Cavalia rides into Somerville

On July 31, 2013, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times

Show opens next week at Assembly Row

A Cavalia crew member rests after scaling one of the 10-story-high peaks of the “big white top” to plant the Odysseo flag yesterday. ~Photo by Elizabeth Sheeran.

A Cavalia crew member rests after scaling one of the 10-story-high peaks of the “big white top” to plant the Odysseo flag yesterday. – Photo by Elizabeth Sheeran.

By Elizabeth Sheeran

Five dozen horses. More than 100 semi-trailer trucks. And the largest big top tent of its kind. Cavalia has arrived in Somerville with the kind of fanfare reminiscent of the days when everything shut down the day the travelling circus came to town.

The Montreal-based entertainment company has transformed an empty lot at Assembly Row into a larger-than-life encampment befitting its U.S. premiere of Odysseo, a live spectacle of equestrian art and high-tech theatrical entertainment that opens August 7.

Artistic Director Normand Latourelle, a Cirque du Soleil founder who created the original Cavalia show a decade ago, said he spent eight years developing Odysseo as the show to top all other shows. “I thought of every detail and my goal was to beat every Cirque du Soleil show in Vegas. So we put everything in there,” said Latourelle, describing the concept as “men and horses travelling together around the most beautiful landscape in the world.”

“The challenge was to do a perfect marriage between the performing arts and the equestrian arts,” he said. “So we gave ourselves the resources and the technology to realize that.”

The result is the world’s largest touring show; twice the size of anything else on record. Performing alongside Cavalia’s 63 four-legged stars are four dozen artists of the two-legged variety:  riders, acrobats, aerialists, dancers and musicians from 13 different countries. Backing them up behind the scenes are 120 full-time employees who tour with the group, close to 100 local workers hired for the set up, and another 100 or so locals who will work throughout the run of the show at everything from ticket sales, to bartending, to stable help.

Cavalia’s mainstage tent, dubbed the “big white top,” is itself an engineering innovation. The 2,000-seat performance space rises 10 stories high and covers the area of two football fields. The canvas structure is supported by four masts and three arches, and tethered to the ground with 3.6 miles of steel cable. Eighty tons of sound, light and mechanical equipment are suspended from above, so as not to block the view.

Cavalia is using heavy equipment to build a mountain landscape under the “big white top.” ~Photo by Elizabeth Sheeran.

Cavalia is using heavy equipment to build a mountain landscape under the “big white top.” – Photo by Elizabeth Sheeran.

As workers put the finishing touches on the big top frame yesterday, bulldozers set about moving up to 10,000 tons of dirt to build the mountain landscape of Latourelle’s vision. The world of Odysseo will be brought to life by state-of-the-art visual effects, including a high definition 3D backdrop the size of three IMAX screens. And in the few days that remain before opening night, crews will prepare the stage surface for the show’s grand finale, when the horses and their human friends will frolic in 80,000 gallons of water.

“What you see as the public is almost a six-dimensional experience,” said Latourelle. “You enter for two hours of show to make you travel, to make you have fun, and to make you dream.”

And he said the fun isn’t all reserved for the humans. “We want the horses to feel when they come onstage that it is not a workplace but a playground,” said Latourelle. He said Odysseo is unique in that its horses perform a great deal of the show without bits in their mouths, even though half of them are notoriously hard-to-train stallions. When the horses arrive in Somerville tomorrow, they’ll be fresh off a two-week vacation at the company’s farm in southern Quebec where they’re “on holiday, just eating grass and having fun,” said Latourelle.

Cavalia has so far announced two weeks’ worth of performances in Somerville, but similar engagements have typically been extended by six weeks or more. Mayor Joseph Curtatone said the city was ready to host Odysseo for up to three months and beyond, and the longer the run, the greater the benefits to Somerville residents.

Along with the money Cavalia and its patrons will spend here, the mayor said the company is partnering with the city to ensure that excess tickets go to moderate and low income Somerville families who may not otherwise be able to afford the admission price, which starts at around $50 for adults.

“It’s a moving show and it’s important for everyone to have that opportunity to see it,” said Mayor Curtatone. He said his office will work through city departments and social service agencies to coordinate opportunities for more Somerville residents to experience Odysseo, and will publicize those opportunities on the city website.

Said Mayor Curtatone, “We’re excited to have the world’s biggest stage, holding what’s probably the greatest show touring the world today, right here in Somerville.”

Cavalia will open Wednesday, August 7 and is currently scheduled to run through August 18, with an extension likely. Ticket information is available at, or 1-866-999-8111.



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