Horses, like people, have their own personalities. This realization flows through me as I watch the dream-like opening of Cavalia's current production, Odysseo on now in Mississauga. Ten pure-bred unbridled Arabian horses move in a choreographed dance amidst a midnight springtime forest setting as one lone man silently leads them with small motions of his hand and body. They move as one and because of the thoughtful, slowed melodic nature of this performance I begin to see personalities emerge.
The lead horse is clear, directly behind him two others, possibly in the midst of a personal tiff flick their manes and tails at each other like battling stage divas. But my favourite, the slow rebel, keeps either forgetting his movements or is clearly only interested in doing his own thing. Then when I think this serene segment is winding down another ten horses gallop fiercely onto the stage, manes flowing, to perform with their brothers. Majestic.
Over the course of two hours, the audience of tonight's sold-out show watch from under the white big top, a massive 38 metre tall tent the size of two NFL fields. The main stage larger than a hockey rink is filled with 6,000 tons of sculpted rock, earth and sand and forms a massive three-story hill. With the addition of computerized projected backgrounds that fill a curved wall the size of three IMAX screens and complex lighting schemes the audience is taken on a journey to several continents that spans the four seasons.
"It looks like a movie," my mother whispers as we watch a team of horses and their riders emerge from over a yellow hilltop, dressed in flowing bronze and gold tunics under an auburn sky.
And like a big-budget Hollywood film, there are some hot leading men (and gorgeous women). African tumblers with the bodies of gods threaten to steal the show, while the male acrobats with the tightest derrières this side of a tightrope expertly work metal poles. On the sandy stage urban stilters in flowing pants astound by jumping higher than the horses, above aerial artists create a dream-like dance on rings, and a full size merry-go-round descends from the top of the tent. But it is the horses and their handlers who perform complex military like moves, intricate hoof-step dance routines, heart pounding (and dangerous) speed race tricks, and disciplined stillness that are the main attraction.
All riders in the show are trained to ride every horse and it is not uncommon for them to perform with three of more a night. There are more than 60 horses of 16 breeds and surprisingly all of them are male. Fifteen are stallions (male) and the rest are geldings that have had their manhoods removed. If they were humans (they even have their manes braided every night), their paddock parties would be quite interesting.
Coming to a surprise watery finish, the stage fills with water to form a shallow pool where one stunning steed performs an intricate step dance to the tempo of the live band and vocalist. The end of this journey leaves us applauding for the impressive acrobatic numbers, for the music that beautifully narrates each scene, for technical display that dazzles our eyes and for the stunning visual mastery of the sets. But mostly we cheer for the four-legged entertainers whose personalities have won us over.
Cavalia continues until Sun, July 23 at the big top5399 Rose Cherry Place, Mississauga.www.cavalia.com