December 2015 - Cavalia’s Odysseo

San Francisco premiere shares the gift of horses.

by Nan Meek

Just in time for the holiday season, the internationally acclaimed entertainment company Cavalia brings its latest production Odysseo to the Bay Area, where this $30 million extravaganza is expected to top the spectacular popularity of the company’s original Cavalia.

Excitement has been building as images of Odysseo fill television screens, pop up on social media sites, and decorate bus shelters and billboards throughout the Bay Area, a marked contrast to the sad and shocking news from Paris.

As Odysseo performers from nations around the world prepared for opening night, Cavalia founder Normand Latourelle reflected on the precious gift of horses in the context of world events.

“More than ever, Odysseo, and especially the horses, represent peace. What we’re trying to share here is happiness. Horses are honest, and those who understand horses, know they never make mistakes. It’s humans who make a lot of mistakes, never the horses: That’s the rule here at Odysseo. I think the more we share happiness, the better the world is going to be.”

Haunting music sets the mood as the curtain opens on a dappled forest where horses roam at liberty. Peace pervades the scene where the horses interact as if the audience was not mere feet away. Humans approach, horses and humans take each other’s measure, and before long, they run and play together in harmony with nature and each other.

Imagination pervades the enchanted forest when fairies, disguised as beautiful women in flowing white gowns, ride Roman-style standing atop pairs of white horses. Accompanied by magical melodies, Odysseo’s fairies traverse the forest, evoking an enchantment as old as time: our love of horses.

There’s fun to be had, as well. The forest floor hosts a village celebration, with acrobats tumbling and jumping on springing stilts over bars set at increasing heights. Odysseo’s horses clearly enjoy the jumping games, as well, as their riders guide them over bars set in a changing array of configurations.

Freedom takes the stage with a herd of white Arabians at liberty. Circling in unison, one cheeky fellow takes a nip at his neighbor’s bum, while another scans the audience as he passes close by the front row. Gathering together at center stage, their trainer’s calm cues and loving caresses bring peace to the herd.

Elegance fills the stage as a growing column of lavishly caparisoned horses and riders appear at the top of a two-story high mountain, framed by a background of verdant steppes and cloud-filled skies. Sixteen synchronized figures cross the vast stage, passing, interweaving and wheeling together to enchant the audience.

As a full-size carousel slowly lowers from the ceiling, memories turn to long-forgotten childhood dreams played out astride the carousel horses of days gone by. Tonight’s carousel comes alive with the strength and beauty of accomplished acrobats as it slowly revolves to the idyllic song of the carousel’s chanteuse.

Nomads fill the forest with high energy, bursts of applause, and gasps of fright as acrobats and Cossack riders speed across and around the stage, backlit by scenes of Southwest mesas and geologic formations. There’s no room for error as the horses gallop around the circular piste and daring riders bring the crowds to the edge of their seats.

After intermission, an entire herd of horses is revealed, lying asleep across the mountainside. Alone or cuddled with their humans, the horses gradually awaken, yawn, stretch, and arise to continue their odyssey as a new day dawns. At liberty with their human companions, they express the deep bond at the heart of Odysseo’s equestrian philosophy.

As a storm races in, the stage is lit by purple clouds and lightning. Aerial acrobats whirl through the air, suspended on rings which they turn into a playground in the sky. Horses gallop across the plain, racing the storm and each other.

Post-storm, the savannah sees a troupe of ground-based acrobats, brothers and cousins from Guinea, whose joy in expressing themselves transmits to the audience. Their melodic chants of “O walou guere moufan!” (“No more war!”) create an uplifting connection with the audience.

Is there a chill in the air, or is it the imagination? Odysseo’s Roman-riding fairies journey through a glacial landscape, where stalactites depend from above, and the sculpted ice caverns provide a glittering environment.

Flying high among the stalactites, angelic aerialists climb the silks, whirling and twirling around the airspace while their mounted cavaliers below circle at a gallop, creating a vision of mystical beauty that captures the senses and delights the eye.

The scene shifts again, as all eyes rise to the silhouette of a woman whose elegant horse piaffes, passages and Spanish walks atop the mountain, before a spectacular waterfall. Descending to the lake that has appeared onstage, they play with piaffe and flying changes, splashing through the water until they are joined by a host of riders and liberty horses galloping across hillside and lake in a magical spectacle.

As all of Odysseo’s performers, human and equine, come together for the finale, the full impact of this enormous collection of talent from around the world raises the audience to its feet and sends waves of applause through the world’s largest touring big top.

Speaking from her perspective as an international photojournalist, former California Riding Magazine assistant editor Erin Gilmore describes the gift Odysseo shares with the word. “In all the equestrian sports and different disciplines that I get to cover and photograph, Odysseo is a completely unique experience, something that experienced horse people can enjoy as much as people who don’t know horses at all.”

Odysseo is a show that elevates the spirit. Don’t miss it. You will be wowed.

Due to overwhelming demand in the Bay Area, the producers are extending the show run with the addition of matinee and evening performances through Jan. 10, 2016, for a total of eight weeks on the San Francisco calendar. Odysseo’s 65 horses and 45 artists were originally scheduled to depart Dec. 13, but will now call San Francisco their home for the holidays, and are inviting audiences of all ages to celebrate with them the most joyful time of the year.

To share the gift of Odysseo this holiday season, visit or call 866-999-8111. Tickets are priced from $44.50 to $154.50 + applicable taxes and fees. Rendez-Vous VIP package ranges from $229.50 to $264.50 + applicable taxes and fees. Special pricing and packages are also available for groups, children (2-12), juniors (13-17) and seniors (65+).