What to Expect at the TransAlta Grandstand Show
For starters, a guy walks across a flaming high wire and two girls explain what throat singing is before amazing the crowd with a performance.
Image courtesy of Calgary Stampede
There aren't many occasions when you can see a hoop dancer, a laser show in a globe and dozens of kids dancing out a snowball fight in the span of 90 minutes. That's the Calgary Stampede's TransAlta Grandstand Show. It's a spectacle that is completely unique to the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth and worth checking out.
The show is nightly following the GMC Rangeland Derby and each year it attempts to capture a theme through a combination of music, dancing and other performances. This year, the theme is Together and it ties into Canada 150.
The pressure to capture the essence of Canada in a single show is high, but if anyone could do it, creative producer Dave Pierce can.
Pierce was the music director for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Representing a nation to citizens and outsiders in a single theatrical show doesn't get much more high profile than that. Pierce is a hometown boy, born in Drayton Valley. He's produced the Grandstand show since 2014 and knows the pressure of the crowd that is always thirsty for something that is a little bit more and a little different from the year before.
"It is an incredibly blank canvas for a creative person to look at this Grandstand stage and start fresh every year," says Pierce. "There are high expectations, but those can very easily be met with a variety of creative approaches and that's what keeps me fresh."
With Canada 150 as the starting point, the show is more of a party than a history lesson. And, instead of looking at just 150 years of history, Pierce considered Canada's thousands of years of history when creating the show. The result is a show that is delightful, poignant and entertaining with the best production values of a Grandstand show yet.
These are few things you can expect to see onstage.
As is the tradition for the Grandstand, performers are rigged up to fly across the crowds. This year, one of those instances includes aerialists in geese sculptures spreading their wings.
A high wire act with fire and a bicycle
The show always has death-defying stunts. This year, that includes the return of Jade Kindar-Morgan walking a high wire above the stage. His performance is a reference to Charles Blondin's tightrope walk across Niagara Falls in 1858. At the Stampede, Kinder-Morgan also does a headstand and rides a bicycle across the wire. Plus, because that isn't quite enough, the wire is on fire.
A slow motion hockey fight
The Young Canadians are always the cornerstone of this whole show. One of their acts is a table hockey reenactment with performers wearing giant hockey player heads. It's delightful and partway through slows down for a slow motion hockey fight. This is also the portion of the show where we all sing Stompin' Tom Connors' "The Hockey Song."
Tap dancing in snowshoes
The Young Canadians also reenact a snow day, complete with a few dancers tapping around in snowshoes.
Irish dancing in water
The stage includes a pop-up water fountain that turns on in time for the Blakey O'Brien Irish Dance Company to hit the stage. At one point they are joined by Dallas Arcand, hoop dancer extraordinaire and another cornerstone of the Grandstand Show.
More Dallas Arcand
Arcand is also onstage with Revv 52. The adult choir from Calgary sings "Both Sides Now" by Joni Mitchell. Eight Indigenous dancers who take to the stage throughout the show are also part of this act.
An explanation and demonstration of throat singing
If you are wondering what-the-what throat singing is, 12-year-old Cailyn Degandpre and 13-year-old Samantha Kigutag explain and then perform. It is fascinating.
Northern lights portrayed by aerialists and lasers
The aerialists take to the sky again, this time covered in tiny lights. By now the sky is dark and the effect is magical. They are the lead up to MZ Laser who is inside a giant inflatable globe. He plays music with lasers.
20 Leonard Cohens
Male and female Alberta Ballet dancers are all dressed identically as Leonard Cohen. They dance to his iconic song "Hallelujah" while pictures of Canadian artists flash across the video screen behind them.
Cowboy Smithx video brings it all together
The entire show makes good use of huge video screens as a backdrop, but it is most powerful during Cowboy Smithx video. The Blackfoot filmmaker's short clip eloquently shares a message of togetherness and moving forward.
Jann Arden keeps light and sings a few tunes
Jann Arden is the host of the show. What we love most about Arden is her easy banter and, as host of the show, she comes out occasionally and does just that. She also performs two of her own songs. Just like at her concerts, those performances do not include any pyrotechnics or dancing. The crowd is riveted by the power of her voice and the meaning of the lyrics. It's nice for the pacing of the show.
386 performers all on stage
They had to add wings to the stage to make everyone fit, but they manage to fit all 386 performers on stage at once, including the Calgary Stampede Showband. That final moment is when the feat of pulling this show off sinks in.
The Evening Show is nightly at the Calgary Stampede starting at 7:45 p.m. It includes the GMC Rangeland Derby followed by the TransAlta Grandstand Show. For more information, visit calgarystampede.com.