Cavalia Odysseo May Not Be High Art, but It's Enthralling and Spectacular

The horses are the stars in Cavalia Odysseo, doing the near-impossible.
The horses are the stars in Cavalia Odysseo, doing the near-impossible.
Christian Waits

By now, you've seen the approximately 400 billboards that have popped up along area thoroughfares: They're black, with a white horse, and look a lot like advertisements for wine. I was actually fairly certain that Cavalia Odysseo was a nice Riesling until a couple of weeks ago when my daughter saw a clip that gave a little more insight into the whole thing and began talking about the horseys. And then I saw the flood of social media posts gushing about the show at Dr Pepper Stadium in Frisco, and I figured ... why not? My 4-year-old will get her fill of horses and it'll be a fun mommy-daughter date, removing us for a night from tantrums over tangled hair and negotiations over ketchup allotment.

The two-legged performers at Cavalia Odysseo aren't too shabby either.
The two-legged performers at Cavalia Odysseo aren't too shabby either.
Christian Waits

The PR department at Cavalia Odysseo was kind enough to spot us two VIP passes to the program on ... wait for it ... Tuesday night. At 8 p.m. The last time I attempted to keep my kiddo out past her bedtime, I had to do the parental walk of shame past of an entire zoo filled with more hardy preschoolers and their gawking parents. But I am not one to look a gift horse in the mouth. I weighed the likelihood of this whole thing ending badly against the once-in-a-lifetiminess of it all, and we went for it.

And man, I'm glad we did. From start to finish, it was enthralling. I've seen a few grumbles that this is not -- contrary to a few effusive reviews -- art; it's consumer spectacle at its finest. And maybe that's true, to an extent. Odysseo is gaudy in a Ren-faire meets Lion King sorta way, mashing together fantasy with global consciousness in a narrative I'm not sure I can explain. At some point, a hilly landscape yielded to an outer space backdrop complete with space carousel and things got a little confusing -- particularly when a New Age-y vocalist showed up. But trying to pull some sort of greater meaning or plot from the show probably defeats the purpose, and isn't necessary given that the show succeeds on the quality of the vignettes, whether they connect or not. What you end up with, then, are a series of dazzling little scenes either showcasing beautiful equestrian feats or inspired by horse imagery. Sixty-three horses star in the show, running at full speed, jumping obstacles or trotting out choreography that the Horse People seated in front of us noted was "damn near impossible" for your average horse.

Horses, horses, horses: a 4-year-old girl's dream.
Horses, horses, horses: a 4-year-old girl's dream.
Christian Waits

The riders guided the horses up and down a massive dirt hill at the back of the set, or at full speed around a ring that descended from rigging above. At one point, riders showcased daring dismounts and other tricks, including one that involved getting out of the saddle, climbing under the giant beast and getting back upright while the horse was still careening at breakneck speed.

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While the horses took breaks, there were more human-centric interludes, including aerialists spiraling around scarves, an exuberant New Guinean troupe of drummers, vocalists and acrobats, and the aforementioned carousel act, which my daughter later described to her dad as "pole dancing." The set was dynamic, with 3-D backdrops and screen projectors that made curtains into forests and dirt floors into grassy expanses. The climax of the show featured a lake that appeared at the forefront of the stage, allowing for a splashy, kicky finish featuring a dancing horse that fully blew my preschooler's mind -- he kicked and pranced to the beat of the live music.

And despite my misgivings about taking a 4-year-old to an event that lasted past 10 p.m., it was a huge success -- nothing but total absorption on her part, helped along by the stunning visuals and the natural spontaneity of any show involving animals. During Tuesday night's event, one horse decided to have a little more fun than he was probably supposed to, running circles around his more-choreography minded brethren. The effect was more energetic and playful than distracting. That energy, plus the natural beauty of the horses, the athletic feats of the human performers, and yes, the spectacle of it all, combined to make it a night we'll always remember.

Cavalia Odysseo runs through February 22 at Dr Pepper Ballpark in Frisco; tickets range from $29.50 to $149.50; VIP packages available. Visit cavalia.net.


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