It’s the opening night of Cavalia’s Odysseo show in Toronto and April showers are in full effect. As my friend and I approach the world’s largest touring big top tent, currently set up in Toronto’s Port Lands, the ground, originally intended to be rustically sandy is a muddy, sloppy mess. I feel sorry for the elegant women in their fancy shoes, but we do what we must to see the 70 horses and 45 artists who include riders, musicians, acrobats and aerialists in Cavalia’s show, under the artistic direction of Normand Latourelle.
When we get inside the tent we approach the snack bar to see (and smell) someone accidentally light the popcorn in the machine on fire. She puts it out and the crisis is averted. The front area includes the usual: merchandise and bars, but something else catches my eye and this time it’s not a fire. Beautiful original paintings inspired by the show are on sale; probably the best souvenir they have if you can afford them.
This is Odysseo’s second run in Toronto and second last stop in the current tour. The show has been running since its debut in Montreal in 2011 and the stage and tent have doubled in size giving spectators an unparalleled experience. I was surprised the show was accompanied by live musicians and an incredible singer named Claudia Paganelli. The music is multicultural in nature and Paganelli displays incredible operatic vocals that are flawless.
The show travels through landscapes and seasons, beginning in a forest atmosphere where horses and riders start off easy, showing both the freedom of the horses and basic control over their movements. Each act displays more and more incredible feats of man and beast. An early act showcases an equestrian directing horses in lines similar to military exercises, but don’t mistake this section of the show for being militant. The horses’ personalities shine through, with some of them causing trouble or wandering out of line, bringing others with them. Rather than being distracting or amateurish, these moments are endearing. The animal stars are, of course, living beings not machines, although the control their handlers have over them is staggering, with a section towards the end showing a rider having a horse perform detailed motions, speeds and walking techniques almost as if it were dancing.
The human accomplishments in Odysseo are just as entertaining as the animal ones. One section includes a giant carousel that comes down from the ceiling while acrobats suspend their bodyweight horizontally off bars in a variety of incredible positions. Another act shows a circle of aerial silk performers suspended and being turned and affected by the horses and riders below. The most heart stopping parts of the show are when equestrians ride their horses in non-traditional ways, such as off to one side of the horse and upside down or climbing around the horse’s body, all while the animals move at breakneck speeds.
Finally the stage itself, bigger than a hockey rink and backed by three IMAX sized screens, is a transforming wonder. Eighteen projectors change atmospheres in a heartbeat; from desert to icy mountains and the sandy terrain rolls up a three story hill making illusions of nature look easy. Near the end of the show, this terrain changes, with 300,000 litres of water pumped in to create a lake that horses and acrobats splash through. The show runs until May 10 at 383 Lakeshore Blvd. E. Tickets range from $34.50 to $264.50, plus taxes and fees. I would say the show is well worth your money and time, so go get tickets at www.cavalia.net.