Sunday, November 10, 2013

Cavalia's Odysseo - Ethereal Dreams Brought to Life

Disclosure: I received two complimentary VIP tickets to see Odysseo in DC to facilitate this review, but as always, opinions stated are all mine and not influenced by comp tickets or products.

Imagine your most fantastical, magical and ethereal dreams, then multiply them by 1,000. Only then can you begin to comprehend the beauty behind Cavalia's mesmerizing show Odysseo, now on tour at the National Harbor in Washington D.C. Created by the co-founder of Cirque du Soliel, Norman Latourelle, Odysseo is a 30-million dollar extravaganza that celebrates the beauty of the ancient relationship between horse and man amongst a background of unforgettable landscapes.

My husband and I had the privilege of attending the November 8 show in DC as VIPs and it was a night we will never forget. I HIGHLY recommend the VIP experience if you go, as you are treated to gourmet food and an open bar in a private, intimately lit "Rendezvous Lounge," backstage tour, amazing seats and more special perks that add to the magic of your experience.

VIP Experience in the Rendezvous Lounge

If you have not yet heard of Odysseo, treat yourself to a sneak peek of the stunning beauty that awaits you:


As an animal lover, I was excited to see the horses most of all, but I was not prepared for how emotionally moving it would be to see these beautiful creatures in all of their glory amidst the most majestic scenery and soul-soothing music possible. I was seriously moved to tears.

La Sedentaire | Credits: Color-ish Company

Odysseo blends the equestrian arts with theater and and stage arts as well as technical/visual effects that will leave you breathless. This is the world's largest touring big top (it takes 10 days to build this virtual city and 3 days to tear down), the biggest stage, and the greatest number of horses at liberty.

There are 63 horses total and 47 artists, and the trainers have a very special relationship with their horses. They know when a horse is not feeling up to performing and will communicate that to the directors so that another horse can take its place.

Indigo, Named for His One Blue Eye

Indeed, these horses are so well-loved and cared for that it is palpable in the performance and behind-the-scenes. For every hour of training, the horses receive two hours of play and are treated to a two-week vacation on a vast, beautiful ranch at the end of every tour. The horses, all males, range in age from 5-18. Once they retire, they are sent to enjoy life on a large farm on the Canadian border where they can roam, play and live happily ever after.

Each horse is given a therapeutic wash after the show and their manes are braided to keep them healthy and long.

Post-show Wash and Braiding

Because the horses are the stars of the show, each performance is unique and geared towards their moods and needs. A live band plays at each show to keep pace with the horses. During some performances, the horses move slower than usual and other times they may move faster, so the band must play to their tempo.

The horses are so connected to the music that if they are backstage and not performing (the horses are on rotation so as not to be overworked and their routines are changed up as often as possible to prevent boredom), but hear the music that they normally perform to, they will get excited and start kicking up their legs as if to say, "Hey! That's my cue! I want to play!"

Zajn, The Black Stallion Who Knows He's a Star

Each horse is also allowed to express its individual personality as we witnessed in the performance we saw. A black stallion named Zajn (pronounced "Zayne") decided to run to his own tempo and got off-track with his group of horses during a run around the ring, which sent the audience into applause and laughter. As he caught up with his group on his own time, he kicked his front legs up into the air as if to say, "That's right! Look at me! I'm the star!" It was so endearing and it quickly made Zajn one of my favorite horses!

Tempete | Credits: Lynne Glazer

Though the horses are the center of the show, the talent displayed by the artists is just as stunning. From silk, pole and ring artists to dance troupes and musicians, I was left in awe of the raw beauty and artistry displayed.

(Spoiler alert- I will be touching on a few of the surprises during the show so if you wish to avoid spoilers, stop here, and go grab your tickets at!)

The dance troupe we saw perform was brand new from Guinea, Africa and they trained in just six short days. You would think they had been performing all of their lives by their form and rhythm and their ability to incite the crowd into clapping and shouting out to them.

Human Pyramid / Pyramide Humaine | Credits: François Bergeron

We learned before the show that coming to perform straight from their villages was a bit of a frightening experience for them and that they send most of what they earn straight back to their families at home. Knowing that made their performance even more emotional for me and I found myself wishing each dancer well and smiling for their success.

No More War on Earth

At one point during the show, the dancers had the crowd chanting, "O walu guere moufan!"The mantra was in Susu, a language spoken in the coastal region of the performers' homeland, Guinea. As the audience wondered exactly what they were chanting, at the end of the number, the translation for the phrase appeared on the screen. "No more war on earth." Soft murmurs of heartfelt emotions rose from the crowd as we all sat humbled by what we had just chanted.

