When was the last time you saw a production which featured 18 equestrians, 23 acrobats and aerialists, and 67 horses (22 stallions and 45 geldings) performing live under a 10-story-high big-top tent smack dab in the center of beautiful downtown Burbank?

Well, if you’re the editor of StageSceneLA, the answer to the above question is “Not until last night,” when the spectacularly one-of-a-kind Cavalia Odysséo opened to a standing-room-only audience dazzled again and again by its myriad of wonders.

18_2 The brainchild of Cirque Du Soleil co-founder Normand Latourelle, Cavalia Odysséo takes spectators on an Around-The-World-In-Two-And-A-Half-Hours tour of Africa, the Arctic, the American Southwest thanks to performers (both equine and human) and a design which includes a hockey-rink-sized stage backed by an ever-changing high-def video backdrop projected onto a surround screen three times as large as the biggest IMAX has to offer.  How about that for spectacular?

odysseo_fb_0478 From the first of its fifteen production numbers, “Rêver L’Odyssée,” one which features nine of its stunning stable of horses amidst a lush, verdant forest, to “Odysséo,” the evening’s grand finale performed by three dozen riders and acrobats and a dozen-and-a-half horses on an 80,000-gallon lake which has appeared out of nowhere, Cavalia Odysséo redefines live entertainment for Los Angeles theatergoers and folks who have never seen a play or musical in their lives.

“Épona” is one of several numbers featuring “roman riding,” each of its bevy of riders standing high atop not one but two horses, a foot on each one. “Fête De Village” has riders and acrobats competing to see who can leap highest, several of its two-legged participants defying the laws of gravity on spring-loaded stilts that send them higher aloft than you would think humanly possible. “Tribu” and “Nomads” give us some of the most spectacular trick riding you’re likely ever to see, with riders standing upright on galloping stallions or hanging upside-down off their speeding equine partners’ sides or jumping on and off of them without missing a beat.

Chevaux, Other numbers take us to Africa, where native-born acrobats execute somersault after somersault after somersault, each faster and more death-defying than the one before, most notably in “Appel D’Afrique,” which invites audience members to join African performers in crying out “O walu guere moufan,” a resounding plea for “No More War.”

28_1_0 Others in Cavalia Odysséo’s troupe of acrobats and aerialists (most of them North American or European) defy gravity time and time again, whether hanging by hands or even feet from hoops suspended several stories high in “Tempête,” or rising like airborne angels in the appropriately titled “Anges,” or, in “Carousello,” climbing high up the rotating and static poles of a carousel which has descended from the highest reaches of the Cavalia Big Top, the better to allow Odysséo’s acrobatic team to execute feats no human ought to be able even to imagine.

Then there are numbers like “Le Sédentaire,” “Grand Cavalia,” and “Paseo,” which allow us simply to observe bronco beauty, with or without riders, and the stunning Act Two opener “Oasis,” which treats us to the spectacle of horses awakening from sleep in the most surprising and delightful of ways.

odysseo_pr_049 Sharing credit with horses, riders, and acrobats is the creative team behind Cavalia Odysséo’s wonders: artistic director Normand Latourelle, director Wayne Fowkes, equestrian director and choreographer Benjamin Aillaud, set designer Guillaume Lord, visual conceptualist Geodezik, costume designers Georges Lévesque and Michèle Hamel, and choreographers Darren Charles and Alain Gauthier.

Michel Cusson’s evocative musical score is performed live by musicians Éric Auclair, Éric Boudreault, Raphael D’Amour, and David Piché, with flawless Italian vocals by Anna-Laura Edmiston, providing Cavalia Odysséo with a surround-sound musical soundtrack every bit as gorgeous as the feats executed onstage by its performers and behind-the-scenes by its design team.

Though I’ll refrain from mentioning each horse by name, begging forgiveness from Acero, Amigo, Angel, Aramis, and the rest, it would be remiss of me not to credit the astonishingly talented human performers traveling the world with this extraordinary production. They are acrobats Samuel Alvarez, Ismaël Bangoura, Balla Moussa Bangoura, Alseny Bangoura, Sékou Camara, Mohamed Lamine Camara, Michel Charron, Tomoko Charron, Aly Cisse, Pialli Courchesne-Laurier, B.J. (Brian) Erdmann, Brennan Figari, Kamila Ganclarska, Maksym Ovchynnikov, Jenny Ritchie, Fode Ismael Sylla, Fascinet Sylla, Alseny Sylla, Mohamed Sylla, Chelsea Teel, and Lucas Tormin-Mendonça, and riders Arnaud Attou, Orane Caujolle-Gazet, Iseulys Deslé, Dorian Escalon, Mathilde Fraysse, Lara Gabin, Yoann Levesque, Clément Mesmin, Théo Miler, Ramón Molina González, Fanny Nevoret, Chanel Pearson, Antoine Romanoff, Guennaei Touaev, Batraz Tsokolaev, and Elise Verdoncq, and Pialli Courchesne-Laurier and Majolie Nadeau doing double duty as both acrobats and riders.

Cavalia Odysséo’s 4,700 square foot gleaming white Big Top will remain crowning the Burbank skyline through March 24, after which the many marvels beneath it will remain only memories to those fortunate enough to have witnessed the wonders that humans and their equine companions can accomplish. Trust me when I tell you, this one-of-a-kind spectacular is not to be missed.

Odysseo White Big Top, 777 N. Front Street, Burbank.

–Steven Stanley
February 27, 2013
Photos: François Bergeron, JF Leblanc, Pascal Ratthé

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