Cirque du Soleil

Cirque du Soleil
Cirque du Soleil Inc.
Type Private company
Industry Entertainment
Founded 1984
Founder(s) Guy Laliberté
Headquarters Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Area served Worldwide
Key people Daniel Lamarre, President and COO
Revenue increase C$ 850 million (FY 2010)[1]
Employees 5,020
Divisions Cirque du Soleil Images, Cirque du Soleil's Merchandising
Subsidiaries Cirque du Soleil Musique

Cirque du Soleil (English: "Circus of the Sun", English pronunciation: /ˈsɪərk duː soʊˈleɪ/), is a Canadian entertainment company, self-described as a "dramatic mix of circus arts and street entertainment." Based in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, and located in the inner-city area of Saint-Michel, it was founded in Baie-Saint-Paul in 1984 by two former street performers, Guy Laliberté and Daniel Gauthier.[2]

Initially named Les Échassiers, they toured Quebec in 1980 as a performing troupe and encountered financial hardship that was relieved by a government grant in 1983 as part of the 450th anniversary celebrations of Jacques Cartier's discovery of Canada.[3] Le Grand Tour du Cirque du Soleil was a success in 1984, and after securing a second year of funding, Laliberté hired Guy Caron from the National Circus School to re-create it as a "proper circus". Its theatrical, character-driven approach and the absence of performing animals helped define Cirque du Soleil as the contemporary circus ("nouveau cirque") that it remains today.[4]

Each show is a synthesis of circus styles from around the world, with its own central theme and storyline. They draw the audience into the performance through continuous live music, with performers rather than stagehands changing the props. After financial successes and failures in the late 1980s, Nouvelle Expérience was created – with the direction of Franco Dragone – which not only made Cirque profitable by 1990, but allowed it to create new shows.[5]

Cirque expanded rapidly through the 1990s and 2000s, going from one show to 19 shows in over 271 cities on every continent except Antarctica. The shows employ approximately 4,000 people from over 40 countries and generate an estimated annual revenue exceeding US$810 million.[6][7] The multiple permanent Las Vegas shows alone play to more than 9,000 people a night, 5% of the city's visitors, adding to the 90 million people who have experienced Cirque worldwide.[7] In 2000, Laliberté bought out Gauthier, and with 95% ownership, has continued to expand the brand.[8] In 2008, Laliberté split 20% of his share equally between two investment groups Istithmar World and Nakheel of Dubai, in order to further finance the company's goals. In partnership with these two groups, Cirque plans to build a residency show in the United Arab Emirates by 2012. However, since Dubai's financial problems in 2010 caused by the 2008 global recession, it has been stated by Laliberté may be looking for another financial partner to bankroll the company's future plans, even willing to give up another 10% of his share.[9] Several more shows are in development around the world, along with a television deal, women's clothing line and the possible venture into other mediums such as spas, restaurants and nightclubs.[10] Cirque also produces a small number of private and corporate events each year (past clients have been the royal family of Dubai and the 2007 Super Bowl).[11]

Cirque's creations have received numerous prizes and distinctions, including a Bambi Award in 1997, a Rose d'Or in 1989, Drama Desk Awards in 1991 and 1998, three Gemini Awards, four Primetime Emmy Awards,[12][13] and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.[14]



Madame Corporation with a little girl at The Mirage in Las Vegas

Seeking a career in the performing arts, Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté toured Europe as a folk musician and busker after quitting college. By the time he returned home to Canada in 1979, he had learned the art of fire breathing. Although he became "employed" at a hydroelectric power plant in James Bay, his job ended after only three days due to a labour strike. He decided not to look for another job, instead supporting himself on his unemployment insurance. He helped organize a summer fair in Baie-Saint-Paul with the help of a pair of friends named Daniel Gauthier and Gilles Ste-Croix.[5][8]

Gauthier and Ste-Croix were managing a youth hostel for performing artists named Le Balcon Vert at that time. By the summer of 1979, Ste-Croix had been developing the idea of turning the Balcon Vert, and the talented performers who lived there, into an organized performing troupe. As part of a publicity stunt to convince the Quebec government to help fund his production, Ste-Croix walked the 56 miles (90 km) from Baie-Saint-Paul to Quebec City on stilts. The ploy worked, giving the three men the money to create Les Échassiers de Baie-Saint-Paul. Employing many of the people who would later make up Cirque, Les Échassiers toured Quebec during the summer of 1980.[15][16]

Although well-received by audiences and critics alike, Les Échassiers was a financial failure. Laliberté spent that winter in Hawaii plying his trade while Ste-Croix stayed in Quebec to set up a nonprofit holding company named "The High-Heeled Club" to mitigate the losses of the previous summer. In 1981, they met with better results. By that fall, Les Échassiers de Baie-Saint-Paul had broken even. The success inspired Laliberté and Ste-Croix to organize a summer fair in their hometown of Baie-Saint-Paul.[15]

This touring festival, called "La Fête Foraine", first took place in July 1982. La Fête Foraine featured workshops to teach the circus arts to the public, after which those who participated could take part in a performance. Ironically, the festival was barred from its own hosting town after complaints from local citizens.[17] Laliberté managed and produced the fair over the next couple years, nurturing it into a moderate financial success. But it was during 1983 that the government of Quebec gave him a $1.5 million grant to host a production the following year as part of Quebec's 450th anniversary celebration of the French explorer Jacques Cartier's discovery of Canada. Laliberté named his creation "Le Grand Tour du Cirque du Soleil".[5][18]



