Whether prancing and sidestepping, rolling on their bellies or streaking across the stage like sleek lightning, magnificent horses are the marquee stars of “Odysseo,” the latest extravaganza brought to you by the same folks who created the earlier touring equestrian spectacle, “Cavalia.”
The difference between the two shows? “Odysseo” has more of everything (including an expansive cast of 66 horses and 52 human performers). And the entire pageant, which will remain at Marymoor Park in Redmond through March 16, is on a grander scale.
The sandy-floored stage, in a performance tent that holds 2,000 spectators, is the size of a hockey rink. The stunning high-definition graphic images of mountains, desert, canyons, waterfalls and night skies are projected on a cyclorama the size of three IMAX screens.
And did I mention that, in the big finale, a small lake materializes? And that the horses and humans frolic together in the water?
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The show, under the artistic direction of “Cavalia” originator Normand Latourelle, places more emphasis on the kind of horseless acrobatic and aerial acts you’d expect from Cirque du Soleil. There are such numbers in “Odysseo” that are magical.
But what distinguishes Latourelle’s vision is the horses, and their preternatural rapport with beautiful, otherworldly humans in gypsy-Renaissance Faire costumes, who put them through their paces without ever raising a voice or registering a reprimand.
There is some excellent trick riding here, with male and female daredevils standing atop, rolling under, and swinging by a foot from their racing mounts. Impressive in a less flashy way are the dressage acts, in which horse soloists or ensembles perform an exacting series of steps, prances, bows and other moves which, in the equestrian world, are the equivalent of triple-axel jumps for skaters.
On the giant set, the horses and riders sometimes enter majestically from atop a steep hill, silhouetted and framed as part of the changing landscape at dusk, or dawn. (At one point, clouds gather and a storm brings real precipitation.)
Between the enchanted horse scenes, a troupe of acrobats from Guinea appear to get the crowd pumped up in a more circusy way. Compact and wiry, these limber fellows spring into human pyramids and execute multiple back flips with ease. They also drum, dance and lead the crowd in clapping and chanting.
They’re ingratiating, but also repetitive. And just when you tire of them, something else happens — a full-scale carousel drops down like a spaceship, with people balancing off the poles in breathtaking arrangements.
Or ballerina aerialists form a kind of human maypole, as their silky white capes stream down like moth wings. Exquisite. Or, to kids’ delight, male performers bounce by on fiberglass bungee-like stilts.
A four-member band enhances every stage picture with that sort of floaty, world-blend music you expect from Cirque-style shows.
And while there is no storyline, the scenic wizards evoke a grand travelogue that roams from the Mongolian steppes to the Sahara to Easter Island, circling the planet in a time-lapse, 24-hour cycle.
What’s most special here, however, is simply the rare chance to spend an evening gazing at exquisitely groomed and trained, remarkably unrattled horses — Arabians, Lusitanos, Appaloosas, Spanish Purebreds, and more
Several times in the performance I attended, a feisty stallion or gelding would nuzzle or nip another, or break ranks in a choreographed number to just drift off alone for a bit, until gently beckoned back. Those spontaneous moments were reminders that I was not watching robots, but living, breathing creatures with their own personalities — and tremendous stage presence.
Misha Berson: firstname.lastname@example.org