Cavalia – a chat with Artistic Director Normand Latourelle




ABOUT CAVALIA INC. – Headquartered in Montreal, Quebec, Cavalia Inc. operates two separate touring shows, Cavalia and Odysseo, both of which marry the equestrian arts, stage arts and high-tech theatrical effects at never-before-seen levels. Cavalia, seen by some 3.5 million people across North America and Europe since its 2003 debut, celebrates the relationship between humans and horses by loosely recounting the evolution of this bond. Odysseo, which premiered in autumn 2011, takes the next step, leading viewers on a journey through some of the breathtaking landscapes horses have helped humans discover around the globe. Follow Cavalia Inc.’s latest developments at www.twitter.com/Cavalia or www.facebook.com/Cavalia.


In his 40-year career in the performing arts, Normand Latourelle has followed a path that has led him through all aspects of the industry, having occupied every position from lighting designer to agent, production manager, director and artistic director. A pioneer of Cirque du Soleil from 1985 to 1990, he has been the driving force behind many impressive and memorable events, such as the sound and light show on Parliament Hill in Ottawa and the 350th anniversary celebrations for the founding of Montreal. A visionary in constant quest for innovation, Normand Latourelle is renowned for combining different forms of artistic expression and reinventing the scenic space, with the ultimate goal of taking audiences to new dimensions. Since 2003, Normand Latourelle has been fully dedicated to Cavalia, instilling his talent, passion and imagination into the productions. In 2007, he received the Ordre national du Québec for his achievements.


I was lucky to catch up with Cavalia’s Artistic Director, Normand Latourelle, for a chat about his spectacular shows, and his approach to working with horses. This is actually our chat transcribed so sit down with your preferred beverage and enjoy the conversation…


XS: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk, Normand. You’re the artistic Director of an incredible new show, opening in Brisbane on Wednesday night. I think it’s safe to say there’s nothing like Cavalia. We’ve certainly not seen anything like it here.

NL: In Europe and the states there’s no other show to compare it. So it’s about time we come to Australia. We’re very pleased to finally bring it to Australia.

It’s a challenge but I decided to bring the whole show, you know, not just the smaller version of the show. That was very important to me.

XS: I guess you didn’t want to compromise on the integrity of the show, of your vision.

NL: No, we didn’t.

You know we travel with about fifty-five, fifty-six horses and we have a farm in Canada so, you know, when we feel it’s necessary, we just exchange horses… The director is looking after the horses here.


XS: Can you tell me about the horses? Your approach to training and working with the horses?

NL: The thing is we’re trying to follow their rhythm and not impose on them our rhythm. We want them to come on stage and be happy so in order to do that we just…we don’t push them. So when they come on stage we want them to feel like it’s their playground, not a place to work, not a place they don’t want to go. And that’s very important you see, because for the first half of the show we have three horses on stage… they improvise with … some kind of improvisation. It’s choreographed, obviously, but if the horse decides to do differently we have to follow them… I would say, compared to the horse world in general, it’s a soft way to train horses in general.

XS: Are your artists already accustomed to working with the horses in this way?

NL: We have three type of artists. The woman that is our musician, so that’s a separate group, and we have the acrobats and the riders. So we, of course when we bring acrobats, we have to add the acrobats become involved with the horses and start to do their own training with the horses to make them understand what the horse is all about. I mean, some of the acrobats who are there for a long time, for a year or a year and a half, also start to become riders so it’s a long process. For the riders, we hired riders who are in very good shape, we also train some riders, and we have some riders who are trained in acrobatics on the horse also, of course. If they don’t do acrobatics we train them to do so. It’s also a long process to make an acrobat become a rider or a rider become an acrobat.

The most important thing is that all of them have to know the horses that are on stage at the same time as them.


XS: So because the performers are following the horses and allowing them to improvise, does that mean the show is continually evolving? Do we never see the same show twice?

NL: That’s totally right. The show varies, from one show to the next the show varies 10 minutes, minus or plus, and most of the time it’s because the horses decide differently and we follow them. And for me it’s not a problem.

This is where we get the best out of them is when they do what they want and sometimes they follow the pattern we offer them but other times they do it the way they want, which is also okay for us. You know, it’s not – compared to a traditional circus – you know, at the end of a number in a traditional circus, the trainer raises his arm and says ta-dah, it’s all about me, I can totally control my horses. In our show it’s about the horses so instead of raising our hand, the artist directs their hand to the horse and praises the horse to be such a partner. It’s a totally different approach.


XS: You’ve completely reversed the traditional notion of  humans controlling animals.