Name Premiere Type
Le Grand Tour du Cirque du Soleil 1984-JUN-16 Touring (Retired)
La Magie Continue 1986-APR-20 Touring (Retired)
Le Cirque Réinventé 1987-MAY-07 Touring (Retired)
Nouvelle Expérience 1990-MAY-08 Touring (Retired)
Saltimbanco 1993-APR-23 Touring / Arena (since 2007)
Mystère 1993-DEC-25 Treasure Island, Las Vegas
Alegría 1994-APR-21 Touring / Arena (since 2009)
Quidam 1996-APR-23 Touring / Arena (since 2010)
O 1998-OCT-15 Bellagio, Las Vegas
La Nouba 1998-DEC-23 Downtown Disney, Lake Buena Vista, Florida
Dralion 1999-APR-22 Touring / Arena (since 2010)
Varekai 2002-APR-22 Touring
Zumanity 2003-JUL-31 New York-New York, Las Vegas
2005-FEB-03 MGM Grand, Las Vegas
Corteo 2005-APR-21 Touring
Delirium 2006-JAN-26 Arena (Retired)
Love 2006-JUN-02 The Mirage, Las Vegas
Koozå 2007-APR-19 Touring
Wintuk 2007-NOV-01 Madison Square Gardens, New York City (Seasonal – Retired)
Zaia 2008-JUL-26 The Venetian Macao, Cotai Strip, Macau
Zed 2008-AUG-15 Tokyo Disney Resort, Tokyo, Japan
Criss Angel Believe 2008-SEP-26 Luxor, Las Vegas
Ovo 2009-APR-23 Touring
Banana Shpeel 2009-NOV-19 Arena (Retired)
Viva Elvis 2009-DEC-16 Aria Resort & Casino, Las Vegas
Totem 2010-APR-22 Touring
Zarkana 2011-JUN-29 Touring / Arena
Iris 2011-SEPT-25 Kodak Theatre, Los Angeles
Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour 2011-OCT-2 Touring / Arena

Le Grand Tour du Cirque du Soleil

On stage at the 1994 finale of Nouvelle Expérience.

Originally intended to only be a one-year project, Cirque du Soleil was scheduled to perform in 11 towns in Quebec over the course of 13 weeks running concurrent with the third La Fête Foraine. The first shows were riddled with difficulty, starting with the collapse of the big top after the increased weight of rainwater caused the central mast to snap. Working with a borrowed tent, Laliberté then had to contend with difficulties with the European performers who were so unhappy with the Quebec circus's inexperience, that they had at one point sent a letter to the media complaining about how they were being treated.[5]

The problems were only transient, however, and by the time 1984 had come to a close, Le Grand Tour du Cirque du Soleil was a success. Having only $60,000 left in the bank, Laliberté went back to the Canadian government to secure funding for a second year. Unfortunately, while the Canadian federal government was enthusiastic, the Quebec provincial government was resistant to the idea. It was not until Quebec's Premier, René Lévesque, intervened on their behalf that the provincial government relented.[5]

The original big top tent that was used during the 1984 Le Grand Tour du Cirque du Soleil tour can now be seen at Carnivàle Lune Bleue, a 1930s-style carnival that is home to the Cirque Maroc acrobats.[19]

La Magie Continue

After securing funding from the Canadian government for a second year, Laliberté took steps to renovate Cirque from a group of street performers into a "proper circus". To accomplish this he hired the head of the National Circus School, Guy Caron, as Cirque du Soleil's artistic director. The influences that Laliberté and Caron had in reshaping their circus were extensive. They wanted strong emotional music that was played from beginning to end by musicians. They wanted to emulate the Moscow Circus' method of having the acts tell a story. Performers, rather than a technical crew, move equipment and props on and off stage so that it did not disrupt the momentum of the "storyline". Most importantly, their vision was to create a circus with neither a ring nor animals. The rationale was that the lack of both of these things draws the audience more into the performance.[5][20]

To help design the next major show, Laliberté and Caron hired Franco Dragone, another instructor from the National Circus School who had been working in Belgium. When he joined the troupe in 1985, he brought with him his experience in commedia dell'arte techniques, which he imparted to the performers. Although his experience would be limited in the next show due to budget restraints, he would go on to direct every show up to, but not including Dralion.[5]

By 1986, the company was once again in serious financial trouble. During 1985 they had taken the show outside Quebec to a lukewarm response. In Toronto they performed in front of a 25% capacity crowd after not having enough money to properly market the show. Gilles Ste-Croix, dressed in a monkey suit, walked through downtown Toronto as a desperate publicity stunt. A later stop in Niagara Falls turned out to be equally problematic.

Several factors prevented Cirque from going bankrupt that year. The Desjardins Group, which was Cirque du Soleil's financial institution at the time, covered about $200,000 of bad checks. Also, a financier named Daniel Lamarre, who worked for one of the largest public relations firms in Quebec, represented the company for free, knowing that they didn't have the money to pay his fee. The Quebec government itself also came through again, granting Laliberté enough money to stay solvent for another year.[5]

Le Cirque Réinventé

In 1987, after Laliberté re-privatized Cirque du Soleil, it was invited to perform at the Los Angeles Arts Festival. Although they continued to be plagued by financial difficulties, Normand Latourelle took the gamble and went to Los Angeles, despite only having enough money to make a one-way trip. Had the show been a failure, Cirque would not have had enough money to get their performers and equipment back to Montreal.[5][21]

The festival turned out to be a huge success, both critically and financially. The show attracted the attention of entertainment executives, including Columbia Pictures, which met with Laliberté and Gauthier under the pretense of wanting to make a movie about Cirque du Soleil. Laliberté was unhappy with the deal, claiming that it gave too many rights to Columbia, which was only attempting to secure all rights to the production. Laliberté pulled out of the deal before it could be concluded, and that experience stands out as a key reason why Cirque du Soleil remains independent and privately owned today.[10]

In 1988, Guy Caron left the company due to artistic differences over what to do with the money generated by Cirque du Soleil's first financially successful tour. Laliberté wanted to use it to expand and start a second show while Caron wanted the money to be saved, with a portion going back to the National Circus School. An agreement was never met and Caron, along with a large number of artists loyal to him, departed. This stalled plans that year to start a new touring show.[5]

Laliberté sought out Gilles Ste-Croix as replacement for the artistic director position. Ste-Croix, who had been away from Cirque since 1985, agreed to return. The company went through more internal troubles, including a failed attempt to add Normand Latourelle as a third man to the partnership. This triumvirate lasted only six months before internal disagreements prompted Gauthier and Laliberté to buy out Latourelle. By the end of 1989, Cirque du Soleil was once again in a deficit.[5]

Nouvelle Expérience

An acrobat performs in the contortion act of Nouvelle Expérience.

