Arts: Grand show

‘Odysseo’ performer calls Marin home

By Flora Tsapovsky

Wherever you go these days, it’s hard to avoid the advertisement for Odysseo, the grand, horses-centric performance running currently in San Francisco’s AT&T Park. Unlike last year’s holiday season attraction Kurious, by entertainment giant Cirque du Soleil, Cavalia, a company from Quebec, rolled into town less acclaimed and familiar, and yet it ended up extending its number of shows beyond the original plan. People flock to see magical forests and galloping stallions (rain or shine), and it seems like the white tents housing the project have become a city fixture. Odysseo is the company’s second production, after eponymous Cavalia a few years ago, and it reached San Francisco after a four-year tour across the U.S. and Canada. Counting around 120 cast and crew members, with riders and dancers from all over the world, Odysseo’s Bay Area stint is special in one small, yet intriguing way—there’s an actual local on board.

Trapeze artist Brennan Figari, 28, was born and raised in Marin’s tiny Woodacre (population 1,000), and this stop on the tour is his homecoming. “No one knows where Woodacre is, so I just tell people I’m from San Francisco,” he jokes. Figari has been with Odysseo since its inception four-and-a-half years ago, and he’s performing in four different sections: Carosello, involving a Chinese pole, The Odyssey, where he participates in the fascinating ‘liberty work’ with the horses, The Storm, where he has a solo on a hoop and another hoop piece, Odysseo. Besides this welcome stop in his home region, Figari has spent the last four years of his life on the road with Odysseo, but he’s not showing any signs of fatigue. Energetic and well-spoken, he seems to be genuinely excited about his work when we meet at his ‘cubicle’ on set. Every performer has their own makeup table, and Figari’s is adorned with an image of Dolly Parton and Christmas cards.

He first saw the trapeze at a resort his parents took him to, and jumped into it at the age of 15. “I went to study at Trapeze Arts, then I worked around the East Bay for a while, doing corporate events, nightclubs,” he recalls. He’s being modest—Figari’s resume includes, among other highlights, performing for the Royal Family of Dubai and the equally exciting Ellen Degeneres. “Then I worked on a cruise ship,” he continues, “doing everything pretty much—singing, dancing, tumbling. Then I moved to Vegas, and a friend called me and said Cavalia [is] looking for acrobats for what later would become Odysseo.” Figari sent his credentials, auditioned and a month later moved to Montreal to rehearse. He joined Cavalia right as he was auditioning for America’s Got Talent.

“My town and especially my parents were very supportive of me,” he says. “Both my parents come from artistic backgrounds, so they understood me, but made sure that if I drop out of college, I take this career very seriously.” Indeed, after a year at UC Davis, Figari deemed college education “not for me,” despite being charmed by Marin County’s marine life and considering becoming a marine biologist in his childhood years. He attests, however, that he did quite well for himself, supporting himself independently and owning a property in Las Vegas.

Having no previous experience with horses, Figari found working on Odysseo especially curious. “There’s nothing like this in the world,” he exclaims, “and being so heavily involved in the horses is also different. Other circus shows have animals, but this show really revolves around the horse—there’s no getting away from that.” While training, he spent a good amount of time familiarizing himself with Liberty Training, a horsemanship technique involving structured exercise on building trust and establishing a language of cues and poses.

“In the Liberty portion of the show, I do figures and patterns with the horses, and they don’t have saddles, they’re just being horses,” he says with a laugh. What did he learn from working with the noble animal? “I could talk about that for a while,” Figari gushes. “The hardest thing for me to realize was how in tune they are and attentive they are to the body languages and cues I give out. I’m used to understanding my body and how it works, but it’s a different thing understanding what my body it telling another animal, what my shoulders are doing, what my hips are doing, what you’re in essence telling the horse to do or not to do.”

This being California, a fair amount of friends and neighbors raise the question of animal rights—but Figari has it covered. “I like to joke that the horses are treated better than the performers; they get cleaned twice a day, which is more than I shower, and their showers are nicer,” he says with a laugh. “The show always has its doors open for journalists or PETA [People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals], and there are so many safety measures, like giving the horses a rotation, or going to new cities and making sure it’s all the same, so the horses don’t get stressed out.”

On this San Francisco pit stop of Odysseo, Figari has the privilege of visiting home often, and he takes full advantage of it. He invites his new international friends for dinners at his family home, which is probably a nice break from moving from city to city and living in a new apartment building every month. Living on the road, training daily and not showering daily can’t be easy, but Figari is happy to continue. “Our oldest acrobat is 42, so there is longevity in this career if you choose it. I’m not sick of it all just yet.”

‘Odysseo’ runs until Jan. 17 at AT&T Park, 1051 3rd St., San Francisco;

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