‘Odysseo' saddles up for a poetic, elevating journey

"Odysseo" is that rarest of rarities, a sequel that significantly improves upon the original.

And that's saying something because the original, the touring horse-riding and acrobatics extravaganza "Cavalia," was a crowd-pleaser whose run was extended five times in Atlanta in 2009 on the power of positive reviews and strong word of mouth.

If "Cavalia" struck horse lovers and horse novices alike as a surprise, "Odysseo," making its first tour stop here after its world premiere in the troupe's hometown of Montreal, is surprising in the way it ups the ante. The follow-up is bigger in every way: larger tent, more powerful in important technical ways, more horses, more and more varied performers, better music that plays a bigger role.

Bigger, of course, is rarely any guarantee of better. But "Odysseo" is not bigger for bigger's sake. It's bigger because artistic director (and Cirque du Soleil co-founder) Normand Latourelle, having toured with "Cavalia" for eight years, wanted a larger canvas to create a performance that's not quite like anything you've seen.

"Cavalia" was a bracing ballet of equine movement and human derring-do. "Odysseo," with a stage as big as a professional hockey rink, places these expressive partners in a production that boasts state-of-the-art multimedia and lighting, inspired stagecraft, and a spirited gypsy-soul soundtrack played live.

It's not a horse show, it's not a play, it's not Cirque du Soliel, it's not a 3D movie, it's not a concert. It's all of these things, blended together in a way that not only entertains but, appropriate to the season, elevates the spirit.

The biggest enhancement is a nonstop show of projected nature landscapes that not only fill screens across the rear of the stage but play on the stage surface as well. Though there's not a lot of story to "Odysseo," which loosely is about man and horse on a journey of discovery together across the globe, the gorgeous projections have a way of pulling viewers fully into that dreamy tale.

Along the way there are breathtaking flourishes, such as when horses and riders midway through the first act appear atop what had seemed to be a projected mountain range but in fact turns out to be a real earthen hill at stage rear. That hill then becomes the setting of some of the show's splendid demonstrations of synchronized horse movement. Near the end of Act II, there's a projected waterfall that appears in mere seconds to create a river at stage front. Shortly, the four-legged stars are galloping through it, kicking up water in a giddy show of horsepower.

The two-legged stars have their moments, too. As with "Cavalia," there are riding feats that boggle the brain, such as when one rider slips off his saddle as his horse flies across the stage and somehow manages to make a full circle under the steed, pulling himself back up onto the saddle from the other side. "Odysseo" also has more purely acrobatic scenes, many featuring an African troupe of flip-crazy charmers, and one sensual number in which performers climb and hang off of twirling carousel poles at unfathomable angles.

For all that "Odysseo" offers, it must be acknowledged that, particularly in a crummy economy, it's one pricey ticket. But if you can afford the freight, it's an odyssey worth booking.

Performance review


Through Jan. 8 (with an extension possible). Showtimes vary. Tent site: Spring and Eighth streets, Atlanta. Tickets, $69.50-$134.50 (with discounts for ages 2-17 and 65 and over), available via 1-866-999-8111, www.cavalia.net.