In that same year, Cirque attempted to revive one of its previous shows, Le Cirque Réinventé. The attempt was abandoned after a weak critical reception. Laliberté and Ste-Croix instead created a new show based on the plans that had originally been drawn up by Caron before his departure. Originally intended to be called Eclipse, they renamed the show Nouvelle Expérience and launched it in 1990.[5]

Franco Dragone agreed to return—albeit reluctantly—but only if he had full creative control of the show's environment. One of the first things he did was to remove the curtain that separated the artist from the audience, so that they would both feel part of a larger show. Whereas in a traditional circus the artist could go past the curtain and drop his role, Dragone had created an environment where the artist had to remain in character for the full length of the production.[5]

Although Dragone was given full control over the show, Laliberté oversaw the entire production. He was in favor of Dragone's new ideas. Inspired by Jules Verne's "La Chasse au Météore", Dragone's concept for the show was that the performers were playing the parts of jewels spread around the Earth.[5]

Nouvelle Expérience turned out to be Cirque du Soleil's most popular show up to that point and would continue running until 1993. It spent one of those years at The Mirage Resort and Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip. By the end of 1990, Cirque was profitable again and was prepared to start a new show.[5]


Inside Cirque du Soleil's "grand chapiteau" at Saltimbanco.

Created in 1992, Saltimbanco was the first show in which Cirque du Soleil would narrow its focus to tell a very specific and themed story. Franco Dragone was inspired by the way multiculturalism shaped the nature and direction of Cirque du Soleil and wanted the theme of this new show to be one of "cosmopolitan urbanism". Laliberté stated, "For me, Saltimbanco is a message of peace. In the 1990s, immigration was an issue, the mixing of cultures in cities, and Saltimbanco reflects that mix, with all of its personalities and colours. It's the challenge we have in today's world: respecting each other, living and working together, despite our differences."[22]

Idealistic or not, Saltimbanco, whose title comes from the Italian phrase "Saltare in Banco", which literally means "To jump on a bench",[23] was well-received. Featuring 47 artists, the cast has been assembled from the citizens of 15 different countries. This is, to date, the longest-running show that Cirque du Soleil has ever produced. It has run for 15 years and has toured North and South America, Europe, South Africa, Japan and the Pacific Rim.[22][24]

With Saltimbanco finished and touring in the United States and Canada, Cirque du Soleil toured Japan in the summer of 1992 at the behest of the Fuji Television Network. Taking acts from Nouvelle Expérience and Cirque Réinventé they created a show for this tour entitled "Fascination". Although Fascination was never seen outside of Japan, it represented the first time that Cirque had produced a show that took place in an arena rather than a big top. It was also the first that Cirque du Soleil performed outside of North America.[5]

On February 1, 1997, Saltimbanco played its final show at London's Royal Albert Hall. However, the show was restaged and started the following year for a new three-year tour throughout Asia and the Pacific.[25]

An arena version of the retired big-top show is currently touring in arenas across North America, traveling to regions that have never had a Cirque du Soleil show visit, such as Idaho and Newfoundland and Labrador. Furthermore, Cirque du Soleil has decided to carry on their tour of Saltimbanco to South Africa and Australia in 2011.


On December 25, 1993, as Cirque was approaching its 10th anniversary, they unveiled a new show at the then-new Treasure Island Hotel and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip. Mystère was a departure from their standard format much in the way that Fascination was. A deal was made between Cirque du Soleil and Steve Wynn, Treasure Island's developer, to grant permanent residency to Cirque's new show. It posed certain difficulties for the company, such as the need to set up a permanent infrastructure to meet the needs of its employees working in the Las Vegas area.[5]

Dragone's concept for Mystère was an exploration of the origins of life in our universe. The themes for the show are a conglomerate of multiple mythologies from multiple cultures. The music was quite different from Cirque's previously traditional style as well, relying on more "ethnic" music of Spanish, African and east European inspiration.[5]

The show represented Cirque's first attempt at moving from the big top into a theater setting. It was also the first time that Laliberté and Gauthier were forced to contend with a major business partner, Treasure Island.[5] The partnership led to difficulties and Steve Wynn was not initially optimistic about the show's chances for success, saying "You guys have made a German opera here." Franco Dragone took Wynn's sarcasm as a compliment. Wynn remained unhappy with the dark and moody feel of Mystère and had even threatened to delay the opening of the show unless changes were made. Nevertheless, Mystère was successful and has remained at the hotel ever since.[26][27]


Alegría was a departure from the bright circus atmosphere seen previously in productions like Saltimbanco. Created for Cirque du Soleil's tenth anniversary, the concept for the show came to life over a dinner conversation between Franco Dragone and Guy Laliberté.[28] Dragone wanted this show to be dark and heavy. "At one point", Dragone said "I was with Guy Laliberté at a restaurant in one of the Las Vegas casinos, and I told him the next show would be sad, heavy, really hard: ' Alegría! Alegría! Alegría!' It's Spanish for 'Joy! Joy! Joy!' Where I come from, it's what you say when you're in pain. It means life goes on."[5]

Costing more than $3 million to produce, Alegría makes use of darker lighting and music than previous Cirque productions. The stage and the props use gothic arches and harsh angular designs to attempt to invoke a feeling of oppressiveness.[5][28]

Alegría has toured around the world, including a year in residence at the Beau Rivage resort in Biloxi, Mississippi.[28] Francesca Gagnon, who played the most famous "The White Singer" character, has twice been invited to reprise the Alegría title song at the Montreal Jazz Festival.[29] The music of Alegría has proven extremely popular and the show's soundtrack remains the best-selling Cirque du Soleil album to date.[30]

After a 15-year-long tour, Alegría retired on April 5, 2009, after its month-long engagement in Dubai. The show was later restaged, following the arena format of Delirium and Saltimbanco. Premiering in Halifax on May 27, 2009, Alegría started touring later that year for a new three-year North American tour, including stops in cities such as Edmonton, AB in August 2010 and Victoria, BC in September 2010.


Premiering in 1996, Quidam adhered to the trend of bringing darker shows to the big top, previously established by Alegría the year before. Derived from the Latin word for "a nameless passerby", Quidam was Cirque du Soleil's ninth production and premiered in Montreal on April 23, 1996. Dragone's concept for this show is the imagination of a young, jaded girl named Zoe. Drawing heavily from surrealistic artwork, the performers in the show are the manifestations of her own magical daydreams.[31]

Designer Michel Crête and director Franco Dragone wanted to find a new way to incorporate acrobatic equipment onstage. One of the ways they did this in Quidam was to design an overhead rigging system that would allow the performers to enter and exit from above and across the stage. The system also allowed the ability to safely suspend cast members in the air using harnesses for extended periods of time.[5]

The show premiered in Montreal as Cirque du Soleil's new head office and training center was being inaugurated. Initial reviews were critical of Quidam, some suggesting that it "did not feel like Cirque du Soleil". Still, the production scheduled a three-year tour of North America. By the time the 1000-performance tour was finished, Denver, Houston and Dallas were added to the schedule and more than 2.5 million people watched Quidam. After touring Mexico for five months (November 2007 – March 2008), Quidam went back to Europe, to start its second European tour in Lisbon, Portugal, with scheduled dates in Spain, Belgium, UK and Ireland. In 2009/2010, the show toured South America, starting in Brazil, then moving to Argentina, Chile, Peru and Colombia.

The show goes from one country to the other transported in 50 trucks. It does not only consist of the Big Top or "Grand Chapiteau" where the shows themselves take place but of an entire citadel providing everything necessary for the cast, including a school for the children and a restaurant that cooks for the 150 people working for the show, directed by French Chef Wilfred Gianoly.


On October 19, 1998, at the Bellagio Hotel and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip, Cirque premiered its tenth production and second resident show. Once again working with hotel entrepreneur Steve Wynn, Cirque du Soleil and Wynn financed a $100 million theater within the hotel. As the company was getting more comfortable with theater productions, they wanted to create a show performed in the water, a concept not tried in a theater before.[5] O, whose name is derived from the phonetic spelling of the French word eau, meaning water,[32] took more than 400,000 man-hours of preproduction and production work to prepare, not counting the time spent on the construction of the theater.[33]

The 1,800-seat theater itself was centered around a 1.5-million-US-gallon (5,700 m3) tank of water for the cast to perform in and around. It was built using a water pumping system that is as noiseless as possible to prevent any mechanical noise from detracting from the quality of the show itself. Twelve underwater speakers allow the performers in the water to hear and react to audio cues when they are submerged.[33]

Water-resistant materials had to be used in the construction of the theater as well as all the props, costumes and makeup. The costumes used by the performers were nearly $10,000 each and needed to be made of material that resisted the effects of the chlorine and bromide in the water. The makeup that had been used in past shows was unsuitable for submerged performers, requiring a new waterproof formulation.[5]

To support the needs of the performers who would be getting in and out of the water, a directed HVAC system was created for this theater to control the heat and humidity generated by the water which is approximately 84 °F (29 °C). Blowers were built into the stage to keep warm air circulating on the stage while a silent air movement system carried air at 55 °F (13 °C) underneath every seat in the theater. The combined systems keep both the performers and the audience at a comfortable temperature.[33]

La Nouba

Later that same year in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, Cirque's third resident show was inaugurated at the Downtown Disney section of the Walt Disney World Resort. In a partnership with Disney's former CEO Michael Eisner, Cirque created its first permanent freestanding theater to hold 1,671 attendees. 160 feet (49 m) high and designed to resemble a white tower with metal turrets on the outside, the 70,000-square-foot (6,500 m2) interior is made to project the appearance and atmosphere of a travelling show's "Grand Chapiteau".[5][34]

Conceptually, Dragone and Laliberté decided to portray La Nouba as a fairy tale. Set designer Michel Crête noted, "We were at Disney, so we were influenced by a world of fables." The set design is built to give the perception of an old attic where the performers tell the audience a story.[5] La Nouba, whose title originates from the French phrase faire la nouba ("to party"), juxtaposes two groups of characters: one colourful and the other monochromatic.[35]

The creative design team of Cirque du Soleil admits that La Nouba was rushed together. They had been working on the previous shows for the past several years and La Nouba was created under near-exhaustion. They countered this by attempting to instill more youth into the show, in both the themes and the age of the performers.[5]


The years of work had taken their toll on Cirque du Soleil's creative team. After La Nouba, Franco Dragone and Michel Crête parted ways from the company. To fill the void they left for the creation of the next show, Guy Laliberté turned to his former artistic director, Guy Caron, who had remained friends with Laliberté after his departure in 1988. Caron was persuaded to leave the National Circus School to return to work with Cirque du Soleil on a new Eastern-themed show.[5]

