It is difficult not to make comparisons to that other French Canadian company who sets up their own big-top tent on the shores of False Creek every couple of years. Cavalia’s Odysseo raises the bar however, with something those other cirque shows do not: horses.

It is the addition of the show’s four-legged stars that adds an extra layer of danger. Even though they may have been extensively trained – taking up to six years to complete – there is a volatility which permeates the show. It can be exhilarating to watch as horse and rider perform on the show’s massive stage. And while the more complex tricks performed are impressive, so too are the quieter moments as the horses are controlled with simple voice commands or gestures.

Photo by Jak Wonderly
The more dangerous tricks in Odysseo are impressive. Photo by Jak Wonderly

Sharing the stage with the horses is an equally impressive team of human acrobats. From a group on jumping stilts to the troupe of gymnasts, all are simply superb athletes. When combined with music and visuals, the effect is a sensory overload.

There is a couple of particularly compelling sequences in Odysseo where acrobats and horses combine. In the first the human performers essentially imitate the horses as they go through a series of jumps. In the second, the aerial silk act is like no other, as it combines a quartet of aerial artists with four horses and their riders.

Photo by Andrew Miller
The aerial silks act is like none you have seen before. Photo by Andrew Miller

It is easy to see creator Normand Latourelle’s Cirque roots in Odysseo with a spectacular visual and auditory feast beneath the show’s massive white tent.

The size of a football field, Guillaume Lord’s stage features a level grassy surface gradually rising three stories to the back. Massive screens fill the entire back of the stage area, used to project images of the different locations throughout the show. There is an intriguing and almost other-worldly perspective that is the result, especially as horse and human make entrances from the top of the hill.

Other visual elements include a massive merry-go-round lowered to the ground from high above, and in the show’s finale the field is flooded with 150,000 litres of water before our eyes.

Photo by Jak Wonderly
The show’s massive stage fills with water for its finale. Photo by Jak Wonderly

Michel Cusson provides the hauntingly beautiful music performed live, and costumes from Georges Levesque and Michele Hamel are exquisitely detailed.

The only thing missing from Odysseo is a narrative thread to unite it all. While a loose journey through the seasons may be the base, each scene becomes a standalone performance. Fortunately that single absent element fails to overshadow this grand cacophony of sounds, images, world-class acrobatics, and superb horsemanship.

Despite the inevitable Cirque comparisons, this family-friendly show is like nothing you have seen before. Odysseo truly is an amazing display of man and horse.

Cavalia’s Odysseo plays under the White Big Top at Olympic Village (299 West 1st Ave, Vancouver) until March 5.  Visit for tickets and information.

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