Cavalia’s Odysseo: Under the White Big Top – Chicago

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Rising 125 feet into the air, the White Big Top sits on the south lot of Chicago’s Soldier Field bearing more resemblance to an Arabian-style castle than a show tent. Imagined by French-Canadian creator and artistic director, Normand Latourelle, the Odysseo lakefront compound (five tents including stables) has captured the curiosity of passersby for weeks. And Odysseo’s Tuesday opening night did not disappoint.

Cavalia’s 2,000-seat theater was filled to capacity: 65 horses and 48 artists comprised of riders, aerialists, acrobats, dancers, singers and musicians, invited the audience to their giant playground, taking them on a journey through an enchanted forest, open meadows, up steep cliffs, near waterfalls, into canyons and onto a glacier before galloping towards a finale unlike any other. Magically a massive blue-green lake floods the stage where horses and riders frolic and perform daring stunts.

Although the horses are the obvious stars, the human performers also have their moment to shine during the ambitious production. Aerialists entertain on a full-size merry-go-round suspended high above the floor, dance on sky-high hoops and fly through the air on aerial silks. Acrobats and musicians delight with feats of balance, agility, and strength, creating human pyramids, performing in-air stunts, and tumbling and spinning while West African music keeps the energy level high.

It has taken nearly six years since its 2011 debut in Laval, Québec, for Odysseo to make its way to Chicago. Twice the size of Cavalia’s eponymous first production, Odysseo deftly combines a number of technical and artistic elements to create a sensory masterpiece unmatched by any other touring theater. Upon a massive stage, the earth rises to create a mountain three stories in height, adding dimension and realism to breathtaking scenic landscapes. Behind, eighteen projectors bring a distant horizon to life on a massive panoramic screen more than three times the size of an IMAX. Dramatic costuming and dynamic choreography punctuate the show’s enthralling story of human and horse.

In the Rendez-Vous VIP lounge prior to the start of the show, 450 patrons enjoyed dinner prepared by Odysseo’s own chef, Pierre-Yves Caisse, and dessert during intermission. Following the show, these guests were offered an exclusive tour of the stables where the equine stars enjoyed ample attention from their fans.

Throughout Odysseo it is clear that the horses are at least equal to their human counterparts, and fittingly, they receive star treatment offstage. Each day they enjoy eight meals, playtime, and pampering from mane to hoof. Riders spend endless hours with the animals, and the relationship shines through their actions on stage. Each performance is catered to the horses’ needs or mood, which the riders skillfully accommodate. This was no more obvious than when one spritely horse decided to abandon his formation to trot about the stage on his own, running off-stage twice, followed by his handler. An amused audience erupted in laughter and applause at the horse’s return, which—despite coaxing —was very clearly his own decision.

Odysseo will run through April 23rd, with tickets available online at

Show photos: Courtesy of Cavalia Odysseo
VIP Photo Credit: Arika Hilton

About Margaret O'Connor

Margaret J. O’Connor is the founder/owner of MarCon Communications, a public relations and special events firm which handles the publicity and event needs for a diverse range of clients. She’s involved with numerous charities in Chicago and is active in its lifestyle and social scene. She grew up and was educated in Africa, Australia and America and holds degrees in marketing and finance from the University of Illinois. She is a contributing writer to many print and digital publications and her focus is lifestyle, culinary and nonprofit events. Read more from this author.