Rather than attempt to mimic Dragone's style, Caron decided to revisit the themes of Le Cirque réinventé. "I like a show that's full of energy, without gaps, that's full of strong acts, funny, with a big punch at the end", Caron explained. One of his obstacles was working with a team of performers who were almost entirely new to Cirque du Soleil, including a new set designer named Stéphane Roy who had worked with Laliberté and Gauthier back in Baie-Saint-Paul at the Balcon Vert youth hostel. Despite the new team, many within the company were unenthused about Dralion, alarmed at how much the atmosphere and style differed from Dragone's productions.[5] Despite any misgivings, Dralion went on to be Cirque du Soleil's top-grossing touring show. The television filming of the show received a Primetime Emmy Award.[13]

After a 13-year-long tour, Dralion was briefly retired on January 17, 2010, after its engagement in Mexico, so that it could be converted into an arena format. It started touring again on October 21, 2010, with the first show playing in Trenton, New Jersey.


The entrance to Cirque du Soleil's Grand Chapiteau at Varekai.

In 2002, Cirque du Soleil premiered Varekai, its first touring show in three years. Laliberté brought in fresh talent to direct this new show: a theater director named Dominic Champagne. Much like Caron directing Dralion three years earlier, Champagne found himself working with a fresh group of performers who had never worked for him before. Unlike the intuitive approach to writing productions of Dragone and Caron, Champagne scripted Varekai from start to finish.[5][36]

Varekai, which is a word from the Romany language which means "wherever", was conceptualized on the basis of mythology like many of the previous productions. The story is about the Greek myth of Icarus. The story picks up where the myth leaves off, telling the story of what happened to Icarus after he fell from the sky. He lands in the middle of a jungle at the base of a volcano where he must learn to fly again.[37]


On September 20, 2003, Cirque du Soleil unveiled Zumanity.[38] This production is a resident cabaret-style show at the New York-New York Hotel & Casino on the Las Vegas Strip. It is the first "adult-themed" Cirque du Soleil show, billed as "the sensual side of Cirque du Soleil" or "another side of Cirque du Soleil". Created by René Richard Cyr and Dominic Champagne, Zumanity is a departure from the standard Cirque format. Intended to be for mature adult audiences only, this show is centered around erotic song, dance, and acrobatics.[5]

The inspiration to create Zumanity came from multiple sources. Laliberté had been offered the chance to create two new shows in Las Vegas, and wanted something completely new and original rather than multiple similar shows that would cannibalize off of each other's sales and audiences. Another reason was that the New York-New York Hotel and Casino wanted to make their entertainment appear more "trendy". The hotel liked the concept of a more adult Cirque du Soleil performance.[5]

Laliberté admits that the biggest reason to produce this show was the chance to create something with riskier subject matter. He was interested in the idea of creating a show that explored human sexuality, something that was at complete odds with the other, more family-oriented Cirque du Soleil shows. "Our previous shows have all been family-oriented and politically correct, which is great", Laliberté said, "But we're human beings, we won't hide it. We're a bunch of happy campers. We like to live new experiences. Zumanity deals with some of those experiences."[5]

After Steve Wynn sold his Mirage Resorts to MGM in 2000, Laliberté received a call from Terry Lanni, CEO of the MGM Mirage. Lanni had been eager to capitalize on the previous successes of Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas and offered to fund the production of two more shows, Zumanity and Kà.[39]

Directed by Canadian theater veteran Robert Lepage, drew heavily on martial arts for its inspiration. The story centers around the adventures of a pair of imperial twins. Unlike most Cirque productions, the story of was more concrete and linear, more narrative and less abstract.[39] First premiering in November 2004 at the MGM Grand, became Cirque's fourth resident show in Las Vegas. It was also the largest and most expensive production the company had created to date. By the time it had been completed, had cost more than $220 million, of which more than $30 million was in costumes and $135 million was the theater itself, the bill for which was paid entirely by the MGM Grand.[40][41]


Corteo is a Cirque du Soleil touring production that premiered in North America in 2005. Corteo—"cortage" in Italian—is a show about a clown who watches his own funeral taking place in a carnival-like atmosphere. Inspired by "The Grand Parade: Portrait of the Artist as Clown" on display at the National Gallery of Canada, in many ways Corteo is a throwback to the older and more lighthearted Cirque productions like Saltimbanco.[5][42]

Directed by Daniele Finzi Pasca, the founder of the Swiss clown troupe Teatro Sunil, Corteo takes place on a large circular stage, consisting of separate rotating rings set inside each other. This allows for one area of the stage to move around the stationary action occurring inside the ring. Occasionally during the performance, the stage is divided by a large curtain with a painting on it called the "Corteo Procession". There are entrance/exits at either side of the circular stage.[42]


Delirium was a Cirque du Soleil live music event created in conjunction with Live Nation. Instead of being a standard touring show, it was a multimedia/theatrical arena production that featured remixes of existing Cirque music and reinterpretations of performances. This show was choreographed by So You Think You Can Dance's Mia Michaels. After an extensive North American tour, and a short European tour, the show retired on the April 19, 2008, in the O2 Arena in London.


Love premiered in 2006 at The Mirage, Las Vegas and consists of panoramic sound and visuals along with a cast of 60 international artists. Born from a personal friendship and mutual admiration between George Harrison and Cirque founder Guy Laliberté, Love brings Cirque du Soleil together with the musical legacy of The Beatles through their original recordings. Using the master tapes at Abbey Road studios, Sir George Martin and his son, Giles Martin have created a soundscape of Beatles music for Love.


