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Horses take center stage in Odysseo

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“Odysseo,” by Montreal-based troupe Cavalia, transforms a section of bucolic Marymoor Park into an extravaganza that you never dreamed could be possible.

You’re treated to the sight of 66 splendid horses — Quarter Horses, Arabians, Appaloosas, Andalusians, and Lusitanos, among others — galloping around the arena with the humans riding their backs ostensibly in charge. But make no mistake — it’s the horses that run this show.

In a tour of the stables after the opening night performance on February 19, “Examiner” learned that the show’s music is live because the troupe can’t control everything the horses want to do. If a stallion wants to gallop a few more times around the ring, you let him. Thus, it’s the horses that cue the musicians, not the other way around, which means there’s something of an improvisational element to every performance. Not every show will be exactly the same (as you’ll notice when you see the horses nip and spar with each other).

Odysseo,” which runs at Marymoor Park through March 16, doesn’t have a specific plotline. Performances by the horses are mixed in somewhat uneasily with scenes of human acrobatics. There’s nothing wrong with the stunts the humans perform, but let’s face it — you want to see more of the horses. And Cavalia has created a pretty impressive setting to show them off to you.

Under what’s said to be the largest tent in North America, Cavalia has set up an arena featuring a massive hill, and a screen backdrop that creates the illusion of movement (clouds rolling by and so forth). The cast, dressed in Medieval-style costumes (leather leggings, flowing dresses), rides horses two abreast, one leg on the back of each horse, going from one end of the arena to the other; or races them around the center ring, hanging precariously from a saddle (the rider who managed to go from his saddle, completely underneath his horse, and back into the saddle, all while the horse was galloping, got the biggest cheer of the night); or has them canter up and down the man-made hill.

And while it’s fun watching the humans interacting with the horses — there’s an extensive dressage sequence in act two — the company also understands that these fine specimens are beautiful to watch whatever they’re doing. And so there are several moments when the horses are shown simply running side by side in groups of three or four. It’s at these moments when you truly appreciate how extraordinary these animals are.

Of all the evening’s set pieces, it’s the closing number that’s the most spectacular, when a pool of water fills the center ring, resulting in dramatic splashes when the humans or horses romp through it. It’s the kind of touch that typifies Cavalia’s approach; reworking an idea that seems simple on the surface into something that’s captivating. If you're a fan of the power and majesty of horses in their prime, you won't want to miss it.

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