Running around in circles and splashing in a pool doesn't necessarily sound that interesting. But when a dozen pure white horses are doing it - it's absolutely riveting.
Therein lies the allure of Cavalia's latest show, Odysseo, which opens at Marymoor Park in Redmond tonight. The same group who brought us Cavalia in 2003 has returned to Seattle with their second show.
Odysseo boasts the largest traveling Big White Top in the world (the size of two NFL football fields), most of which is essentially the playground of its 66 horses. The entire show caters to these magnificent beasts, who are the total stars of the show (although the 52 riders and acrobats did pretty nicely as well).
I was keenly aware of the treatment of horses and the relationships between performer and animal during the preview I attended, as I'm sure many will be - this is Seattle anyway, a capitol of political correctness. I was pleasantly surprised, and my fears mollified at the tenderness and a real attention shown to the animals.
No horse performs for more than 10 to 15 minutes in each show, and instead the 60+ horses are rotated through shows so as not to be overworked. They have an adjoining heat-controlled tent which houses their stables, with 20 stable hands and three vet techs. Additionally, each human performer has 3 or 4 horses assigned to them, and they spend hours together every day forging a relationship and bond that will carry over to the Big Top.
"Horses are like us," said Cavalia's Annie LeClerc. "They don't like routine. So we switch out what they do every night - dressage, trick riding, everything, so they're not doing the same thing night after night and getting bored."
Each horse's 15 minutes of fame every night can range from simply running around harness-free looking glorious, to being ridden in circles around the Big Top, to galloping across the stage while their riders perform tricks. Nothing that appears too strenuous or hard, or outside the wheelhouse of what horses might do anyways when confronted with a large open field like Big Top's.
"They love it," said LeClerc. "We have a couple divas who totally know the sound of applause, and play to that."
The average age of the horses is 10 years, and when they're ready for retirement Cavalia sends them to their farm in Quebec, where there are currently around 60 horses already.
While the horses seem to be treated well and not strained at all during the show, the same can't be said for their human counterparts. Outrageous acrobatics on a life size carousel, trick riding flips where heads are periously close to thundering hoofs; by the end of the show I was more afraid for the performers than the animals.
Oh, and did I mention at one point in the show half of the arena is filled with over 80,000 gallons of water which the horses then frolic in? It will take everything in you not to hop on down and join them.
All in all, Cavalia's Odysseo is a magical, if not a bit theatrical, night. If you have any love or appreciation for horses, you won't want to miss this, as the show truly focuses on their free form and celebrates their natural talents.
Odysseo tickets are on sale now, starting at $50 for an adult. Shows run through March 16 at the Marymoor Park in Redmond, WA.