Koozå is a touring production that premiered in Montreal, Quebec, Canada on April 19, 2007. The show's music is partly inspired by the music of India. Koozå makes use of a large traveling tower on the stage called a "bataclan". The bataclan moves over the course of the show and reconfigures the performing space.[43]

This show was directed by David Shiner, who had previously worked as a clown in Cirque du Soleil's production of Nouvelle Expérience. His experience as a clown and past work with Switzerland's Circus Knie informed his work on Koozå.[44] The show's title is derived from a Sanskrit word that means "magical container".


Wintuk was performed at the Theater at Madison Square Gardens in New York City and ran for 10 weeks each winter holiday season from 2007 to 2011. A family-based and specifically themed semi-permanent residency show, Wintuk was about a young boy living in a large, snowless city waiting for the first snowfall that never comes. With the help of four other companions in search of their place in the world, they journey to an imaginary Nordic country, where they experience the rich culture of the Northern peoples and bring back snow to the city in a snowstorm. The show was formally retired with its final performance on January 2, 2011.


Based at The Venetian Macao, Cotai Strip, the 90-minute production opened in August 2008 and brings together 75 high-calibre artists from all four corners of the globe. The show is directed by Neilson Vignola and Gilles Maheu.

Zaia presents a young girl's perception of the stars and planets, space and infinity, all populated by a panoply of fantastic, out-of-this-world creatures. The title, Zaia, comes from a Greek name meaning "life" and is also reminiscent of Gaia, the living, self-aware spirit of Earth.


Zed is a residency show at the Tokyo Disney Resort that opened on October 1, 2008. Film director François Girard creates a show surrounded by the titular character, drawn on the Tarot and its arcana that holds up a mirror to ourselves and the human condition through a variety of other characters as he unites the divisions between the people of the sky and Earth.[45]

Criss Angel Believe

In late 2008 Cirque du Soleil collaborated with MGM to create a resident show at the Luxor hotel in Las Vegas, featuring Criss Angel, fusing his signature illusions and artistry with acrobatics, dance, puppetry, music and poetry to attempt to tell a story of the exploration of his mind.[46] Originally scheduled to open on September 26, 2008, preview performances were delayed due to "technical difficulties", and the show eventually hosted its gala opening on October 31, 2008.[47]

Despite enthusiastic promotions from Cirque du Soleil and Criss Angel, including a guest performance on American reality TV show So You Think You Can Dance, which resulted in sales of more than $5 million in advance tickets,[48] Believe received an uneasy reception from fans and critics alike. Audience members were quoted saying the production was a "waste of time" and "dead end",[49] while the show received harsh reviews from critics for lack of magic and overall cohesion of the production.[50][51] Producers responded to these complaints by adding numerous additional illusions to the performance and revamping the show in April 2010.


Ovo (Portuguese for "egg"), was created and directed by Brazilian dancer/choreographer Deborah Colker – the first woman to create a Cirque production—that heavily relies on Brazilian music and some dance performances mixed in with the traditional circus arts; premiered in Montreal in 2009 and is currently touring North America. The show looks at the world of insects and its biodiversity where they go about their daily lives until a mysterious egg appears in their midst, as the insects become awestruck about this iconic object that represents the enigma and cycles of their lives.

Banana Shpeel

Banana Shpeel was a touring theatre show which premiered on November 19, 2009, at the Chicago Theater. The vaudeville-based production was directed by David Shiner, who also created Koozå. The show only lasted for a very short time, only playing in Chicago, New York City, and Toronto. The show was eventually cancelled in 2010, due to the many complications and poor reviews it was receiving.

Viva Elvis

Viva Elvis, developed in partnership with Elvis Presley Enterprises, began previews on December 18, 2009, in a specially designed, 2,000-seat theatre at the new Aria Resort & Casino at CityCenter in Las Vegas.[52][53]

CKX, Inc., the company that owns the rights to Elvis Presley's name, likeness, and music publishing, signed an agreement to have Cirque create the Elvis-themed residency show. The gala premiere was originally scheduled for January 2010[54][55] on what would have been Elvis' 75th birthday, but was postponed until February 19, 2010.[52][53] The Elvis Presley Projects will include additional touring and its multimedia presentations, along with "Elvis Experiences" (interactive multimedia exhibits). One touring Elvis show is planned for Europe/Asia for 2010, with one "Elvis Experience" outside the United States. One new Elvis Presley Project is scheduled to open each year from 2009–2015.[56]


Totem is a touring show which premiered in Montreal on April 22, 2010. It was created and directed by previous collaborator Robert Lepage (). The show began its tour in Canada before heading to Europe. This was a change from the company's usual touring routes, the next stop usually being San Francisco, as Cirque already has three touring shows (Ovo, Koozå and Alegría) in the United States.[57]

Cirque describes Totem's theme as the evolution of mankind from its primordial, amphibian state toward the aspiration of flight, taking inspiration from many of mankind's founding myths.[58]


Zarkana is a touring arena show which will play in both Radio City Music Hall in New York City as well as the Grand Kremlin Palace in Moscow.[59][60] Zarkana will also tour in other cities, although it will be seasonal in New York City and Moscow. The show began previews on June 9, 2011, at Radio City Music Hall and premiered on June 29, 2011.[61][62] The show will be a reinvention of the variety show, with a story about a magician in an abandoned theatre who has lost his love and with her, his magic has disappeared. As he cries and begs the Gods for her return he is plunged into a world inhabited by surreal creatures.


Iris, a movie-themed permanent show directed by Philippe Decouflé, is the first show produced by Cirque du Soleil to be located in Los Angeles, California that premièred on September 25, 2011, at the Kodak Theatre.[63] The show takes spectators on a fantastic voyage through the history of cinema and its genres, transporting them into the heart of the movie-making process and takes a unique look at the history of cinema and combining that with Cirque du Soleil's traditional artistic works of dance, acrobatics, and modern circus traditions. The name of the show, Iris, is taken directly from both camera diaphragms as well as the colored iris of the human eye.[64]

Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour

Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour is the official theatrical production by Cirque du Soleil which uses the music and vision of Michael Jackson along with Cirque du Soleil's signature acrobatic performance style to create a realistic concert experience. The arena show —which is very similar to a rock concert— began its tour October 2, 2011, in Montreal. After its North American run for about two years, it will continue on to Europe and the rest of the world [65]

At the point in time it leaves North America, a resident show—which will be more theatrical in nature—will open in early 2013 at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino located in Las Vegas, Nevada.[66] In addition to the resident show at the Mandalay Bay, Cirque du Soleil will also be opening up a Michael Jackson-inspired lounge as well as a memorabilia gift shop.[67]

Future productions


  • Cirque will develop a new touring production, Cirque 2012 (working title) Kabo by spring of 2012 to be created and directed by Diane Paulus.
  • Cirque has signed a major partnership with United Arab Emirates real estate developer Nakheel to create a residency show at the Atlantis, The Palm Resort on The Palm, Jumeirah in Dubai, with an initial 15-year deal for an original show scheduled to debut in 2012,[68][69] directed by Guy Caron (Dralion) and Michael Curry but since Dubai's financial problems in 2010 caused by the 2008 global recession, it has been stated by Laliberté that the project has been "put on ice"[9] for the time being.


  • A new arena-only show Arena 2013 (working title) to be directed by Michel Laprise based on the theme of extreme sports, has been announced.[71]


Other works


  • Cirque du Monde: a social action project designed to reach marginalized youth.[72]
  • Jukari Fit to Fly: A fitness program promoted cooperatively with Reebok.
  • Safewalls: An artistic project curated by Cirque du Soleil that is bringing time-honoured circus posters into the 21st century by pairing up with renowned international street art and lowbrow artists.[73][74]
  • 3D motion picture: Cirque du Soleil is partnering with James Cameron, and Andrew Adamson (in association with Reel FX Entertainment) to produce a 3-dimensional motion picture.[75]
  • Desigual inspired by Cirque du Soleil: Cirque du Soleil has partnered with Desigual fashion design to develop a clothing collection which will include 60 items of clothing and accessories. The clothing will be made available at Desigual stores as well as Cirque du Soleil show boutiques.[76]

Special Events

Cirque du Soleil has a "Special Events" team which coordinates various events, both public and private.

Date Name or Event Location Notes
2002 74th Academy Awards Los Angeles
 United States
A five-minute performance for the category of special effects at the 74th Academy Awards. They spent four months creating the show, which featured 11 acts from a variety of Cirque shows. Each of the acts were choreographed and themed to their equivalent movie by re-creating the special effect scene featured in the film on stage while playing clips on a large screen behind the performances.[77]
2004-JUL-11 Soleil de Minuit
(Midnight Sun)
A special one-night event in Montreal celebrating the 20th anniversary of Cirque du Soleil and the 25th anniversary of the Montreal International Jazz Festival.[78]
2004–2005 A Taste of Cirque du Soleil Celebrity Cruises A special 30-minute performance on the Constellation and Summit Celebrity Cruises cruise ships. Included on these ships was The Bar at the Edge of the Earth, a dreamlike bar/lounge/disco.[79][80]
2005-JUL-15 Reflections in Blue Montreal
A unique one-night water show in Montreal as part of the opening ceremonies for the 2005 World Aquatics Championships.[81]
2007-FEB-04 One Day, One Game, One Dream Miami Gardens, Florida
 United States
Produced by David Saltz, this was performed during the Super Bowl XLI pre-game show.[82]
2008 The Awakening of the Serpent Zaragoza
Cirque du Soleil participated in the presentation of a daily parade spectacle called The Awakening of the Serpent at Expo 2008 in Zaragoza, Spain.
2009 Eurovision Song Contest 2009 Moscow
Cirque du Soleil was the opening act of the song contest, along with Dima Bilan who sung "Believe." They performed a spectacle called "Prodigal Son."
2009 Les Chemins invisibles Quebec City
The first year of Les Chemins invisibles was "The Enriched Encounter."
2009-DEC-07 Prêmio Craque do Brasileirão  Brazil Cirque du Soleil took part in the celebration. Their artists performed acts from various shows.
2010 Expo 2010 Shanghai
Cirque co-created the Canada Pavilion in association with the Government of Canada for Expo 2010 in Shanghai, China, which was available for viewing from May to September 2010.[83]
2010-JUN-14 Electronic Entertainment Expo Los Angeles
 United States
Cirque du Soleil created and performed a 45-minute presentation on the eve of the 2010 Electronic Entertainment Expo at the USC's Galen Center in Los Angeles to introduce Microsoft's hands-free gaming device for the Xbox 360, Microsoft Kinect.[11][84]
2010 Les Chemins invisibles Quebec City
The second year of Les Chemins invisibles was the "Furrow of Dreams."
2011 Les Chemins invisibles Quebec City
The third year of Les Chemins invisibles is "The Tin Kingdom." It runs June 24, 2011, to September 3, 2011.

Grand chapiteau tours

Cirque du Soleil's Grand Chapiteau at night
Night shot of the Grand Chapiteau on tour in Barcelona, Spain.

