How does a traveling equestrian/acrobatic show one-up itself? For the folks at Cavalia, that took building a mountain, adding a lake, and hiring a troupe of acrobats from Africa. Oh, and there’s that carousel that descends from the ceiling.
“Odysseo,” Cavalia’s latest show, has taken up residency in the world’s largest touring big top tent at Redmond’s Marymoor Park. The new show has similarities to its forebearer — which stopped here in 2012 — but there are major differences in both design and execution.
Cavalia staged a 50-minute long media preview show on Tuesday. It provided highlights of the production that uses 50 performers and 66 horses.
First, there’s that mountain. OK, it’s a three-story hill. But it’s still big enough to put it in the running as the highest point in Florida when the show tours there. A panoramic screen that spans the vast stage rises behind it, projecting a mountainous scene. Lighting on the hill matches that in the projection, creating a scene that is both realistic and cinematic. That all comes into play when a group of horses and their riders suddenly appear on the hill’s crest. It’s an arresting visual illusion.
Compared with the previous version of Cavalia, “Odysseo” does a better job of integrating its acrobats with its equestrian performers. The previous show alternated them without much congruity.
“We’ve been cross-training people to do everything,” said Duncan Fisher, Cavalia’s vice-president of operations.
The shows uses both aerialists and ground-based acrobats. Ten acrobats from the West African nation of Guinea are a major part of the show. The well-built men cartwheel, leap over poles and jump onto each other’s shoulders. At one point they build a four-man totem pole.
Two of those performers, Alsany Bangoura, 25, and Balla Moussa Bangoura, 26, are from the city of Conackry, Guinea. The men said they auditioned on a beach for Cavalia producers before being cast in the show. They are used to performing on sand, but not around horses, they said, but they’ve adjusted well to dealing with the occasional pile of horse manure.
The show also showcases other acrobats on spring loaded blades leaping over poles, steeplechase-style, along with horses and riders, further blurring the line of horse and acrobat.
One of the most beguiling acts in the previous Cavalia show was the “liberty” scene where a trainer uses only her voice and hand movements to control a herd of free-wheeling horses. “Odysseo” offers a similar scene. Trainer Eloise Verdoncq appears on stage in a pool of pink light and is soon joined by six white horses. They run in circles, change direction en masse like a flock of birds and, occasionally, nip each other or give a small kick.
The ethereal live music, moody lighting and flowing manes is about as close you can get to a dream without actually falling asleep.
Verdoncq can direct each horse by name or a movement, she said. “If I open my arms, they will move away from me,” she said.
The biting and kicking are normal, she said, as the horses keep each other in line.
Verdoncq often improvises the act, depending on the mood of the horses. “I let them be horses and be themselves,” she said. “I want the horses to enjoy it.”
Trick riding takes center stage at “Odysseo,” and the term death-defying came to mind as the riders assumed poses you won’t see at the Kentucky Derby. At one point they hang, inverted, off the side of their galloping horses. Only their feet can be seen, pointing at the big top’s ceiling. Other riders drive two and four horses at a time, standing on them, Roman-style.
And then, descending from the sky, comes a carousel. Acrobats climb onto poles holding the only fake horses in the show while a vocalist accompanies them. The acrobats twist and turn and assume positions on the spinning merry-go-round.
The 17,500-square-foot stage is covered in sand, which raises the question: Does Cavalia travel with its own sand? It depends, said Fisher. Importing sand from Canada, where the show was just staged, into the United States requires too much paperwork, he said. So, they procured it locally.
Near the end of the show it appeared as if the pouring rain outside had invaded the big top. The sand-covered stage was quickly filling with water. But it’s all part of the show: 80,000 gallons of water flood the stage, turning it into a shallow lake.
Verdoncq appears on the hill and follows a path of light into the lake. Soon, other horses and riders join, followed by acrobats, all splashing through the water in the finale.
Cavalia shows — like their spiritual mother, Cirque du Soleil — don’t have traditional narratives. This is a mash-up of varied cultures and performers. At one point the African acrobats walk out of Arizona’s Monument Valley, the iconic “mittens” projected behind them. None of it makes sense story-wise but then that’s not really the point.
Just enjoy the splash.Craig Sailor: 253-597-8541
“Odysseo” by Cavalia
When: Through March 16
Where: King County’s Marymoor Park, 6046 W. Lake Sammamish Parkway NE, Redmond
Tickets: $49.50-$149.50 for adults, $44.50-$139.50 for juniors (13-17) and seniors, $34.50-$109.50 for children
Information: cavalia.net/en/odysseo, 866-999-8111