Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Cavalia Odysseo: Review

When the equestrian spectacle Cavalia made its debut in Toronto in 2003, I saw a short media preview and was charmed. But it wasn't until tonight that I had a chance to see a full show, this time a different production, called Cavalia Odysseo, which is running under an impressive giant tent on the lakeshore.

Horses are the focus of this opulent performance: 61 of them, to be exact, along with 49 two-legged performers. I had expected some sort of basic storyline, à la Cirque de Soleil, but this truly is more like a contemporary circus, with tumbling, aerial rings and silks, some song and dance, and several other acrobatic performance styles intermingled with fancy riding tricks.

The tent (which as my companion remarked, shares in common with the paradoxical Doctor Who tardis that it's much bigger on the inside), houses an absolutely enormous stage area; in particular it's so deep that there seems to be about a city block between the nearest and furthest performers.

Furthermore, it has a steep rise built into it, which adds to the sense of distance, and a vast cyclorama across the back allows for almost hallucinatory high-definition projections of huge skies, clouds, forests, deserts and mountains. These come closest to giving some narrative to the various acts, as they illustrate a progression from Mongolian steppes to African savannah to Saharan desert, and so on.

In this dreamlike wordless landscape, one of the things  that gave me the most pleasure was the costuming by Georges Lévesque and Michèle Hamel. In particular, the use of colour is stunning. In one particular section of the show ("Grand Cavalia" or "Equestrian Carrousel"), mounted riders parade solemnly in formation, wearing robes that drape the entire back of their horses. I have rarely seen a stage design so deftly composed as these outfits, in glowing burgundies, peaches, reds, golds, ochres and warm greens.

Some of the most satisfying parts of the show were the simplest, such as the interludes when a group of unbridled, unsaddled horses emerge onto the stage and move about naturally with minimal human intervention... or splash through a pool of water (as in the top photo), a blissfully basic but utterly lovely thing to watch.

I was curious about a troupe of multitalented African acrobats who also drum, dance and sing, and who are used as a kind of Greek chorus alongside the horseback activities. In the press material they seem only to be mentioned as a "troupe from Guinea", but that struck a chord with me. I did a little digging, and I believe that the group represents members of Kalabanté, a project to support basic education in Guinea through teaching circus skills.

It was founded by a charismatic self-taught acrobat called Yamoussa Bangoura; he worked for some time at Montreal's Cirque Éloize, and there formed connections with Cavalia, which is also based in Montreal. The Kalabanté ensemble is not only impressively athletic, but communicates lots of humour in a show that's more often lyrical and grand than funny. 

Cavalia continues its run until June 3. For tickets and further information, information, call 1-866-999-8111 or visit Cavalia.

Photo credits: Pascal Ratthé (Kalabanté) and François Bergeron (top image).

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