The big top returns to Calgary

Odysseo doubles capacity for new equestrian show

Somehow it never occurred to Polish aerialist Kamila Ganclarska that she would have to learn how to ride a horse after joining the cast of Cavalia’s Odysseo in 2011. Ganclarska who worked with a circus in the Czech Republic before applying to join the show had not only never ridden a horse before she was afraid of them.

But that fear quickly dissipated when she found out that horses don’t necessarily kick you if you stand behind them or bite you when you feed them. “It’s completely different it was such a big myth. They feel you they know you. If you’re emotional they will feel it and try to help you it’s crazy” she says adding that she feels the bond between a person and a horse is much stronger than the bond with any run-of-the-mill pet.

For those unfamiliar with Cavalia it’s a blend of equestrian and performance art with acrobatics dance aerials and live music — think Cirque du Soleil with horses.

Cavalia first came to Calgary in May 2011 with its self-titled debut and both Cavalia and Odysseo centre on the relationship forged between humans and horses. Odysseo is a bigger production in every sense of the word — the big top at Canada Olympic Park is double the size of the previous show (8200 square feet and space for 2000 audience members) the set pieces are more technologically extravagant and there are more performers — 66 horses and 52 artists to be precise.

In order to meet the demands of the show Ganclarska had to start from scratch working extra hard to learn the basics of horse riding in addition to the choreography for each of her routines. She observed the more experienced riders and their horses every morning for about a month before starting classes which she took over the course of a year.

She says she’s slowly becoming part of the show as a rider and while it will take much longer to get a handle on elements like dressage and jumping her extensive acrobatic and gymnastic background helps with the tricks. Her natural sense of balance gives her an advantage for stunts like Roman riding — standing on two horses with one foot on each horse’s back.

Ganclarska is most proud however of the carousel routine which features a giant mechanic carousel lowered from the ceiling with aerialists on static and spinning Chinese poles. “It’s bringing you into your childhood” she says.

Ganclarska isn’t the only one on the Odysseo team learning something new. The performers are encouraged to challenge themselves and Ganclarska with her skills in hoop tissue and Chinese pole acrobatics is teaching her tricks to a handful of the riders. Meanwhile the production’s ground-based acrobats from West Africa are teaching the others how to tumble and do handstands. She says everyone trains together and since they are constantly moving the show to new cities her coworkers have become her family and they have a lot of fun together — it’s “not just work.”

Odysseo will celebrate its 600th performance on opening night in Calgary.