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There’s something rather primal and elemental about watching a horse doing natural horse-y behaviors. Whether we’re talking kicking, prancing, tossing its head, snorting, even grinding its back into the ground – legs up – like a satisfied beagle. They act, we watch with oohs and ahhs aplenty. Thus has it always been.
Normand Latourelle tapped into this equine fascination nine years ago when he developed the first incarnation of “Cavalia” and – being an early Cirque du Soleil pioneer – he added some showy human visuals and acrobatics into the mix. Now “Cavalia” has spawned a sequel of sorts and the original is still galloping along internationally.
The acts haven’t changed substantially with the new show, “Odysseyo,” currently under a giant big top in Burbank for the month of March. We still have elaborate visuals courtesy of three giant IMAX sized screens, some lovely costumes, new age Cirque-like music and – at show’s end – the flooding of the stage with 80,000 gallons of water (which does not, by the way, look anywhere near as stunning as it sounds).
Under the guidance of director/choreographer Wayne Fowkes, the acrobatics and high-fly doings have plenty of awe and pep, but if you’re coming to any kind of “Cavalia” show, you’d best be coming to see the horses, all 67 of them.
They don’t disappoint. We’re talking about fast, regal, majestic beasts, some with manes as long as their tales – stallions and geldings only – who either love the attention they get being on stage or simply have no inkling that up to 2,000 people are trained on their every snort and quiver.
And indeed, there are routines in “Odysseyo” – if you can call them that – where we watch up to 30 horses of all varieties move around the stage in formation. Sometimes they’re in groups of three or four, sometimes they line up and start circling in a massive hairy pinwheel. In some cases, a handler will be following along, while in the first and second act opening scenes, the titles “Liberty” are largely accurate with the horses just going seemly wherever they like. Although not really. They seem to favor circular patterns.
With the aid of his visual team (principally set designer Guillaume Lord and visual designers Etienne Cantin, Gabriel Dumont-Coutu and Olivier Goulet) Fowkes and the “Odysseo” performers are making these promenades and frolics are taking place in exotic locales around the world: a desert, Easter Island, a forest an ice cave. Certainly an exciting high-tech background can make the live performers – four legged and two - look all the more exciting. There is a virtual ton of space for the flipping and jumping acrobats of “fete de Village” or for horses to gallop madly end to end as a rider does some alarming-looking saddle work.
The “Rotating Carousel,” bathed in moody blue light, finds a team of aerialists climbing and wrapping themselves – in impossible ways – around the poles of a life sized merry-go-round with painted ponies along with vocalist Anna-Laura Edmiston singing a moody dirge about illusion. This carousel, designed by Mathieu Roy, descends from the roof. Stunning.
A substantial part of the “Cavalia” background documentation offers the reassurance that these horses are never goaded, mistreated or made to perform any act they don’t want to do. And indeed, the, er, stable of “Cavalia” performers and trainers seems to be growing as the years move on. Given that there are probably only so many behaviors, routines one can comfortably get a horse to do without having animal rights organizations down on one’s neck, the freshness potential of this product will probably lie in its technical frills and human acts. “Odysseo” is longish, repetitive and occasionally over-produced, but it also has the sense to get out of the way of its central message. The animals, and the show surrounding them, have an undeniable majesty. “Odysseo” gives this collection a much deserved spotlight.
“Cavalia’s Odysseo” plays 8 p.m. Tue.-Fri., 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. Sat., 2 p.m. Sun; through March 24 under the White Big Top at 777 N. Front St., Burbank. $34.50-$159.50. (866) 999-8111, www.cavalia.net.