“Odysseo,” a huge spectacle with horses, humans and stunts from the creators of “Cavalia,” is onstage under the big white tent near AT&T Park in San Francisco. (Courtesy François Bergeron)

‘Odysseo’ showcases human and horse symbiosis

Pioneering American psychologist Helen Thompson wrote, “In riding a horse, we borrow freedom.” And in watching “Odysseo,” we experience the incredible freedom of spirit between horse and human.

The latest production from Cavalia, in The City under a big white tent near AT&T Park, seamlessly blends the beauty and vivacity of horses, dancers and acrobats in a magical world with a tone set by African drum beats and lilting melodies.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the Village Celebration act, when acrobats, stilt jumpers and riders join together, raucously showing off their physical prowess. The tribal African-inspired acrobats have high energy; there’s almost a duel between the shirtless men bouncing on metal spring stilts leaping over jumps and the magnificent horses, who power over their obstacles in a similar way.

This celebration of the horse comes from Cirque du Soleil co-founder Normand Latourelle, and elements of the ephemeral aura permeate this production. Gauzy costumes evoke a “Game of Thrones” feeling as baroque horses go through their paces.

The impressive set has a 17,500-square-foot stage, the back boasting a three-story hill that gives the impression of vastness in the intimate space under the tent. The panoramic background changes from Mongolian steppes to Monument Valley, from the African savanna to Nordic glaciers.

This is the third time French-Canadian impresario Latourelle has brought a Cavalia production to the Bay Area. The first in 2004 centered on two outstanding dressage riders who displayed the ballet equivalent of the horse world. Non-equestrians had difficulty grasping intricacies of the riding in a show that some thought repetitive.

The second time around in 2010, Latourelle phased out some of the more esoteric dressage elements. In “Odysseo,” there’s is a limited amount, making way for a more cohesive show blending athleticism of humans and equines.

In “The Angels,” stunning horses and graceful aerialists join forces for an exquisite dance.

Sometimes, the humans almost outshine the horses. A thrilling act with acrobats on rotating poles on a gigantic carousel is spellbinding. The only horses are the sculpted giant steeds on the stage-filling merry-go-round.

Still, for most of the 2 1/2-hour show (not including the 30-minute intermission), horses remain the focal point. Crowd favorites are the crazy Cossack riders doing daring stunts, and the trick riders. Elegant synchronized dances and horses working without bridles or riders “at liberty” also were a hit with the audience on Thursday’s opening night.

The performance concludes with high-level horsemanship, featuring a soloist equine dancing in place and performing stunning dressage moves pleasing to both horse enthusiasts and general audiences. The showstopper: 40,000 gallons of water flooding half of the stage, allowing the horses and acrobats to frolic together in a rousing finale.

My 10-year-old companion, who loves both horses and dance, was on the edge of her seat during much of the production. The show should not be missed by horse riders; it’s equally entertaining for those who prefer their horse experiences to be of the viewing type.

REVIEW
Odysseo
Where: White Tent, 1051 Third St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. most Tuesdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays
Tickets: $44.50 to $154.50
Contact: (866) 999-8111, www.cavalia.net

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