me miss the clown in the circus who follows the elephant with a broom and scooper; in this show the horses function in the traditional clown role -- whenever there was a need for a pause (never for more than a few seconds, for a scenery change or for the audience to catch their breath), a horse would thunder by and all would oooh with delight. There are a few other little quibbles -- the call and response vocal section was beneath the dignity of the acrobats and the quality of the rest of the show, and there really should be a moratorium on pseudo-Celtic music being used for anything, ever -- but they are all washed away, literally, by the end.
The climax is almost completely over-the-top, as -- spoiler alert
-- the stage floods with water during a dramatic dressage demonstration atop a mountain surrounded by waterfalls. One almost expects orcas to surface or high divers to plummet from the rafters. Instead, there is a simple and stunning image: a half-dozen albino Lusitanos gallop out of the wings and charge through the water, sending sheets of spray flying in the air and expressing a joy, a revelling in freedom, that words could never articulate. It is a tear-in-the-eye moment that ties together all the dazzling spectacle that has come before and lodges it in the heart like a beautiful dream.
Odysseo continues to Sun, Aug 26 at the White Big Top, 492 Lake Shore Blvd E. cavalia.net