Buffalo Bill and the Ringling Bros. have nothing on Calgary this year.The 2019 Bell Grandstand Show promises more spectacle, excitement and harmony than ever before. That’s the word from Dave Pierce, creative producer of Trailblazer, as the nightly Stampede show is being called.“We call it Trailblazer because it takes its inspiration from the past but keeps its eyes firmly on the future. We’re in a real transition period with this year’s show,” says Pierce.Trailblazer is a homage to the travelling western shows and circuses that people would look forward to all year long.“Those travelling shows and circuses were families and they were always led by a man as the master of ceremonies or ringmaster. Our show is being led by Onalea Gilbertson in recognition of the countless women who were trailblazers in their communities. She is our Hugh Jackman from The Greatest Showman.”Gilbertson is a singer, musician, actor and playwright who began her career in Calgary, but now resides in New York. She brought her award-winning show Blanche about her trail-blazing grandmother to Lunchbox Theatre.
Dave Pierce is creative producer of the Bell Grandstand Show at Calgary Stampede.
Gerard Yunker /
Pierce says he and his creative team have been working on Trailblazer for 16 months.“This is a very important show for me because it is my 25th Grandstand Show. At its heart, it is my heart. I want it to embody what it is about live theatre that I love. I want it to be spectacular and memorable.“The Grandstand Show has become synonymous with spectacle and, with Trailblazer, I wanted to create even more spectacle than we have in the past and I feel we can do that with Bell as our new producing partner.”Pierce says Brian Foley, who directs the Grandstand Show, is Calgary’s equivalent of Buzby Berkeley, the great choreographer who used geometric patterns to create some of the most eye-catching, awe-inspiring dance sequences for stage and film in the 1930s.“Brian is a master at creating movement by large groups of people. It’s staggering what he does but, up until now, people haven’t been able to see the full extent of his genius. We are going to use drones equipped with cameras to fly above the stage to capture those patterns and allow people to see them on our jumbo screens which, this year, are more jumbo than ever.”He says that knowing what will be available technically this year has choreographer Angela Benson aiming for even more dazzling spectacle in each big production number.Pierce explains that “every artist is inspired by the canvas they are working with. Our canvas just happens to be 300 feet wide. Brian and Angela have always been aware of this, but we made certain all the guest artists we approached were as well and asked them to submit ideas of what they’d like to do on such a big canvas.“From the moment we signed our guest artists, they were thinking as big as they could. We also asked them to think of ways they could incorporate their material with The Young Canadians of the Calgary Stampede.“(They) are the heart of the show … Past guest artists have told us the energy and playfulness of these talented Calgarians proved infectious.”Pierce says he has always been grateful for the support of Calgary audiences.“The city and Calgarians really want to celebrate what we do and that is so encouraging. People constantly approach me to tell me they don’t know how we are able to create the magic year after year. So often they tell me they personally don’t have a creative bone in their bodies but that’s not true because in the same breath they tell me about an act they’ve seen in Vegas or on television and ask if it’s possible for us to bring them to Calgary. That’s being creative.”At least two of the acts have appeared before on TV shows. Acrobat Timber Brown was on Season 8 of America’s Got Talent in 2013. He has since teamed up with Alyssa McCraw do aerial stunts, but for their spot in Trailblazers, Pierce’s crew has built them a kind of biplane so they can recreate the famous wing-walking stunts of yesteryear.Another act that appeared on America’s Got Talent is coming to the Grandstand Show this year. Trailblazers will feature the Argentine male dance company Malambo Gauchos, which amazed audiences on America’s Got Talent.Because Bell is the producing partner of Trailblazers, Pierce promises the preshow events will be more interactive than ever before and people will be able to use their smartphones during the performance for further enhancement.Trailblazers, the 2019 Grandstand Show, runs nightly after the chuckwagon races July 5-14.