A galloping Palomino plowed into a tumbler knocking him down during the Grand Finale of Cavalia’s Odysseo August 5, 2017, in Mississauga, Ontario. It was a hard reminder that horses are powerful creatures with free will (and fear) that demands respect.
Fortuitously, after the first act of Odysseo when nine ‘liberty’ (unsaddled and unbridled) horses led by one trainer move in dance-like unison, my friend leaned toward me and said, “That Palomino’s in a bad mood.” She was right.
During the final scene of Odysseo, by the Montreal-based horse performance group Cavalia, tumblers backed flipped through a water-layered stage and lined up from stage right to left. Acrobats descended from hoops dangling in mid-air. Then, one after another, western trick riders – performers earlier in the show – galloped across the stage, dangling from the sides of their mounts.
However, one horse didn’t follow cue, deked left and ran full speed into a performer. It happened fast. A motionless man lay in a pool of water. The audience was stunned; two assistants ran on stage; other performers awkwardly moved to the music waiting for direction.
After what seemed like forever, the performer regained consciousness, enough to walk supported off stage while his tumbling crew followed. The finale continued, but I suspect truncated. To say it was an unfortunate end to a spectacular performance is an understatement.
Odysseo is an incredible show – a journey through seasons and landscape, an ephemeral story without words similar to human and animal interaction. Just when I thought Cirque du Soleil couldn’t get any better, Cavalia added horses. Yes, horses.
Cavalia isn’t Cirque du Soleil; it’s a different performance group. Both hail from Quebec, Canada, a place seemingly becoming the world’s supplier of human-limitation defying acrobats. Cavalia has tumblers on foot and springs, gymnasts, aerial artists, and equestrian riders.
They had me at horses.
Cavalia travels with 65 horses, 19 are stallions and none mares (which might explain why they can handle so many stallions). They claim the art of training stallions lies in the ‘ability to harness the playfulness of the animal and downplay its instinct to fight.’ Evidence of playfulness revealed itself during the many times liberty horses run dramatically across the stage like a surge of wild equine. (Yet one chomped his buddy’s romp like a fresh apple).
True, you can parade horses in front of me every day of the week and I’d be mesmerized. However, this show takes horse showmanship up a notch (or seven).
First, I loved the twenty-five synchronized gypsy-like riders moving across a sand hill creating wheels, circles and pass-throughs as desert scenery was projected at the crest of the backstage elevation – half this stage is a ramp, so the riders face an additional challenge of a slope, and the audience views the precision riding from a slight bird’s eye advantage.
In the second act, four ribbon acrobats descend from the ceiling, twisting along white silks like milkweed spores in the wind. It’s beautiful enough – but add four white horse and riders circling below winding the ribbons like a Maypole dance and the performance is elevated to ethereal levels.
Finally, the closing dressage presentation, punctuated by instrumental music and cloud projections, is enchanting. (Truthfully, the routine is best appreciated by anyone who has actually tried asking a horse to lead change every two steps.) Add a pool of water, and watching horse dancing through a shimmering mirror has ruined dressage on sand for me.
I left the show wondering why I hadn’t crossed this off my bucket list sooner.
So what happened to the injured performer?
I contacted Cavalia via Facebook Messenger and within minutes, here’s what they said: “During Saturday’s show, rider Romain and his horse Koda anciently ran into acrobat Michel while he was dancing on the ground. Michel was stunned for about a minute, got back up on his feet and exited the stage with the help of other artists and our first responder. Romain and Koda also exited the stage and are doing fine. Michel had no sign of serious injury but was taken to a local hospital for a full check-up.”
Hopefully, that’s the case. Nonetheless, the show goes on.
Cavalia ran until August 13, 2017 in Mississauga near Toronto.
Nashville, Tennessee is the next stop for Cavalia’s Odysseo’s Big White Tent. Between shows, the horses get a two-week vacation at a regional stable. (Check out their Toronto vacation here). Likely, it takes two weeks to tear down and rebuild this complex phenomenal presentation.