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Cavalia brings dancing horses to National Harbor with ‘Odysseo’

It has gymnastics, cheerleader-like human pyramids and more than 60 beautiful horses. So basically, "Odysseo," Cavalia's equestrian show at National Harbor, is every 9-year-old-girl-in-the-throes-of-her-horse-phase's dream.

(Pascal Ratthé/Cavalia)

The show was created by a Cirque du Soleil founder, and combines aerial stunts and lush visuals akin to the Montreal-founded circus with equestrian sports performed by riders who look like "Game of Thrones" extras.

But for those not familiar with the equestrian world, "Odysseo" might be a bit too subtle. There are acrobats and aerialists, but no trapeze artists or tightrope walkers. And the horse stunts, many culled from dressage, might not seem particularly impressive to the uninitiated because the horses and their trainers make them look so easy. But getting a horse to skip and dance is some Olympic-level stuff. Want to know what exactly it is you're seeing?

Jumping: The jumps are to the "Odysseo" horses as hurdles are to track-and-field athletes; several human performers wearing pogo-stick shoes have to clear the obstacles while doing flips, too. Horses that jump competitively can clear bars six feet or higher.

(Pascal Ratthé/Cavalia)
(Pascal Ratthé/Cavalia)

Trick riding: Acrobatic stunts performed on a horse that you might see at a rodeo. Some of the stunts include one rider standing on two horses, or a rider allowing himself to be "dragged" alongside the horse.

(Pascal Ratthé/Cavalia)
(Pascal Ratthé/Cavalia)

Vaulting: Dance and gymnastics from atop the horse -- with a touch of flamboyance borrowed from the world of figure skating.

(Pascal Ratthé/Cavalia)
(Pascal Ratthé/Cavalia)


Dressage: The sport of Rafalca. The rider can signal to the horse to perform a variety of complicated steps, from marching in place to hopping and skipping.

(Lynne Glazer/Cavalia)
(Lynne Glazer/Cavalia)

For some of the dressage portions, the horses are unbridled -- no saddles, no reins. A trainer may stand in the center of the stage and direct the horses through verbal and visual cues. This is where "Odysseo" is at its best: The horses are able to sort themselves by color, move into formation and execute choreography all on their own.


(Color-ish Company/Cavalia)
(Color-ish Company/Cavalia)

Check out the horses in motion below, or get tickets to the show, which is at National Harbor through Oct. 27.

Correction: A previous version of this post said that Cavalia was a Cirque du Soleil production. The production was created by former co-founder of Cirque, but is a separate company.

Maura Judkis covers culture, food, and the arts.



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