January 26, 2015 | © Photo by Paul Drinkwater
Normand Latourelle is a dreamer. Literally.
Slowing mulling over the elaborate ideas that 'pop into his head' in the early morning hours, he gradually hashes them out bit by bit until they become spectacular realities. One of the original co-founders of Cirque du Soleil, Latourelle is now artistic director of the internationally-acclaimed Cavalia, an entertainment company specializing in the creation of never-before-seen equestrian and performing arts shows viewed by over 4 million spectators worldwide. His latest large-scale multimedia production is the 30-million dollar extravaganza Odysseo featuring 63 horses, 46 artists, gravity-defying stunts, and staggering special effects. The production is comprised of the world's largest touring big top, the biggest stage, the most beautiful visual effects, and the greatest number of horses at liberty.
On a quite sunny and particularly pleasant afternoon, we spoke with Normand over lunch about his unique creative process, the first show he ever directed as a teenager, the noble qualities of equine performers, and the importance of finding more peace.
TFL: How do your creative ideas come about?
NL: I am a slow creator. Most of my ideas come in early morning before I wake up. I never write them down, so some ideas stay and others leave. Then I share them with the creative team; and if I have a good reaction, that means we'll move ahead. It's great doing live shows as compared to a movie. The thing about a movie is that I think it dies the first day you show it to the public. But a live show, when you show it to the public, this is the day it takes birth. You always have the chance to adapt and change. I created the first Cavalia show 11 years ago, and it took me 8 years to create the second show of Cavalia. So I just take a lot of time before I create; and then when I create, I can adapt and change and tweak. I'm just trying to follow my feeling, and I always like to please the public. Basically, I just want to be very original doing things people have never done before. This is why I take a lot of time. I just don't want to reproduce a second time what I did before.
TFL: How do music, light, and color factor into your life as a whole?
NL: Well, in a show like Odysseo (which I call a poem for the ears and the eyes), I try to create an environment where you just come and dream. Like, you go into a dream world. And what makes you dream more than music and color and beautiful artistry and lights and projections? In our new world, projection images become a very important part of the creation process which I think is a gift because when I started to do shows 40 years ago, we had to create sets. And now, we are able to create virtual sets which are very sophisticated. In Odysseo, we have a screen that is almost 3 times [the size of] an IMAX theater screen; and we project 3-D images which help us to travel throughout different landscapes and different times and different seasons. This gives us a tool to be more expressive with what you see, and the projections in the show create a very colorful atmosphere. We have a mountain, and we have the screen behind the mountain, so I asked the light designer Alain Lortie to use the mountain as a complement of what we project on the screen. I call him the painter; he's painting the mountain. When you look at the show, it looks like the landscape never ends because we have that big 3-D image. You also have colorful costumes which is a way of language and a way of culture. In this show Odysseo especially, it's a journey where horse and man discover the most beautiful landscapes in the world; so I didn't want to have a signature expressing a specific culture. I wanted to be very international, so we brought color influences from India, Kurdistan, America. These are influences; but overall, it's a question of completing the color picture. I think what you see and what you hear makes you feel good.
TFL: Are there specific experiences from your childhood or youth that prepared you for your particular line of work?
NL: Not really, and yes. When I was younger, I was always doing things with the radio. When I was 7 years old, I found some speakers and I put a speaker in every room of the house with the wiring. I don't remember how I did it, but I did it. I could control the sound in every room. I just did it myself. I like to build with my hands and try to work things out. Before 13, I had a regular kid life. I was not very good at school, but not bad. I just felt all the time that school was too quiet for me. I wanted to move. I had a chance to be in the suburb for most of my teenage years; and in the suburb, we had a school that was more in the countryside, so I could look outside instead of looking at the teacher [laughs heartily]. I could watch what was going on in the trees and in the forest and whatever we had in the neighborhood like birds. I was a good kid who did not have a very long attention span. Everything surrounding school was okay, but hearing a teacher for one hour was a pain. I did my first show when I was 13 years old; it was a school show. I directed it and created the set with other students. That was an important step in my life because after that, that's all I wanted to do. Naturally, at 16, I left school because I wanted to do more shows and I became more professional.
TFL: What was that first show like?
NL: It was a mix of singing, dancing, and music. A few students were playing music, and some were dancing. I put in the best of every class. I took the best musician from the music class and the best dancer from the dance class. It was fun. For the background, I remember I went to the art teacher and got big rows of white paper and we covered the stage with white paper. I took the best people who knew how to draw, and we made the set. There was a teacher at that time who was very supportive of what the students were doing, so I told him that we needed to find a light system because you can't just do a show with white fluorescents. So we went to rent the light system. I found a small sound system and I arranged it myself.
[Note: This first show, titled in English We Don't Tell You (as in, 'we aren't going to tell you what the show is about'), became a successful hit and eventually toured to five other nearby schools.]
TFL: How do you hope to impact the world?
NL: I see it very simple. I just want people to be happy during two hours, 2,000 people per show. I just want to bring a little bit of happiness to this environment which is the modern world. It's very stressful, very gray, very difficult, and somehow it's not easy to live these days. We don't have enough time, we just rush, and we have stress. One of my favorite times, talking about my youth, was Sunday because at 7:00 PM every Sunday there was The Wonderful World of Disney on TV for one hour. That was my favorite TV program. And whenever I was going in to those cartoons or movies, I just felt like I was dreaming. It was taking me away somewhere else. So I really wish, when people come to my show, that they have the same feeling. I want to give them the feeling that they are a child again and they can just dream and just enjoy two hours and forget about the rest. Just enter into a real world that is a world of fantasy.
TFL: In your opinion, what are the similarities and differences between the equine performers and the human performers?
NL: There's a lot of difference. What I ask of the human performer at first is to be very humble and to be true. Horses are true. They don't lie, they react the way they want to react, and they don't play games. Human performers play games and they want to steal focus. I worked for a few years with some dancers because my girlfriend was a dancer, and they all fought to be the first dancer and to get more attention than the others. Horses are not like that. Human performers know that if they are on stage next to a horse, people will look at the horse before they look at them. That's why the human performers have to be very humble. The horses are just living their life because they're not there to perform, they're just there to have fun. We try to give them the stage and make the horse feel that it's their playground. We have a great dressage rider, but I don't even know if the people recognize her after the performance because they look at the horse and how he dances and how he does his step. Everyone, not only the performers but also the technicians and stagehands, are concentrated on giving the best space, the best timing, and the best support of the horse's performance. It's interesting when you bring animals on stage, especially horses.
TFL: After all that you have seen and done in the world, what is the most important lesson you have learned in life so far?
NL: You know, I think I've learned from the horse. Horses are very noble. Why is that? Look at the way they behave in nature. In nature, they are surrounded by predators, but they never look for a fight. They want to escape fighting. I think any fight is not worth it to gain, that's what I learned. Not that I want to escape, but I just think that we should try to find more peace. It's maybe clicha little bit. But you know, when you go to the stable at night or whenever we have 67 horses; and if you have two humans, they make more noise than the 67 horses. So what I've learned from the horse is that not only are they noble, but they like to be in peace. Silence is a great thing. We speak too much, we make too much noise, and we go too much after fighting. In life, I wish there would be more peace and more quiet time. You know, we've kind of lost the basics of living. I think we've lost a lot. We don't listen to birds anymore, and we don't look at the trees growing. This is very important. Certainly when you see the show, you understand that.
For more information about Normand Latourelle and Cavalia, visit: