In case it’s not already evident from these ramblings, I have a certain pessimistic disposition that rejects hullaballoo, whether its source is real estate agents, politicians, in-laws, or spectacle.
Cavalia produces spectacles. The brain-child of Normand Latourelle, a co-founder of Cirque du Soleil, Cavalia mixes equestrian and acrobatics, dance, aerial stunts, live music, multimedia and special effects to realize “an equestrian ballet” that explores “the fundamental relationship that humans have developed with horses throughout time, a precious bond that enabled us as humans to build bridges between cultures” -discounting of course the Mongol horde, Cossack pogroms, US Cavalry-led genocides etc etc etc. Like I said: pessimistic.
For no good reason that I can discern, complimentary tickets to the opening night Cavalia’s production of Odysseo arrive in my in-box. Instinctively, I move to delete, hesitate, and succumb to a morbid curiousity. I offer the missus the gift of spectacle, and we have a date.
It’s hard to miss the venue. The show -billed as “the world’s largest touring production”- is housed in an enormous tent, itself part of a complex that includes smaller tents, trailers, a corral, gas generators, floodlights, and a harras of late model white automobiles. The compound takes up a good portion of the former city works yard –somehow undeveloped- between the Olympic Village and the Cambie Street Bridge.
As you would expect of such an event, it’s heavily branded and the branding is heavily Pattison: Save-on-Foods has top billing, along with Pattison Group subsidiaries Everything Wine, Sun-Rype etc. And, to mix things up, The Keg.
There’s a concourse, of course, featuring Everything Wine, Sun-Rype etc, windbreakers emblazoned with “Odysseo,” plush horse dolls and glossy $15 programs. Taped to my seat is an envelope stuffed with coupons for things I don’t understand.
I recognize a few people: artists. The lights dim.
This is opening night –there are speeches. In contrast to all the commerce, M. Latourelle pauses in the proceedings. He calls attention to the internationality of the cast, their diverse origins and religious practices. He addresses the violence at the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre. His speech is punctuated by at intervals by what sounds to me a cautious applause. Something like that.
Down to business: this production marks an unprecedented return engagement for Cavalia. Latourelle thanks the Vancouver audience and his local partners by relaying a long and not very interesting story of the business that closed the deal.
Out comes Jimmy Pattison. “Expo” Jimmy doesn’t look a day over 110 in his expensive Diefenbakeresque suit. Jimmy’s quick, and hands off to Darrell Whatisname, the beefy guy from the Save-on-Food commercials. He gets the biggest applause so far, so they’ve papered the house with more than artists. Reading from cue cards Darrel makes his way through his speech like an ox in Aisle 3.
Not yet the horses.
Because it’s election season Peter “the public school system can go fuck itself” Fassbender gets a kick at the can, too. He brings greetings from the Premier (Am I hearing groans?) He rambles on about the contribution the arts make to the economy, and all the jobs that Cavalia brings and whatever.
They are beautiful creatures. Their handlers are attractive and talented, energetic and calm. The equine and human acrobatics are impressive, the projected images phantasmagoric, and the whole thing entirely pointless and repetitive. With so much galloping, trailing banners and shouting, I imagine myself watching a dress rehearsal for a Game of Thrones season finale.
By the time the interval comes I’m thinking about Fassbender but not just Fassbender. Peter alongside Jimmy and Normand, a confluence of oligarchs, of control, capital and spectacle; an unprecedented return engagement, in an undeveloped Vancouver lot just an aquabus ride away from the new casino.
I need air.
On my way out, past the stage, I witness one of those new creative jobs in action: shoveling horseshit.