By Claire Harlin
When Rancho Santa Fe producers Mark and Tatyana Remley pulled the plug on "Valitar" the day before Thanksgiving, the 25 performers of the horse-human acrobatics show were left unpaid, many with no place to stay or way to get home. The show’s 45 horses were also either removed or left without tack or hay.
All having trained for months, and many having dropped everything to move from overseas to Del Mar for the year-long commitment, the performers are still processing the real-life nightmare they’re living. However, they haven’t lost focus of their real dream — to put on a world-class show — and they’ve turned the situation into a “phoenix rising from the ashes story,” as Melisse Mossy described it at a Nov. 26 support gathering for the performers at her Rancho Santa Fe home.
At the gathering, attended by local horse lovers and notables such as world-renowned jockey Julie Krone, the former performers of "Valitar" — once housed in the red, 45,000-square-foot tent erected at the Del Mar Fairgrounds — announced that they have secured a spot at the fairgrounds for a new show. "Liberté" — a show based on humans’ silent communication with horses — is tentatively set for Dec. 7-9 at the fairgrounds equestrian arena.
After the cancellation of "Valitar," the show’s cast received an outpouring of support from locals like Mossy, who fell in love with the performance and stepped in line to help. But the performers say they would rather sell tickets than take charity. These professional dressage trainers, trick riders, contortionists and aerialists have been perfecting their acts for months, and they want nothing more than to share their art.
“We’ve organized such a talented cast, and some of the people we have are the best at what they do in the world,” said Sylvia Zerbina, the former headliner of "Valitar" who is leading the way in directing "Liberté."
A ninth-generation circus performer from her family’s Zerbini Family Circus and former Cavalia headliner of seven years, she is the only person in the world who performs a “grand liberty “ act — in which she guides 10 horses together, a mix of geldings and stallions, free of harnesses or even human touch.
Proceeds from ticket sales of the upcoming "Liberté" will help pay the cast what they are owed, but Zerbini hopes the show doesn’t end there. She and the performers hope to perform "Liberté" at many venues around the nation, returning to San Diego next winter for a homecoming show.
Zerbini has been staying with her husband, show operations manager Richie Waite, in a mobile home on the fair site, however, not all the performers have been that lucky. One crew member said he has no money and has been sleeping in a car, and Waite said that, come the end of next week, onsite housing near the fairgrounds will dry up for some of the performers. Others have been living in Imperial Beach.
“We’re trying to build a fund for a living allowance at least until the show. We need about 11 rooms, and we need to bring the performers closer together,” said Linda Holst, a San Diego resident and longtime friend of Zerbini’s who has stepped in to help manage both fundraising efforts and the production of "Liberté."