There is nothing like Cavalia. The touring production Odysseo by the Cavalia team feels like the dreams we might have if we lived among wild horses and gypsy acrobats. And dream really is the key word: from the first moment until the last, herds of horses, flocks of aerialists, and scenic displays of epic proportions fill the stage with sequences that transport the audience to a magical dreamscape beyond most of our imaginings. You'll be rubbing your eyes to work out how they fit this world in one tent.
If someone in your house loves horses, this show is truly a must; if horses don't normally move you, Odysseo will change that. If these words seem overly effusive, rest assured that they don't begin to do justice to the spectacle taking place daily in that big castle-like tent next to the 101 freeway in Camarillo.
Cavalia is the creation of Normand Latourelle, one of the original creators of Cirque du Soleil. If you've ever experienced the magic of a Cirque show, you can begin to imagine what the world of Cavalia looks like—but only begin. The standard of acrobatics is just as high; the melding of movement and live music is just as seamless, and the hundreds of costumes are just as breathtaking. Cavalia, however, does not take place on a traditional stage; the action plays out on an enormous expanse of sand, which only occasionally looks like sand. A backdrop the size of three IMAX screens pairs with exceptional lighting to transport the space from deserts to canyons, from waterfalls to mountaintops, from moonscapes to ancient steppes. And into each of these worlds gallop the athlete performers, both human and equine. The animals and humans alike are so incredibly skilled as to make feats that should by rights be physically impossible look effortless and weightless. They frolic together and separately, with horses frequently outnumbering people—sometimes even taking the stage alone to create a dreamscape that feels spontaneous, wild, and private.
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The costumes suggest a tribe of ancient and majestic gypsies, or maybe nomadic Cossacks, whose camp followers seem to be a troupe of euphoric acrobats from a distant land. For each gypsy princess on horseback who sails high over a fence, a bounding, flipping acrobat leaps even higher. I confess I grinned from ear to ear from start to finish, not just because the show is so utterly beautiful, but because everyone on the stage—human and animal alike—seems to be having so darn much fun.
Whenever a show involves animals, there is the nagging worry that perhaps the animals might not be treated well, that perhaps the tricks they perform are bullied out of them. From first moment to last, Cavalia creates an atmosphere that oozes horse joy, and love between human and animal. The graceful animals frequently appear without riders, in scenes that feel natural and unchoreographed. For every moment that pairs horse and rider, there is another in which the horses frolic, run, and play in a manner that seems like an intimate peek into the secret world of horses. And speaking of the peeks, special Rendez-vous tickets include a post-show visit to the stables, where each horse is being tended to by his personal groom.
Odysseo has passed through the Southland before, in Burbank and Irvine, but even if you've seen the show before, it is worth a second look. There are some scenes and effects that were not in the show previously, and even those that were merit a second gasp of delight. Cavalia: Odysseo is suitable for any child who can sit and focus for an hour at a time; there is no content that would be unsuitable for any age, and the intermission offers a 30 minute break between acts. Tickets are, admittedly, pricier than some family shows, but, hey, they've got a lot of horses to feed. And don't be afraid of the less expensive seats; there's not a bad seat in the tent. If, on the other hand, you've got a little extra to spend, the Rendez-vous backstable pass is a real kid-pleaser.
However you manage it—beg, borrow, or steal—you don't want that big white tent to come down without having seen the magic that goes on inside.
Cavalia: Odysseo is schedule to play through January 7, 2018
Under the Big White Top in Camarillo
Tickets start at $45
All photos by J K Wonderly