Making its 2017 Midwest debut on April 1st, ODYSSEO brings 65 majestic horses and a football field sized village to Chicago in what has been billed as the largest touring show on earth. As you enter the enormous production complex, you realize that at its heart, ODYSSEO is a unique experience between horse and handler and all of the mechanics that surround this production serve only to enhance the intimate relationship.
On March 27th, we had the pleasure of visiting Cavalia village to speak with the production team, artists and trainers involved in mounting the 2017 version of the show founded in 2003 by Normand Latourelle. An earlier version played here in 2009, but it has grown many times in size, scope and complexity since then.
For starters, there are nine different breeds of horses from seven countries that perform in free riding displays throughout. The four-legged stars of ODYSSEO were flown in on a 747 and then spent a leisurely two-week break at a local farm in Bristol, Wisconsin to recharge and relax before the run with matinee and evening performances through April 23rd under the white big top. Back at Soldier Field, the crew has worked for 17 days to mount the dazzling series of tents and staging that is transported in 110 semi trucks.
In this week's CONVERSATION, we spoke with Resident Artistic Director Darren Charles about the overall vision of ODYSSEO. It was a bit of a surprise to learn that Sam Alvarez, an electrical engineer, and Elise Verdoncq, an aspiring attorney, had both changed course in their careers and have been with the the show since its inception. Alvarez, an aerialist, performer and coach for the high-flying routines, took us through a few of the show's highlights. Verdoncq told us that after busy days in training, it all comes together for her as a featured performer in Liberty, a unique program element where horses respond only to her voice, body and hand movements.
With over 150 crew members, 50 performing artists, riders, aerialists, acrobats, stilt walkers, dancers and musicians, an enormous hydraulic carousel, 10,000 tons of stone, earth and sand … and horses, everywhere, Cavalia Odysseo is sure to please and not to be missed.
Rider Steven Paulson on the premise of the show …
“Liberty meaning freedom in French is the premise of our show … Horses at freedom … no bridle, no saddle … Following us based on cues of body language ... It is all about the bond between horse and rider.”
Darren Charles, Resident Artistic Director and Choreographer, on the epic scale of this production …
“We are back with the largest touring show in the world. We have 150 resident employees, 65 horses and 50 artists … aerialists, ground based acrobats, video, equestrians … amazing lighting … It is almost like you are watching a movie rather than watching a show … Something no one has ever seen before.”
Sam Alvarez, Aerialist and Coach, on his change in careers …
“I have been with the show since its beginning … I started as a gymnast, diver, dancer as a kid but I was not looking to be in any circus. I was studying to be a computer electrical engineer … and there was a chance occurrence … I happened to audition for circus … I decided my body is only going to be good at this for so long so why not. I have been in it for over 20 years now I would say.”
Featured artist, rider and trainer Elise Verdoncq on her relationship with the horses …
“There are horses that will be more sensitive about the way I move and talk. I would say to have a horse completely ready [for the show ] would take a year. If you just train one horse it will take less time but in this number all the horses need to learn their place and that is the longest process … I really enjoy spending my day with my horses. You learn every day with them.”