'Odysseo' is 'like a beautiful dream'

"In all my life I have always wanted to challenge what exists, wanted to bring together something no one has ever seen ... to challenge what exists in performing arts," says Normand Latourelle.

He has achieved that goal with “Odysseo,” the latest example of the artistic director's efforts since co-founding Cirque de Soleil in the 1980s and launching the Cavalia equestrian and performing arts company in 2003.

PHOTOS: Cavalia returns to Burbank with 'Odysseo'

The show, now playing in Burbank through March 24, captivates with a vision of horses galloping through landscapes of forests, deserts, savannas and a lake, along with acrobatic feats of humans who accompany them through a mystical several-hour journey.

To tell the story, “Odysseo” has a tent the height of 10 stories, supported by two massive arches rather than the traditional masts. This allowed for the installation of a curved, high-definition video backdrop the size of three IMAX screens, and the unimpeded circular stage with two hills in the background that provide added dimension. At the end of the second act, the stage is filled with 80,000 gallons of water to create a lake in the foreground. The huge set was designed by Guillaume Lord, a veteran of theater, dance and rock concerts.

Latourelle said his goal was “to bring the audience further into the feeling of going into a dream, a journey. That's why we call it ‘Odysseo.' It's an odyssey, the human and horse go together to discover this beautiful landscape.”

It took him eight years to bring “Odysseo” to fruition. “In doing Cavalia, I learned a lot,” Latourelle said before the opening. “With that structure, I had a lot limits. With ‘Odysseo,' we kind of surpassed all those limits. We have created something that is totally unfamiliar, something you cannot witness anywhere in world.”

With a setting of 27,000 square feet and the ability to have 67 horses and a team of 45 acrobats gallop, flip and soar throughout the space, Latourelle may be right. His big-top is large enough to allow the lowering of a 20-ton merry-go-round during the show as artists perform powerful pole acrobatics.

The show's team of riders and acrobats include a team from Guinea, West Africa, whose members did astoundingly fast flips across the stage and performed cheerful drumming and song. Other highlights include a beautiful four-person silk act and a performance on aerial hoops. Live music accompanies the show, with the musicians located in loges above the stage wings. The show is under the direction of Wayne Fowkes, and Benjamin Aillaud is the equestrian director and choreographer.

At one early performance, the Burbank audience gave a standing ovation.

“I have never seen anything like it,” declared one audience member, Barrett Bramstedt of Tarzana. “I never imagined that men and horses could perform together so beautifully and seamlessly. And to view it on such a large scale was mesmerizing. It was like a beautiful dream.”

What: Cavalia's Odysseo White Big Top

Where: Under the big top at 777 N. Front Street, Burbank

When: Through March 24

Tickets: $34.50-$159.50 (VIP packages available)

More info: (866) 999-8111, www.cavalia.net

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LAURA TATE is a frequent contributor to Marquee.

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