My Gay Toronto - 416 Scene

Odysseo returns with refined elegant thrills

By Drew Rowsome

There is a myth that champagne and touring productions don't age well. Two years on the road and Odysseo is as effervescent as ever and has acquired an extra elegance that suits it well. Re-reading my July 2012 review, I realized that my reactions were basically the same except for an accentuation of the sheer art of the visual splendour: there are moments that bring tears to the eye. As such, I am re-offering my previous assessment with only a few additional comments.

The rigours of performing seems only to have enhanced the physiques of the acrobats. Consequently there are even less shirts and more erotic eye-popping eye candy. And the lead blond acrobat, his hair now in corn rows, has only upped his game and charisma to hold center stage effortlessly. 

Thematically Odysseo is vague and often settles for the easy way out, a convenient metaphor that is upstaged by the visual extravaganza. When the angels take to the air, or when a human caresses a muzzle, a horse nuzzles a human, the emotions are crystal clear.

The horses with wills of their own still earn more of the audience's approval than the ones who perform flawlessly. I still have no idea what moments were the steeds being stubborn and what was built in for that extra wow factor when the recalcitrant ones were coaxed back into their spot in the herd. 

A second viewing also deepens my admiration for the choreography. There are moments designed to thrill, to put one's heart into one's throat, but the entire proceedings require split second timing to achieve grandeur without serious injuries. 

I look forward to seeing what another two years of refinement will create.

Odysseo is an eye-popping spectacle that provides an emotional wallop. At one point I counted 32 horses onstage, but I can't vouch for accuracy because I was continually distracted by another visual detail or treat. For anyone who is a fan of horses, the show is a delight, but for those who never gave equines much thought beyond a general appreciation: prepare to be converted. The animals are extraordinarily beautiful - their flowing manes, glistening coats and taut muscles - and while trained to perform and obey, they also seem to have been allowed - encouraged? - to exhibit playfulness and affection for each other. There is a lot of animal nuzzling and mock disobedience blended into the strict formations and tableaus.

Too much spectacle can dwarf performers - especially circus acts - but Odysseo takes full advantage of a set that appears capable of creating any world the creators can dream up. After an introduction to the horses, the second segment builds relentlessly to a climax that most shows would never be able to live up to or top. A troupe of impossibly fit - bare-chested with rock-hard abs, chiselled pecs, Madonna-strength arms and big smiles - African acrobats and dancers explode onto the stage and tumble and gyrate astonishingly. They are joined by a set of Kangoo-wearing acrobats who are just as erotically stimulating and athletically amazing. Cue the horses and riders, who thread through the mayhem; audience members hold their breath and dampen their seats until it ends triumphantly and applause fills the immense tent. Where to go from there? The back of the stage opens, the surrounding screen fills even peripheral vision, the entire world seems to tilt on its axis and the audience is propelled, as if on a speeding roller coaster, into the next scene. It is a coup de théâtre that astonishes.

A giant merry-go-round descends from the ceiling and is covered with lithe pole dancers who ride the revolving and rising-and-falling carnival horses. A blond Adonis aerialist soars over the audience, but why stop there? Suddenly, there are a dozen aerialists filling every corner of the cavernous space, now in the midst of a turbulent tropical storm. If it wasn't so exhilarating, it would be exhausting.
And throughout, there are the horses and the riders. Appearing out of nowhere to do the impossible and the death-defying, or demonstrating the bond between man and animal. Sidesaddle, upside-down, double mounted: the variations on defying death while remaining in the saddle appear to be endless - and terrifying. Somehow in the midst of all the spectacle the tiny moments register - a rider pats a horse affectionately or a horse nose nudges the side of a head for attention - there is a gentle physicality that belies the size and musculature of the animals.

The climax is almost completely over-the-top, as - spoiler alert - the stage floods with water during a dramatic dressage demonstration atop a mountain surrounded by waterfalls. One almost expects orcas to surface or high divers to plummet from the rafters. Instead, there is a simple and stunning image: a half-dozen albino Lusitanos gallop out of the wings and charge through the water, sending sheets of spray flying in the air and expressing a joy, a revelling in freedom, that words could never articulate. It is a tear-in-the-eye moment that ties together all the dazzling spectacle that has come before and lodges it in the heart like a beautiful dream.

Odysseo continues until Sun, May 24 under the White Big Top, 393 Lake Shore Blvd E.