There was a complete hush over the audience, though, as the silk and pole artists performed. You couldn't help but stare in awe as these artists held their bodies perfectly in-line horizontally while holding onto the pole with just their hands.

Carosello | Credits: Shelley Paulson
The ribbon artists were just as graceful, mirroring the winter backdrop of elongated, elegant icicles while spinning and posing in what appeared to be effortless movement. They truly looked like angels floating on air.

Les anges / Angels | Credits: Pascal Ratthé

The biggest surprise of the night, though, came as a horse appeared to tap dance in a silhouette against a dreamlike, waterfall backdrop as the stage began to fill with 80,000 gallons of water.

The Travelers V / Les voyageurs V | Credits: JF Leblanc

The coyly dancing horse was then joined by dozens of others who raced and frolicked through the water with such jaw-dropping power and beauty, it left the audience mesmerized.

Les voyageurs VI / The Travelers VI | Credits: François Bergeron
One by one, horses and their artists then raced across the front of the stage while riders posed in various stances such as on the side of the horse while quickly jumping onto the back before disappearing again backstage faster than the blink of an eye.

Odysseo Finale | Credits: Lynne Glazer

It was the perfect crescendo to the anticipation that slowly built during the entire show and the audience showed its appreciation with a standing ovation.

As part of the VIP experience, we headed back to the Rendezvous Lounge after the show (we also got to enjoy dessert and coffee there during intermission), where guests await a backstage tour of the stables and meet and greet with the artists.

My Husband and I Backstage in the Stables

To facilitate this review, we were given a special, private tour as well to see exactly what goes on behind the scenes before, during and after each performance.

Backstage Practice Arena

There are two distinct backstage areas, the first being a large arena for the horses to practice. The area obviously needs to be large enough to practice runs and other distance maneuvers.

Backstage View From the "Mountain"

The second area is similar, but smaller and leads to the ultimate arena/stage that viewers see during the performance. The large hill that plays such a significant role in the show is much more grand when viewed from the stage itself and the distance between the back of the stage to the front also appears more vast from the backstage view.

To our surprise, the 80,000 gallons of water that filled the bottom of the stage were already almost completely gone by the time we got backstage, which was only about 10 minutes after the show. The official drain time is 15 minutes total.

We then went back into the stables to meet some of the artists and visit with the horses.

The artists signed autographs for VIP members, discussed what goes into their performances and happily posed for photographs. Some fun facts that Matt and I learned about the show include:

  • Odysseo features 64 horses of 11 different breeds, including the Appaloosa, Arabian, Canadian, Holsteiner, Lusitano, Oldenburg, Paint horse, Quarter Horse, Spanish Purebred, Warmblood and Lipizzan.
  • The horses are from Spain, Portugal, France, The Netherlands, Germany, The United States and Canada.
  • The 49 artists are from around the world including the United States, Canada, Brazil, France, Belgium, Guinea, Russia, Spain and Ukraine.
  • There are over 350 costumes and 100 pairs of shoes and boots in a show. An artist may have up to seven different costumes and may only have less than 90 seconds to do a costume change before numbers.
  • The white big top is 125 feet tall, the size of a 10-story building.
  • The canvas used for the white big top is from Milan, Italy.
  • The surface covered by the big white top is 106,700 feet, the size of two NFL football fields.
  • Seating capacity is for 2,000 people.
  • The stage is approximately 17,500 square feet, larger than a hockey rink.
  • The stage is made of 10,000 tons of stones, dirt and sand as well as 16,038 square feet of specialized carpet and pool liner to help build the basin. An "advanced sand team" is in charge of purchasing new sand in each city the show tours in.
  • The water used in the finale must be tested regularly for potability since the horses may decide to drink it during a show.
  • The high-definition backdrop is the size of three IMAX screens.
  • 110 semi-trucks are used to move the production from city to city.
  • The carousel used in the performance was specially created for the show and is modeled after Cavalia's horses.

    The DC show runs until November 17, after which it will head to Vancouver, BC, Canada. A "Farewell Offer" was just announced where guests can receive 4 tickets free with the price of 4 regular tickets to the DC show (limited quantities). Click here for more information.

    Be sure to follow Cavalia on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube and on their official website where you'll find even more fun facts, info, photos, history and videos.

    Stay tuned to upcoming tour dates and locations here (under "Tickets & Info") and be sure to catch the show if it arrives in your area! Odysseo is this generation's "greatest show on earth" and you won't want to miss it!
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