Normand Latourelle’s mother used to call him and fellow Canadian entertainers “happiness merchants.”
The group who pooled its collective knowledge, skills and creative visions together about 30 years ago to create Cirque du Soleil. Latourelle is the founder and creative genius behind Cavalia Inc., an entertainment company specializing in over-the-top touring shows that combine equestrian artistry, spell-binding acrobatics, and cutting-edge technology.
“We’re all from a small province called Quebec,” Latourelle says. “There were a bunch of street performers who started to get together at a small circus school in Montreal, and I was looking at what they were doing, and I said, ‘Well, maybe we can bring all this to another level.’ At that time, I would stage rock bands with lots of special effects (of course, they are not what they are today), and I thought maybe we could do that with those street performers. Take the traditional performers, and add more lights, more sound—a 365 degree experience with smoke machines and all that.”
Latourelle only spent five years with Cirque after it was successfully created, but he feels those were some of the most pivotal.
“All the development happened at that period,” he says, “I would say it was the tough years, but the fun years. It’s amazing how many shows (Cirque du Soleil) does and creates today, but during my time with it, it was still a small company. When we were in the development phase for our first show in Las Vegas, we were still just touring with one tent, which was very magical. So, it was a fun period, but it became too big for me.”
But stepping away from Cirque did not mean leaving the entertainment and production industry. Latourelle still wanted to imagine and create, but was set on the idea of using the most advanced special effects technology. And he envisioned a show that took things a bit further; a show that included more than just human performers.
“I’m not a guy from the horse world,” Latourelle says. “I’m more of the guy from the entertaining world and that’s how I’ve been most of my life—trying to push the limits of what you can do; how creative you can be with all the new technology and tools you have to create with. Cavalia (Cavalia: A Magical Encounter Between Human and Horse) was the first show I created with horses, which is still very popular today, but through the years I knew I could push more. Not only what you can achieve with horses, but also what you can achieve as a touring show. I gave myself the goal to produce a show that was as good or better than any of the permanent shows you can witness in Las Vegas.”
Audiences will agree that Latourelle more than achieved that goal. And yet, after the success of Cavalia, he wanted to push further.
“When I created Odysseo, it was already kind of a monster,” he says with a laugh. “It was very big, because I didn’t put any limits on what would be going in a truck, and how many trucks. I didn’t really figure it out. I just said to my creative and production teams, ‘Let’s do the best of the best.’ It’s been touring now for six years, but when we started it was a smaller Odysseo, and I didn’t think it was enough. So now I do it even bigger.”
The $30 million production includes a cast of 50 world-class performers (horse specialists, acrobats, aerialists and musicians), 65 horses, a 40,000-gallon lake, a three-story mountain, and layers of special effects (including projections, lighting, lasers and smoke). Latourelle considers the show a 6-D experience.
Odysseo doesn’t follow a storyline, per se, but instead presents a succession of dazzling vignettes with one common thread: nature.
“Every member of the audience can build their own story out of the show, but really, it’s very simple,” he says. “First, I wanted the show to be beautiful and happy. Secondly, and the reason I called the show Odysseo, is because it’s an odyssey—when horse and man go to discover the most beautiful landscapes in the world. You can do so much with the inspiration of nature. That’s the reason why I use horses. Even though they are domesticated animals, they are much closer to nature than we are.”
HD projections on the side of the 30-foot mountain transport audiences to the different landscapes he mentions.
“Some of the optical illusions are absolutely amazing,” Latourelle says. “You will look at an image and say, ‘That looks pretty much like Arizona’, and then we travel to ice caves, then to the (grasslands of) Mongolia, then to the Sahara desert, and on to some fabulous landscapes in Canada. So it’s all about nature, and about that journey—where horse and man, side by side, just have fun in the wild.”
Latourelle wants people to feel the same kind of wonder that he felt as a child when he saw his first Walt Disney movie.
“You enter into that dream when you enter the big top, and you just let yourself go, like you’re walking on a cloud—that’s what I want people to feel. What I realized through touring Odysseo is that whether you’re 4 years old, 44 years old, or 104 years old, you just find yourself in that dream. I think that’s what we have achieved.”
Cavalia Odysseo, 1745 N. McClintock Drive, Scottsdale, 866.999.8111, cavalia.com, various times, Wednesday, February 21, to Sunday, March 4, $39.50-$234.50.