Run Away to the Circus: Cavalia’s Odysseo

Hannah Bendiksen
Contributing Writer

Ever since I was a child, I have dreamed of running away to the circus. When the going gets tough, I imagine a life of pure fantasy, one in which high flung acrobats and leaping horses seldom touch ground in reality. But I never had the opportunity—until I saw Odysseo’s 125 foot circus tent rising amidst the San Francisco skyline.

Cavalia’s Odysseo, a performance that pays tribute to the connection between humans and horses, is 47,000 square feet of magical escape from reality. The show transports the audience with its live music, special effects, and elaborately constructed sets. 65 horses and 45 riders and acrobats travel from a scene in the African Savanna to Easter Island, from the American southwest to Outer Space.

In its most magical moment, a carousel dropped from the sky, complete with acrobats leaping gracefully from pole to pole. Horses galloped down a three story high mountain with their medieval riders in tow. Silhouettes reflected off of a 52,800 gallon lake that appeared on the stage in between scenes. Each change ushered in new realms of imagination, worlds left unexplored since childhood days spent in active daydreaming.

Odysseo redefines ‘circus,’ offering the audience more than acrobatic feats and bright colors. The show is at once energized and graceful, elegant and simplistic. I found myself heartbroken when the last group of horses danced off stage, ushering in the next act, and eager for the next feat, hanging on the edge of my seat. I was never disappointed—each scene was varied and rich in detail and execution. Though riders and horses fell in line carefully, each step timed to music and each other, the show came off as spontaneous and natural.

The choreography and pacing varied as much as the backdrops. Some scenes included full cast choreography with stimulating acrobatic stunts, rendering the audience a collection of “oohs and ahhs.” Others drew the attention of the audience to a single horse and rider, strolling together under a waterfall or picking up speed in a circle as the rider performs flips on the horse’s back. The audience could see the complex interplay between the individual and the horse, the product of eight months of training and almost a thousand performances around the world. Each onlooker was witness to public moments of full cast celebration and private moments of intimate connection.

Brennan Figari, an Odysseo acrobat, explains that in the training process, the riders “started off building our relationships with the horses. Once you build that relationship you can really explore it. Once there’s that trust, you can do many things. It is really an organic process.” The connection is not superficial and staged, but apparent on and off the stage. Riders kissed their horses after acts finished, and horses constantly floated by their riders’ sides. They were never dragged on stage, instead performing willingly. The fantasy was never forced.

Odysseo succeeded in capturing the power and beauty of the horses, their presence providing the audience with the grace so often missing from day to day life. And while the sets and costumes were pure fantasy, the connections fostered and displayed on stage were startlingly real. Humans and horses strolled, ran, danced, and leaped together as companions, poetic in their love for each other. As an audience member I felt more beautiful by proximity alone. I would still love to run away with the circus. But when I do, I want to ride on horseback into the sunset.

Cavalia’s Odysseo will be in San Francisco through January 10, 2016. Tickets are available online at www.cavalia.net

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