If you’ve driven past the junction of the I-405 and CA-133 on the way to Irvine Spectrum lately, you’ve probably noticed the impossibly large, mysterious, white big top just off the freeway, and you’ve definitely wondered: What is such a thing doing in Orange County?
Standing nearly 13 stories tall and spanning the width of an NFL football field, the colossal tent has housed Cavalia’s “Odysseo” theatrical show through the month of February. “Odysseo,” an imaginative traveling production created by the co-founder of Cirque du Soleil, is a surreal spectacle involving humans, horses and Hollywood special effects which draws nearly 2000 Orange County spectators each night.
This two-hour show is hard to classify. It’s part-circus, part-rodeo, part-equestrian and part-dance performance. Featuring 65 horses ranging from stallions to geldings, the performance is not only a delightful aesthetic experience for those who love horses, but is also a dreamlike cultural production in its own right.
The stage curtains open to a softly-lit forest with several graceful horses frolicking and emerging from backstage. Gentle music soon picks up speed, and unbridled horses begin galloping across the 17,500 square-foot stage alongside riders on horseback performing various tricks — some standing up atop two horses running across the stage, pirouetting and leaping over railings nearly four-feet tall.
There is no clear plot or dialogue throughout the show — “Odysseo” is an event based on equal parts stunning aesthetics, breathtaking circus stunts and dance, with a heavy dose of cultural influence. The show is based in Quebec, Canada, but performers in the show featured artists from all over the world, including Canada, Brazil, France, Poland and Ukraine. Guinean acrobats performing tribal songs and dances are a main staple in the show, and the show’s lead singer performed Italian ballads. In several scenes, dancers performed Russian ballet.
Although the horses and artists are equally diverse, they are united by their companionship — another aesthetic theme of “Odysseo.” The show seeks to illustrate a simpler time, when all horses and humans were united by their love for nature and a mutual desire for peace.
In an interactive segment during the show, the audience, at the cue of the Guinean acrobats, chanted “O wale guere moufan,” meaning “no more war on Earth” in Guinean. Several scenes in the show also featured female riders dressed as fairies and aerialists dressed as angels, symbolizing peace and harmony.
Hollywood-style special effects brought the stage to life. The scenes framing the actors and horses ranged from hills to plains, forests to deserts, trees to icy mountaintops and thunderstorms to starry night skies. In the final, signature scene of the performance, more than 40,000 gallons of water flooded the stage to form an iridescent lake upon which the horses raced, as a waterfall projected on the screen in the background.
The “Odysseo” show takes pride in being an invitation to dream. The horses and riders perform various tricks together that defy imagination. Indeed, after the show, viewers walk out feeling as if they just experienced a surreal dream — a bit dazed, but content.
As a result of its successful first run in Orange County, the “Odysseo” show has been extended for two additional weeks under the white big top off the I-405, and will run through March 27. Tickets are priced from $29.50 to $269.50 and can be purchased from www.cavalia.net. The traveling show will then move to Salt Lake City as part of its North American tour.