California Riding Magazine • December, 2012

The Gallop:
Valitar Debuts in San Diego
New equestrian theater
extravaganza is off to a good start.

by Kim F. Miller • photos by Alicia Anthony

It was really a treat to be at the Valitar debut on Friday, Nov. 16.

From first setting foot in the foyer of the big red tent at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, the idea was that we'd entered a foreign kingdom called "Valitar." Populated with aerialists, acrobats, trick riders, dare devils, dancers and the most majestic breeds of horses, the extravaganza did indeed create the atmosphere of a foreign kingdom.

But the feeling that surfaced for me was something more familiar: the realization of fantasies that flow from the close bond between a girl and her horse. I had that epiphany during the show and it was validated at the end when Valitar's star and co-producer Tatyana Remley advised a young audience member to stick with her dreams because "dreams really do come true."

Come on, be honest: who among us hasn't dreamed of being a beautiful girl with long flowing hair, running through a beautiful forest followed by equally beautiful horses with equally long flowing hair? And the horses enjoying their time with us as much as we are enjoying our time with them?

That scene came to life in my favorite part of the show which featured Sylvia Zerbini and her gorgeous nine Arabians performing their Grand Liberty exhibition. The horses cavorted around the stage, appearing to be mostly doing their own thing, but tuned into Sylvia when they needed to be. They galloped the perimeter, changing in unison on her cue. As the finale, they gathered around her, nine abreast, in a stunning chorus line of dancing horses. A snow-covered lakeside setting was projected onto the back wall of the stage, while lovely live music completed a scene that, to me, most evoked the relationship we all dream of having with our horses: something beautiful, fun and mutually pleasing.

OK, so maybe that's not a familiar dream for you and you are expecting something different from Valitar. Chances are the show will deliver that, too. Judging from the reactions of my California Riding Magazine teammates, the production truly has something for everybody.

Our creative director Alicia Anthony's favorite act was the "mountain boarders." Thanks a lot, Alicia! This set is probably the most difficult to describe. They are a lot like trick skateboarders, but their boards have big, fat wheels that enable them to move through the arena
footing. Pulled by Quarter Horses going at a dead gallop out of the turn, the boarders scaled a ramp jump to execute a variety of flips and other tricks. Meanwhile in the center of the stage, a transparent platform, about 20-feet high, rose above a hidden trampoline at the base. Acrobats jumped on and off the platform in skateboarder-type moves that seemed eerily slow-motion, as if they were supported from the ceiling by invisible bungies. Hard to describe, but very cool and a big hit with everybody.

General manager Mimie Eble's favorites were a troupe of trick riders who upped the adrenaline even more, performing a series of "don't try this at home" stunts. One involved a rider working his way underneath his horse's belly and back up the other side of the saddle while galloping at top speed. Honestly, I watched that one in flat-out fear, saying "please don't do that…"

He did it anyway, and to the crowd's great appreciation.

Alicia's husband Jeff, not really a horse guy, was most awestruck by the beautiful Lisanna Palma Ohm who cartwheeled and contorted herself elegantly up and down a thick rope hanging from the rafters, all the while making the impossible look easy.

With characteristic candor, our boss Cheryl Erpelding spoke for all of us girls in liking the many handsome men dashing about on their equally handsome horses. Whether they were sword fighting, doing extreme vaulting maneuvers or racing around the ring while standing astride two galloping steeds in the Roman riding routine, they were fun and exhilarating to watch to be sure.

In addition to the adrenaline, Valitar also offered plenty of artistry. A variation on La Garroucha riding featured a horse and rider paired with an elegant Spanish dancer on foot.

Other comparatively calm interludes included dancing and
mood-setting accompaniment from live vocals and a small band that included a violinist who wandered the set, interacting with human and equine performers.

Valitar can count on drawing an audience from well beyond the equestrian community, but for those of us within it, the beautiful horses it features were a top highlight. The equine cast included Arabians, Andalusians, Drafts, Quarter Horses and others, but it's safe to say the show's seven gorgeous Friesians stole the show. They were primarily showcased in high-level dressage work, while two, Tieme and Ids, did a neat tandem-driving act and a third, Viker, was part of the exhilarating Roman riding act.

The horse I found most irresistible was the fake one created by two performers in a Friesian costume. The get-up was just realistic enough to catch me off-guard when the "horse" first poked his head through the curtains before coming out to play with a curious Andalusian who had been wandering the stage. That delightful moment was one of many during the Valitar world premiere.

Unfortunately, at press time we learned that due to slow ticket sales, the producers of Valitar cancelled all future shows.