‘Cavalia Odysseo’ brings horseplay back to the stage

‘Cavalia Odysseo’ brings horseplay back to the stage

By Jordan Wright (Photo/Pascal Ratthé

The equine extravaganza that galloped into town four years ago will return with an even more spectacular show Wednesday.

Sixty-nine horses — including Arabians, Belgians and Appaloosas, as well as other exotic breeds from around the world — will grace a big top the size of two football fields. And you don’t have to be horse crazy to be wowed by the beauty and raw power of these magnificent animals performing on a stage the size of two hockey rinks with a surface made of sand.

Watching these massive beauties — along with 49 artists — go through their paces is riveting and awe-inspiring. Canadian Marc-Olivier Leprohon, head of artistic and equestrian operations, and artist Stephanie Evans spoke to the Alexandria Times about “Cavalia Odysseo.”

Alexandria Times: Can you describe the development of “Cavalia Odysseo”?

Marc-Olivier Leprohon: When we began in Quebec in 2011, we were 12 people. Now there are 130 that are on the tour. Also, we bring on an extra 100 people for seating and food wherever we go and another 50 people to help move the show, tear down the big top and pack up supplies into 100 trucks.

That’s a huge production! What’s planned for the future?

There are two distinctly different shows: “Cavalia” and “Cavalia Odysseo.” Our artistic director, Wayne Fowkes, has a goal to create different shows in North America and around the world. Right now it’s the biggest show ever built and includes a huge lake and a hill in the background that the horses run up and down.

What kind of surface do the horses perform on?

We all work in sand. All of the acrobats or aerialists have to adapt, because the ground is not even. Every day we smooth the sand and roll it. It’s soft enough for the horses and compact enough for the artists.

In the show, there is nothing to obstruct the view of the horses. It’s like bringing nature indoors. In the beginning the horses strut, then jump and canter. We work them into dressage and finally into trick riding. So their warm-up is actually on stage, not backstage.

How are the horses trained, and do they perform in every show?

We follow what the horse wants to do and try to understand what they are telling us. Each one is trained to do four different disciplines even though they don’t do the same things every day. In addition, we always have some that are in training when we are on the road.

Where do the horses go between cities?

We usually have two weeks in between [cities]; that’s when we take them to a local farm. Before we open at National Harbor, they’ll stay on a farm in Delaware that provides 63 stalls with paddocks and fields to run around in with their friends.

Stephanie Evans is one of the artists in the show. Raised on a horse farm in Canada, she has competed in many international equestrian events and trained in dressage in Lipica, Slovenia, the original home of the Lipizzaner breed. She also learned equestrian skills in Spain at the Real Escuela Andaluza del Arte Ecuestre.

Stephanie, what is the breakdown of horse to rider and how do they get pampered?

Stephanie Evans: Each rider is assigned three to six horses, and each horse creates a bond with their rider. We have 11 different breeds — some are stallions and some are geldings. On site, we have round pens and an outdoor stand ring for sun and fresh air. We travel with two vet techs [that] are in contact with local veterinarians, and we have a farrier who travels with us in case a horse throws a shoe.

What are some of the quirks of their personalities?

I have three horses I ride now. One is an Andalusian stallion — who’s super relaxed, super sweet and super lazy — and another Andalusian I ride is very excitable, always looking around for things. Sometimes he is unpredictable!

Do they play well together?

No. We have to separate them because we have a lot of stallions, although the geldings get along. There is a group of Arabians that are in a big “Liberty” number, and they get turned out together. The oldest is 15 and the youngest is 5.

Why do you have so many stallions?

Stallions have more presence and are known for having more muscle tone. Their mane and tail create a more visually impressive horse, and they have more character.

Since the artists are from so many different countries, how do they communicate with one another?

We mainly speak English and French. You’ll also hear Spanish, Portuguese and Susu, since we have a big group from New Guinea.

“Cavalia Odysseo” opens at National Harbor on Wednesday and runs through October 27. For tickets and information, visit www.cavalia.net/en/odysseo/tickets-info/washington-dc-usa.