Normand Latourelle: A Dream Meeting Between Human and Horse

Rider Elise Verdoncq (center) with some of the 65 horses and 48 artists 
of ODYSSEO, the latest show from the internationally 
acclaimed entertainment company Cavalia. Photo Courtesy: Dan Harper

Arturo Hilario
El Observador

Normand Latourelle has been in the arts for 40 years. Apart from being a co creator of Cirque du Soleil, his life long passion for productions and reinvention has led him to produce greatly admired works involving horses. His latest work, Cavalia: Odysseo, is now at the big white tent visible in Downtown San Jose. We spoke with the Artistic Director for his take on what makes this show special, in his own words.

How did you get to where you are Normand?

Well you know I’ve always done shows my whole life, I’m from Montreal, Quebec Canada. I started to do shows in high school and never stopped. I started in the music industry more and moved slowly to more modern production and I’m one of the co founders of Cirque du Soleil. After I left Cirque du Soleil I wanted to do something a little bit different and this is why I started to explore the horse world an try to integrate the equestrian arts into the performing arts and I created the show called Cavalia. This show Cavalia was created 15 years ago, it’s still touring actually, now touring in China.

Where did the inspiration for an equestrian type of show come from?

In Canada I had to create for a special celebration some kind of historical show, and part of this historical show I needed to a few horses to perform on stage, mostly as ‘extras’. This show went on for two years and when the horse was coming on stage I realized he was stealing focus from the performer. And that attracted my attention and I thought, well that’s interesting, I know nothing about horses but I started to explore the horse world, I went to a lot of events with horses, I went to travel almost all around the world to see what those animals were all about. I realized that the history of horses was pretty much linked with the history of humanity. And I realized horses were domesticated animals, as much as dogs. So I tried something artistic, because that’s what I do. I didn’t want to do a horse show, I wanted to do a new type of performing arts with horses, I knew that I was going to be difficult to achieve, but I knew it would be possible if I did it the right way so I worked for many years to conceive how I could do something very artistic, very beautiful with horses. This is how Cavalia got started, and it immediately had a lot of success.

For this new show, Odysseo, you’ve completely redone the idea with a new focus. Can you describe it?

The Cavalia stage limited me on what was possible to do. This is where I created Odysseo, the stage and the big top. This is not a regular big top. With the Odysseo my goal at first was as good or even better than any of the shows done in Las Vegas. With a touring show that brings a lot of challenge, but I’ve created the biggest touring big top in the world. It’s made of four gigantic masts and arches. These arches support the the stage. The stage I call ‘the first and one and only big show in the world’. We reveal it by layers so at first you feel like you’re in the middle of the forest then it disappears and then you see a real mountain top 33 feet high. Beyond the mountain we have a screen that is two times an IMAX size. So at the end of the show the bottom of the stage gets filled with 40,000 gallons of water. Then the horses are playing in the water. In addition, the arches support 800 tons and part of that is the merry go round that comes down to the stage and you have the acrobats on the merry-go-round. So it’s very hard to describe because it’s so unique, supported by live music and very moving, very colorful, a lot of fun and a lot of interaction with the public and the performers. Obviously there’s no such show, whether you’re 4 years old, 40 years old or 94 years old that you can take the entire family. It’s very peaceful and that’s what’s also very important. You get to see horses just running and having fun, the stage is their playground. You don’t see whips. We don’t force the horses, we just reveal their natural behavior by doing stuff that’s incredible to watch.

Finally, what is something you have learned in your career about horses that has stayed with you? Has it kindled a relationship through your work with them?

Yes sir, I’m not a rider, I’m not a horse trainer (but) I have a fantastic team, and I brought the horse world a new idea on how to train horses, partly because I knew nothing about it. The idea that you should be subtle with the horse, you should not have them do what they don’t want to do, take our time to train horses. Most people in the horse world use the horse like a machine, they use the same way you use a tractor. This is not what it is. They are creatures they, have their temper they have their sentiments. They have their way of thinking and way of living. You have to understand we use what they like and we push it to the maximum so they are performing but in the reality they are playing. That’s the mentality behind it. There’s one rule here and that is very important for everyone that works in Odysseo and Cavalia, the horse never make mistakes, only humans make mistakes and if the horse doesn’t do what you ask you didn’t make yourself understood. And this is a very different way that we are using to train horses. And that is what is making part of the beauty in this show, you come to just see happy horses.

Cavalia: Odysseo is in San Jose until October 30th, 2016. More info at <>.

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