on display in 'Odysseo'
in San Jose through October 30
"Odysseo," the touring production of equestrian arts that has settled in San Jose till October 30, 2016, is worth a visit. As the name suggests, the show is a live ode to horses and their handlers, and an odyssey to places in imagination that feel at once familiar yet foreign.
During the two-hour show the audience forgets South Bay traffic outside the big white tent and journeys through a series of 10-minute scenes that feature acrobats, stilt walkers, aerial dancers, musicians, equestrians, and, yes, horses.
The show starts with a herd of horses running from the wings onto the main stage and continuing into a tightly orbiting circle — all without a handler in sight. It’s a bold statement of trust.
The horses continue through moves of synchronized equestrian parkour. They patter, canter, turn and move through each other like a marching band. It’s clear they are not just trained to robotically perform tricks; they demonstrate the fullness of what a horse can be.
Think Arendelle in Disney’s "Frozen," Rivendale from "The Lord of the Rings," or a herd of Dothraki in "Game of Thrones."
At what feels like the crescendo of the show, a mystical, cloaked woman atop a serene white Arabian horse rides gracefully — forward, backward, sideways — across a body of aqua water.
The woman guides the horse into a piaffe, a dressage movement where the horse trots in a rhythmic but constrained manner. The pair barely disturbs the calm water, drawing delighted applause from the audience.
An actual grassy knoll built for the stage is behind them and it blends seamlessly into a backdrop of waterfalls projected onto screens.
Moments earlier, to set this scene, water unexpectedly gushed onto the dirt stage built in downtown San Jose to create the lake-in-a-forest setting, reminding the audience that anything is possible with this world-renown acrobatic equestrian troupe.
They perform the high jumps and quick turns seemingly without effort. But because the show involves live animals and acrobatic moves, there's always a pleasing sense of spontaneity.
In one scene, the horses are mild and calm, running in an organized circle and eating from trainers’ hands.
In another, one horse unpredictably scratches its back on the ground, legs up in the air, while all the others lay still.
In more than one act, the trainers barrel from one side of the stage to the other at full speed. They’re seated and then standing and then launching themselves off the horses, under the belly and back up again without missing a beat.
The crowd took a collective gasp as one equestrian miscalculated and hurled off the horse onto a knee-high barrier separating the crowd from the action.
The equestrian was unharmed and the audience was supportive, applauding as he got back in the saddle and successfully executed the feat on a second try.
Between horse performances, acrobats and musicians got the audience clapping and cheering by bouncing across the stage on stilts or flipping into human pyramids.
They celebrated each successful pole vault with a high five or a pat on the back, and the audience loved it.
One does need to be versed in equestrianism to be awed by this show.
The audience was a mix of equine enthusiasts as well as families with children toting four-legged stuffed animals.
Do not be fooled by the long line of cars upon arrival. There is ample parking and everyone gets to the air-conditioned White Big Top on time. Cavalia offers golf carts for those who don't want to walk from the parking structure to the event grounds.
Bathrooms are in tight bungalows, but are well kept and air conditioned.
A VIP pass gets visitors a buffet of food, desserts and drinks, and a tour of the stables after the show.
Email Jacqueline Lee at firstname.lastname@example.org
Email Daniel Tkach at email@example.com