To be dazzled is one thing, but to do said dazzling is another entirely.
“When you watch it, it feels very simple and natural, but there’s a lot of technology and engineering behind what we do,” explains James Richardson, technical director of Cavalia’s “Odysseo,” the equestrian performance troupe’s latest show (through Oct. 27, $49.50-$249.50, Cavalia.net) at National Harbor. A brainchild of Cavalia creator and artistic director Normand Latourelle, a former Cirque du Soleil founder, “Odysseo” features dozens of horses and performers against a backdrop of dramatic landscapes.
However, creating such scenes can be an odyssey all its own. Here, Richardson and others give us the lowdown.
Odysseo” has 69 horses (stallions or geldings; no mares, so as not to distract the stallions) from 11 breeds. Equestrian director Benjamin Aillaud says the animal’s personality is key;he looks for horses with “which you can build a relationship.” They train at Cavalia’s facilityin Quebec.
Horses are used to riders’ costumes, such as capes, which at times are draped over the animals. “The base of their education is confidence with their rider,” Aillaud says. “[The horse] has been educated to understand the cape is not something dangerous.”
In one scene, the stage is flooded with 80,000 gallons of water in 21 / 2 minutes. “We took about 12 months of research and testing to get it right,” Richardson says. Pipes under the space releases water from four tanks; the water is recycled for the next show.
To give the horses enough traction while running through the water, sand is mixed with fiberand plastic “to help bind it together and make it solid in the water,” Richardson says. The water is constantly monitored, he says. “Horses love nothing more than to drink water. We have to make sure the water on stage is completely drinkable.”
Majolie Nadeauhas performed with Roucio, an 8-year-old Lusitano stallion, since 2011. She does at least 500 stomach crunches a day to keep her abs strong. “This part is what’s saving me from falling from one side to the other” when she rides upside down, she says.