TORONTO - Making 60 horses and 50 performers move across hills and water, under a touring tent bigger than an NFL football field and on a stage the size of two hockey rinks, has been a mammoth challenge that still astounds "Odysseo" creator Normand Latourelle.
"It's one thing to have ideas but then you have to realize them and sometimes you realize, 'Oh my God!'" said the founder and artistic director of Montreal-based Cavalia as construction crews built the ambitious set for next week's Toronto debut.
"Every time I look at this I say, 'What have I done?' It's so big but I don't figure how much it costs, at first, because I'm both the producer and the creator. So the producer suffers a lot because the creator just lets himself go, and I just have fun.
"I like to please the public and this is what it's all about."
"Odysseo" opened in Montreal last October and is twice as big as the company's original show, "Cavalia: A Magical Encounter between Human and Horse," which has been touring for nine years after making its world debut in Toronto in 2003.
With the theme of humans and horses conquering the world together, "Odysseo" sees the animals and riders traversing gorgeous landscapes, from an enchanted forest to the Sahara and the African savannah. The backdrops are created by projectors that give the effect of what Latourelle calls a "5-D show."
Dancers and acrobats also perform on the massive stage, in the middle of which stands two three-storey-high hills. At one point in the show, the stage is flooded with 80,000 gallons of water and Arabian horses charge through it at full speed. The set also has a full-sized merry-go-round that descends from the ceiling.
Over 100 trucks are used to transport the show, which runs at Toronto's downtown Port Lands from May 15 to June 3 on its only Canadian stop this year.
About 20 trucks haul the big top alone, which is said to be the largest touring tent in the world.
Latourelle said the horses also travel by truck, if they're going shorter distances, with each truck holding six of the animals in individual "boxes." If they're going very long distances, the horses travel in a chartered Boeing 747.
During the show's month-long break between each tour stop, the 12 breeds of horses go out to pasture. Before coming to Toronto after the Miami run, they grazed in Kentucky.
"Some of these horses we bought about eight years ago and they were slowly trained and that's the way we do with the horses," said Latourelle, a pioneer of Cirque du Soleil who's had a 40-year career in the performing arts.
"Everybody knows onstage that the horse never makes mistakes, it's the human who makes mistakes, so we follow the horse and we use who they are to bring that performance alive. So the human adapts to what the horse wants to express.
"It's difficult to say, but you realize when you watch the show that the horses are very happy to be onstage because for them the stage is their playground."
Latourelle said he came up with the idea to marry the equestrian and acrobatic arts after seeing a horse onstage and being blown away by its beauty.
"Odysseo" was inspired by the scene at his house in Sutton, Que., where his horses live on a backdrop of mountains, a lake and a forest.
"I'm very attracted by esthetics and that's part of my life. What I like to create has to be beautiful, and I just realized that horses were also powerful, were very fun, very playful, so I started to explore that world," he said.
"They're so noble, they're so gracious. They're the most beautiful animal on Earth."