Before starting hip hop classes at the age of fourteen, Darren Charles trained as a decathlete and high-board diver. Having fallen in love with dance, he trained in ballet, jazz, tap and other styles at the London Studio Centre in England. After touring all over the world and working with the likes of Andrew Lloyd Webber, Cameron Mackintosh and the Spice Girls, he started choreographing and teaching. He was the director of choreography for the critically acclaimed African dance musical Zambezi Express. Charles is the choreographer and resident director for Odysseo the wildly popular equine extravaganza produced by Cavalia that is currently in the fourth year of its worldwide tour. A multimedia spectacle, Odysseo boasts four IMAX screens as well as a cast of forty-six artists and sixty-seven horses, with a closing act that includes a whopping 80,000 gallons of water.
How did you get involved with Odysseo?
I choreographed a show called Zambezi Express and the director of Odysseo, Wayne Fowkes, heard of my ability with African dance. He asked me to run a workshop for a week to see if I would be right for the job. So I spent a week with them and they were happy to give me the job. From the very beginning, I started coming up with choreography for the aerialists on the horses.
How did you match your experience choreographing for dancers with choreographing for horse riders?
That was tricky. They don’t have a background in dance, so I had to really bring more of the sense of movement to them and their posture. I focused on using the training and power of dance to enhance their tricks, making everything more extended and pointed.
How have you adjusted your process to working with an entirely different species?
For one thing, they are so big and powerful, and so beautiful that just looking at a horse can take people’s breath away. With so many horses onstage at a time, you could get away with them all just being still. For me to complement that, I choreographed everything around the horses. In a lot of ways, the people are backup dancers for the horses. That was really difficult to do, especially with the African dancers from Guinea. It’s about creating a picture with the dancers, the horses, the aerialists, the lights; the show has had a long time to grow and I think we’re at a really good place.
Odysseo opens in Toronto April 8 and in Montréal June 17.
Learn more >> cavalia.net/en/odysseo
* This interview first appeared in the July/August 2014 issue