NL: Yeah, definitely. You know, when we – I’m one of the guys who started Cirque du Soleil – and when we started the show, I was very, very proud to explain that, you know, we were able to do a good show, a good circus, without animals, and we were totally against using animals in the show. So when I decided to move to the animal world, first of all I understood very fast working with horses. Horses were domesticated animals. I would never do a show with elephants or lions. But horses are domesticated animals and during their life with humans for the last five thousand years, it’s nothing new and it’s nothing that is going to change tomorrow because even if all the horses become wild tomorrow they will not, they will come back to their stable. The other part which was very important for me is that I decided to do a show with animals and I want the animals to be able to express themselves and also to enjoy what they do, and from the beginning that’s what I’ve been telling the trainer and telling all the artists and creators, co-creators…that was the rule. And that’s what we’ve pretty much achieved. I mean, we make some mistakes sometimes and you know, we don’t yield, I mean it’s a thin line, you know they’re still animals, they don’t think like us and sometime we react some way and they don’t like it.

But the idea is to be very humble and also to be able to understand at first what’s going on with the animal, that’s more important. The same thing we have a lot of art where we ride the horses, because I’m talking a lot about the parts where we don’t ride, where the horses are free on stage…when we have up to eight horses together doing the same thing. You know, I accept that the horse do not have their heads at the same level, where the horses have to be exactly, exactly precise and doing the same thing.

Cavalia is not a competition, it is more about the relationship between humankind and horses. And yes, in the last five thousand years we have ridden horses, and that’s what is also part of the show – we do ride them – but we don’t push them to the point they become top dressage competition horse, just show what they can do. It’s the same thing, we have a horse that jumps bars at one point in the show, you know, we don’t raise the bar as high as the world…even if he could do it, we’re not putting the bars as far as what you can do at the Olympics or any competition. We just think that it’s beautiful to see the horse jump and we just ask him to do reasonably high, to be at the same time impressive but not to hurt himself; not to put in any kind of danger.


XS: So the respect for the horses wins in the end. More so than story? Do we get a story as well or is it more about enjoying the beauty and strength and power of the horses?

NL: Well, it’s a mix of both. We do have a very subtle storyline that come from the discovery of the horse and slowly it built from communication and there are a lot of moment at the beginning of the show where we just share the space and we discover them and they discover us and we become friends, and then we start to climb on them, which they accept, you know, gently to be climbed on. And we feel the pace of the show this way is more that we move through the time. It’s also showed by the multi-media aspect of the show.

We have large-scale images that project, that shows expression of human through the time of what we have seen from horses. One of the first images we project is a man cave and on the wall of the man cave is a drawing of the horse…so we project that image and then we go to our time. The images are very artistic but at the same time, it gives you a feeling of moving through time. It’s not explicit, it’s not a historical, it’s more done like a poem, you know, the way you write a poem. It doesn’t start with “once upon a time”, it more starts with “this happened…”

XS: Since 2003 has Cavalia undergone many changes conceptually?

NL: For audiences who saw Cavalia in 2003 they will recognise maybe thirty percent of it. We have changed about seventy percent of it. There’s two or three reasons. Every time in a show like that, every time you change a horse or you change an artist, you have to adapt the show to their own personality…the other thing is that you know, when I started this show, I knew nothing about horses, it was my first experience in the horse world so I learned about it and that’s the beauty of having a live show, throughout the year I was able to upgrade some parts and bring the technology, it had evolved, and it became a little bit bigger. When we started the show we had only two acrobats flying and now we have five of them.

We just push it and also, I tried to bring the show to a point where we appreciate equally, all of the parts. When I was first in the show, for the first year, there were some parts in the show I was not happy with so I took a year to adapt to a show I liked, then hopefully, the show I see is the show everybody like.

XS: Did you ever think you were going to be working with horses? What did you want to be when you grew up?

NL: Well, when I was younger I wanted to be a doctor, until I had to go to the hospital…and then my ideas changed, I wanted to become a politician…until I was kicked out of school by the director so that also changed my mind…I was so frustrated that I decided to put on some shows….I created my first show, I was about thirteen years old, and I left school at sixteen to become professional and I always did that. I create and produce. I’ve done everything. I’ve done light design, I’ve done sound design, I’ve been a roadie, I drove trucks. There’s nothing here that I haven’t done. Publisher, record producer…Cavalia for me is like, you know, the achievement of all the experience I had, including Cirque du Soleil experience.

It took me ten years from having the idea to having the first show of Cavalia. What you see in Cavalia is the mix of everything I know: lights, sound, music, large-scale images, special effects, of course acrobatics, dance, and of course now, the equestrian world.


XS: Are you already working on the next show? We are looking forward to hearing more about Odysseo…

NL: Odysseo just got started a year ago, I’m still tweaking it, still working on it, so I have no plans for a third one because it’s a long process. You know, its always long because not only I want my show to be so different – I challenge myself – to create things that nobody ever seen before. That’s what the challenge was with Cirque and that is the challenge with Cavalia, you know, make the horses comfortable in another environment. But I didn’t want to make another copy of Cavalia so Oddyseo is like the limit of what can be done on stage, and for the next one I don’t know exactly.

XS: Thank you so much for your time today, and congratulations on the Australian premiere of Cavalia! We’ll see you on Wednesday for opening night!




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