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Cavalia Brings ‘Largest Big Top In The World’ To Somerville

Cavalia's "Odysseo" tent is said to be the largest in the world, as well as the largest touring show because it requires more than 100 semi trucks to transport hundreds of tons of rigging and equipment. (Andrea Shea/WBUR)

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SOMERVILLE, Mass. — If you’re driving past Somerville on Interstate 93 it’s pretty hard to miss the gargantuan, white circus tent rising up along the banks of the Mystic River. It belongs to Cavalia, the Montreal-based touring company behind a new horse-and-human performance show “Odysseo” that opens next week. But what does it take to erect a big top that’s being billed as the “largest in the world,” and why did it land in Somerville?

Everything About Cavalia Is Big

Calling it a big top somehow doesn’t suffice. It’s the size of a football field. For the next two weeks it will occupy a 200,000 square-foot plot on the future site of Assembly Row, a development planned for East Somerville. On this day, a battalion of neon-vested construction workers swarm around the tent’s swooping skirt. Some heave heavy metal poles to support its edges.

Many of them work full-time for Cavalia, but more than 100 are local, including Richard Hector of Brockton.

“I think it’s awesome,” he said. “I was here after the first day after the tent came up, and I was able to actually touch it.”

Hector, 48, works for Labor Ready, a national temporary labor agency with a branch in Boston.

“From a distance we see these things and say riding on the highway, ‘That’s a nice tent,’ and we think of it as canvas,” Hector continued. “But it’s not canvas, it’s actually a real thick, high-grade rubber. And when you feel it, it really brings you alive. So, it’s a good job, it’s a good thing.”

Owner and artistic director Normand Latourelle gladly gives a tour of the site. Smiling, he says everything about Cavalia is big. It’s got a $35 million touring budget, an 18-ton carousel, an 80-ton technical grid and two stages the size of hockey rinks. Dump trucks push 10,000 tons of dirt to make actual mountains under the tent that are three stories high.

Bulldozers push 10,000 tons of stone, sand and dirt to create an actual mountain under Cavalia’s big top. (Andrea Shea/WBUR)

Bulldozers push 10,000 tons of stone, sand and dirt to create an actual mountain under Cavalia’s big top. (Andrea Shea/WBUR)

Latourelle helped found Cirque du Soleil, but 10 years ago created Cavalia, a traveling show starring dozens of humans and horses. He calls it an “ode” and marriage of the performing and equestrian arts. Man, woman and beast cavort in front of a screen three times the size of an IMAX theater. Speaking through a cutting edge sound system, Latourelle admitted quite frankly that he wanted to challenge Cirque du Soleil Las Vegas with Cavalia.

“So we gave ourselves the technology to reach that level because a touring show, it’s more difficult than a permanent show,” he said. “Everything has to go in the truck.”

The show actually packs into 100 semi-trucks, which Latourelle said makes Odysseo the world’s largest touring show. He needs a lot of space to pull it off, and according to him, Boston didn’t have it. That’s why he chose Somerville.

Somerville Mayor Joseph Curatone and Cavalia founder and artistic director Normand Latourelle, helped create Cirque du Soleil. (Andrea Shea/WBUR)

Somerville Mayor Joseph Curatone and Cavalia founder and artistic director Normand Latourelle, who helped create Cirque du Soleil. (Andrea Shea/WBUR)

Mayor Joseph Curtatone, a huge proponent of the arts in his city, called this massive production a boon for Somerville’s brand.

“We’re excited to have Cavalia ‘Odysseo’ brand here in Somerville, but there’s the co-leveraging of that brand, of who we are and the type of community we are that they find advantageous to them,” he mused. “So there’s putting Somerville on that worldwide stage that has those intangible benefits you just can’t measure.”

Granted, Cavalia’s “Odysseo” website lists Boston as the location. Even so, Mayor Curtatone says among the tangible benefits is the expected $10 million boost to local businesses from some 250,000 visitors. And also the jobs — 150 to 200 created locally. Hector of Brockton says he’ll take the short term work.

“It’s a nice little gig, it’s paying for the bills at the house, so you gotta do what you have to do,” Hector said. “These little jobs, they don’t come by that often so when you got a chance to get on it you try to take advantage of it, it’s a pretty good deal.”

But it’s not only that for Hector. He said this about being in the presence of the world’s largest touring tent, “I was working on it! I was there!”

It will take three full days to break down and pack up the ginormous big top when the show closes on Sept. 15. Then Cavalia’s “Odysseo” and its 100 semi-trucks head to Washington, D.C.

Cavalia “Odysseo” opens in East Somerville Wednesday, August 7 and runs through August 18.