When Normand Latourelle promises his $35 million international touring production “Odysseo” is a very big show, he means it.
The creative mastermind behind “Cavalia,” an earlier spectacle in which gorgeous horses interact with skilled riders against breathtaking scenic backdrops, Latourelle wasn’t content with that first equine fantasia he concocted and brought to the Seattle area.
Latourelle says that the follow-up, “Odysseo,” which next week canters into the company’s Big Top tents pitched in Redmond’s Marymoor Park, “surpasses the quality of the top entertainment show in any theater in the world, including Las Vegas. I won’t be modest here. We have pushed the limit of what could be done in terms of performing arts, special effects, multimedia and projections, and how humans can be with horses.”
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Consider this. In one scene in “Odysseo,” the bottom of the stage is instantly transformed into a lake with 80,000 gallons of water. The enormous stage also contains “a real mountain that is 35 feet high,” explains Latourelle. “And because we do projections on the mountain as well as on a screen behind it, it gives the impression that you’re in the most amazing Hollywood movie — but live.”
“It is like one minute you’re in the Mongolian Steppes, then in the Sahara desert, then the canyons, then the most amazing waterfall, then ice. You really feel a part of it all. You’re not just a spectator.”
It would be difficult to imagine this sort of epic stagecraft if one had not seen “Cavalia,” which visited Renton in 2004 and Marymoor Park in 2012.
What thrilled in that trompe l’oeil extravaganza, even more than the constantly evolving scenography, was the magnificence and at times otherworldly performance ease of those sleek, graceful horses.
“Odysseo” doesn’t stint in that department either.
“We have 11 horse breeds in this show — including Arabians, Lusitanos from Portugal, Spanish horses, Appaloosas,” says Latourelle. “At one point we have 40 horses, and 40 human artists, all walking and running together on the stage. There’s no bits, no saddles, no leashes, and half the horses are stallions. You talk to anyone in the horse world, they’ll say you cannot do that with even two stallions at a time, and we have 20.”
The stats keep coming: The “Cavalia” show (Latourelle’s company is also named Cavalia) had six horses doing dressage — the competitive sport where riders and their mounts exhibit a series of highly formal, exacting moves. “Odysseo” puts 16 horses through such paces. The cast has swelled to 66 horses (and 52 riders, acrobats, aerialists, dancers and musicians). And the Big Top is much larger than “Cavalia’s” — actually, it’s the size of two NFL football fields.
Then there are the scenes of the horses frolicking in water — recalling the brilliant Cirque du Soleil spectacular, “O.” (Not surprisingly, Latourelle spent five years working with that French Canadian circus, in its early days.)
Wherever Latourelle’s horse-themed shows tour, similar questions arise. How well are the majestic creatures treated? Are they often injured? How are the scores of horses transported from, say, Vancouver, B.C., (where “Odysseo” just wrapped up a successful extended run) a hundred-plus miles south to Redmond?
Though he’s never ridden a horse himself (nor does he ever intend to), Latourelle says concern for the creatures’ well-being is paramount. “We are moving them by truck not in stalls but large boxes, where they have room to walk around, eat, relax. In between every run the horses spend 14 days in a farm with pasture. Our training is subtle, gentle, we don’t force them to do things. And they all have backups, the humans and the horses, so we can put in replacements and make time for rest.”
As for injuries, he insists they’re infrequent, “because we don’t push the risks for them. But we are traveling with our own veterinarian assistants, and work with local vets wherever we go so we can get medicines and medical technology if the horses need it.”
With “Cavalia” still in circulation, and “Odysseo” drawing acclaim (Atlanta Magazine called it “a magical combination of strength, beauty, ballet, artistic direction and incredible set design”), how will Latourelle top himself with his next equestrian pageant?
He won’t attempt to with a third touring show. But a “sit-down” spectacle somewhere, like Vegas? Maybe — but only if this horse dreamer can “push the limits” in that format too.
Misha Berson: firstname.lastname@example.org