Anyone driving Lake Shore Drive in the past few weeks has probably wondered about the towering white tent sitting in Soldier Field’s south parking lot. For the next month this is the home of “Odysseo,” another show from creator Normand Latourelle where horses are the stars performing right alongside the show’s acrobats and aerialists.
When: April 1-May 14
Where: Soldier Field, South Lot, 1410 Museum Campus Dr.
With its 200-person cast and crew, 65 horses, massive stage (made from 10,000 tons of sand), a forest, a mountain and a lake (filled with 80,000 gallons of water) and even a carousel, Latourelle says he has created the biggest touring show in the world.
“It’s twice the size of the last U2 tour,” he says offering some perspective.
A co-founder of Cirque de Soleil where he handled production and development, Latourelle had left that company and in 1984 was focused on his own theatrical projects one of which was “Légendes fantastiques,” a show inspired by Quebec French-Canadian tales that featured 100 performers and a few horses.
“I noticed that when the horses were on stage, the audience was not looking at the performers but at the horses,” Latourelle recalls. He wondered, “What is going on here?” Then he bought more horses.
What he wanted was to create something bigger and more theatrical, something that no one else was doing or even imagining doing. What he came up with was 2003’s “Cavalia,” a smaller and more intimate show than “Odysseo.”
But first Latourelle, who literally knew nothing about horses, undertook a project that began with studying the history of horses and realizing, he says, “that horses are something all nations have in common. Their history is the history of humanity.”
Not wanting to create “Cavalia 2” but wanting to expand on its innovative sound, lighting, music and technology, as well as include more acrobats, aerialists, dancer and musicians, he went a step further and pushed the boundaries of what a touring show could be.
“The show is very inspired by nature,” Latourelle says proudly. “We created this big stage to make sure the horses would be happy on stage. For half the show, they run free and play.”
There are a lot of tools (whips, spurs) that can become weapons for a horse and are never used by the “Odysseo” trainers, who are instead given as much time as they need with a horse to understand their temper, their natural behavior in order to integrate that into the show.
It’s a given that the trainer-riders would know the horses intimately but the acrobats and aerialists also must get comfortable being around the four-legged performers, says aerialist Jacki Kehrwald, who performs an intricate hoop act with her husband Nicolo. In another number with more than 30 horses on stage, the duo, who had seldom been around horses in the past, communicate with their assigned horse through verbal queues and hand gestures.
“I’ve worked with Frosty for months and really love that part of the show,” Kehrwald says, adding with a laugh, “He’s the best and we have a good working relationship.”
While the performers don’t go to the stables often, before this number, Kehrwald does go to brush Frosty down and get him ready. She has surprised herself with how comfortable she’s become around horses.
“That is a really sweet and grounding moment for us,” she says. “A horse feeds off your energy. So we have to calm ourselves down and get rid of the adrenaline in order to connect with our horse.”
Latourelle, who grew up in Montreal far away from horses, says the carousel, which descends from the ceiling of the tent, is one of his favorite elements in the show. It was inspired by a moment from his childhood. His grandfather operated a child-size train at a local amusement park but he had eyes only for the park’s carousal and one wooden horse.
“I was a city kid but here I could jump on a horse,” he reminisces. “I had one horse that I considered mine. I always tried to be first in line so I could claim it. I wanted to bring this memory back, to bring this childhood dream back.”
But Latourelle’s dream ended up being much bigger than simply one horse. He hopes with “Odysseo” that he and his creative team have created “a beautiful and happy show.”
“It’s one of the rare shows you can enjoy whether you’re four-, forty-four- or 94-years-old,” he says. “I don’t think anyone who see’s this show will go home disappointed.”
Mary Houlihan is a local freelance writer.