Written by Nan Meek
Odysseo by Cavalia returns to Southern California by popular demand, with the first performance on Wednesday, November 16, under the White Big Top at the junction of the I-405 and the SR-133 in Irvine.
On stage, 65 horses with 48 riders, acrobats, aerialists, dancers and musicians enchant audiences of all ages under the world’s largest travelling tent, in a marriage of equestrian and stage arts with high-tech theatrical effects that depicts the relationship between horses and humans as they journey through a world of dreams.
Becoming an Odysseo horse is a perfect example of that beautiful and unique relationship, based on respect for the horse, complicity with his nature and the best care possible from day one. Stables director Kristine Alach provided a glimpse into the world that new horses discover at this renowned theatrical company.
“When new horses join us, how they are integrated into the stables depends on where the horse comes from and their capabilities,” she explained. “For example, two new Arabians – Heritage and Edition – came from Kentucky a few months ago. To ensure optimum health for all our horses, the new guys spent their first two weeks with us in our spacious quarantine tent before moving into the adjacent stables tent. They also began a very easy acclimation to their riders, groomers and trainers. It’s all very low key, some ground work, a lot of play, hanging out and getting to know each other.”
When new horses are moved into the stables, their stalls are next to one another or in proximity, so they can see their friend among all the other horses who are new to them.
“At first, we had Heritage and Edition right next to one another so they could touch each other through the windows between their stalls. As their training progressed, their trainer Elise Verdoncq asked that they be put across the hallway from each other for a few weeks, as she needs to have them be a little more engaged with the other horses, because they came together, and they are quite bonded to one another,” Alach continued.
“We are very conscious of the pairings that we have. Another pair – Kilo and Kart – are fast friends and they live right next to one another. They are quite calm if one goes out to the paddock to enjoy the sun, and the other remains in the stables, but we know that we want to keep them together. When the time will come that one of them has to leave for retirement, then we will send the other one with him. They are best friends and it would be disturbing for them to be separated.
“We definitely acknowledge and embrace that the horses have bonds and they have their relationships with one another. When there are horses that demonstrate they are very fast friends, we honor that for them,” she concluded.
The horses’ training is very individualized, as well, depending on each horse’s previous training, what the goals are for the horse and his age, among other factors. “The new horse’s first task may be to do the scene where they just run in a circle a couple of times around the stage and then exit. It’s a low-key introduction that’s good for the horses.”
Some new horses start their on-stage career in the finale. “The horses do have to be accustomed to going through the water for the final number, but that’s something they will practice. His rider will bring the horse out after the show and do a couple passes through the water to let him become accustomed to it.
“The primary responsibility of the horse in the finale is just to keep to the easy choreography. It’s not too precise and we of course welcome any improvisation from their part. It’s also short, and they can be buddied up with a friend. They just gallop through the water and go stand on the hill.”
New horses eventually become experienced Odysseo horses who can take anything in stride. “One night, four stallions were standing backstage next to each other, casually sleeping, while there was a thunder and lightning storm outside and 2,000 people cheering just a couple of yards away,” Alach recalled.
“Odysseo could not be what it is if we didn’t take the best care of the horses physically, mentally and emotionally. We are always looking for ways to be improving their lives, and that is supported by everyone in the company. What is best for the horses is our top priority, day in and day out. It’s very special.”
Tickets for Irvine are on sale now for performances starting Wednesday, November 16, 2016, with matinee and evening performances scheduled through January 8, 2017. VIP tickets entitle holders to visit the stables as the horses return to their stalls and a late night meal. These and other tickets can be purchased online at www.cavalia.net or by calling 1-866-999-8111.