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."
“While donations are welcome, we hope ticket sales will help to add further performance venues,” she said.
Other local residents, like Linda Harris, are concerned about the horses who were removed from the stables the night before the show cancellation and cannot be found. She said that, if found, she would like to adopt the horses. Several other performers would like their saddles and other tack to be returned.
“We had trained these horses for months and then one day they were just plucked out from under us,” said Zerbini. “We had developed relationships and bonds with these horses, and we are kind of in an emotional state because of it.”
Bernard Quental, known for his bareback performances in which he stands on a running horse while holding a standing man on his shoulders, said he was hesitant to participate in "Valitar," but traveled to Del Mar from France for the show after seeing the promising cast he would be working with.
“In France, that doesn’t just happen. You can’t just fire someone like that,” he said.
But the experience has not deterred him from the country entirely — he said he loves Del Mar and wants to stay here with his partner, Sofie, a show choreographer who came with him from France. The two hope to one day open a horse academy.
Holst and Mossy said attempts to contact the Remleys, who reportedly filed for bankruptcy under the company Equustria Development Inc., have been unsuccessful. Attempts by this newspaper to contact the Remleys by presstime were also unsuccessful.
Tickets for "Liberté" will be available soon on the Del Mar Fairgrounds’ website at
, and those looking to get involved or offer housing or a corporate sponsorship can call Holst at (858) 212-6650. There will also be opportunities to donate through Mary’s Tack and Feed, 3675 Via De La Valle.