Cirque du Soleil shows normally tour under a Grand Chapiteau (i.e. big top) for an extended period of time until they are modified, if necessary, for touring in arenas and other venues. The company's grands chapiteaux are easily recognizable by their blue and yellow coloring. The infrastructure that tours with each show could easily be called a mobile village; it includes the Grand Chapiteau, a large entrance tent, artistic tent, kitchen, school, and other items necessary to support the cast and crew.[85]

The tour has great financial impacts to the cities which they visit by renting out lots for shows, parking spaces, selling and buying promotions, and contributing to local economy in manners of hotel stays, purchasing food, and hiring local help. For example, during its stay in Santa Monica, California, Koozå brought an estimated US$16,700,000 ($17,105,668 in 2011) to the city government and local businesses.[86]


  • The site takes around eight days to construct and three days to pack up.
  • Anywhere from 50–75 large tractor-trailer containers are necessary to transport the vast amount of equipment. Totem, for example, requires 65 such containers to transport 1,200 tonnes (1,200 long tons; 1,300 short tons).
  • Five generators are used to provide electricity to the site.

Grand chapiteau

  • Totem's canvas tent is constructed by Les Voileries du Sud-Ouest and weighs approximately 5,227.3 kilograms (11,524 lb).
  • The tent is 19 metres (62 ft) high and is 51 metres (167 ft) in diameter.
  • A single performance can seat more than 2,600 spectators.

Other tents

  • The Entrance tent holds the concessions and merchandise.
  • The Tapis Rouge is for VIP guests (up to 250) and is also available for private functions.
  • The Artistic tent for the performers houses the wardrobe area, a fully equipped training area, and a physiotherapy room.


  • Used as the primary commons area, the kitchen serves 200–250 meals a day (6 days a week).


Cirque du Soleil has started to take on new forms of entertainment by creating bar lounges.[87] As of early 2011, they have partnered with The Light Group to create their lounge concepts.


Revolution is a 5,000-square-foot (460 m2) lounge concept designed for The Mirage resort in Las Vegas in which cast members perform to the music of The Beatles.[88] Cirque drew inspiration from the Beatles' lyrics to design some of the lounge's features. For instance, the ceiling is decorated with 30,000 dichronic crystals, representing "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds". The VIP tables use infrared technology which allows guests to create artwork which is then projected onto amorphic columns.[89]

Gold Lounge

Cirque du Soleil's second lounge is the Gold Lounge, which is located in the Aria Resort & Casino in Las Vegas and is 3,756 square feet (348.9 m2).[90] The design is reminiscent of Elvis' mansion, Graceland, and black and gold are utilized extensively throughout the décor. The bar has the same shape as the bar in the Elvis mansion as well.[87] The music played here changes throughout the night including upbeat Classic rock, commercial House music, upbeat Elvis remixes, minimal hip-hop, Top 40, and Pop.[91]

Future lounges



Cirque du Soleil Images creates original and innovative products for television, video and DVD and distributes its productions worldwide. In each of its projects, Cirque du Soleil Images aims to reflect the image and spirit of Cirque du Soleil's shows.

Its creations have been awarded numerous prizes and distinctions, including two Gemini Awards and a Primetime Emmy Award for Cirque du Soleil Fire Within (in 2003) and three Primetime Emmy Awards for Dralion (in 2001).

Year Title Notes
1988 La Magie Continue A film adaptation of the production La Magie Continue.
1990 Le Cirque Réinventé A film adaptation of the production Le Cirque Réinventé.
1991 Quel Cirque A look into the creation of Nouvelle Experiénce. Out of print.
1992 Nouvelle Experience A film adaptation of the production Nouvelle Experience.
1992 Saltimbanco's Diary A behind-the-scenes featurette on the making of Saltimbanco. Out of print.
1994 Saltimbanco Film adaptation of Saltimbanco and directed by Jacques Payette.
1994 A Baroque Odyssey A 10-year anniversary retrospective.
1994 The Truth of Illusion Documentary about the production Alegria. Out of print.
1996 Full Circle: The Making of Quidam A behind-the-scenes look at the making of Quidam
1999 Quidam A film adaption of the production Quidam as directed by David Mallet.
1999 Alegría, the Film Film adaptation directed by Franco Dragone. This film was based loosely on the touring show.
2000 Journey of Man A compilation of acts from various Cirque shows including Mystère and Quidam. This movie was shot in wide format and released at IMAX theaters.
2000 Inside La Nouba: From Conception to Perception Highlights of the show and interviews with creators.
2001 Dralion A film adaptation of the production Dralion as directed by Guy Caron and David Mallet.
2001 Alegría A film adaption of the production show Alegría as directed by Nick Morris.
2002 Varekai Film adaptation of the touring show Varekai, directed by Dominic Champagne and Nick Morris.
2002 Fire Within A 13-episode inside look into the creation and production of Varekai shown on Bravo.
2003 Whatever 'Stie A parody of Varekai show acted by the technical crew only for the actual artists (actors) DVD.
2003 La Nouba A film adaptation of the production show La Nouba as directed by David Mallet.
2004 Midnight Sun Festival International de Jazz de Montréal on July 11, 2004, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal and Cirque du Soleil's 20th birthday.
2004 Solstrom A 13-episode series using various acts from Cirque du Soleil and other productions shown on Bravo. Each episode has a different theme.
2005 Kà Extreme A documentary which explores the production of by following the show's evolution from early rehearsals through to the first public performance.
2006 Corteo Film adaptation of the touring show Corteo, directed by Jocelyn Barnabé.
2006 Lovesick Filmed over two years and set in Las Vegas during the creation of the cabaret-style production, Zumanity.
2007 Flow A homage to the artists of "O" that provides an in-depth documentary of the Las Vegas aquatic extravaganza.
2007 The Mystery of Mystère A documentary about Mystère, the critically acclaimed theatrical production playing at the permanent location at the Treasure Island Resort.
2007 A Thrilling Ride through Koozå A short documentary filmed during the creation period of Koozå.
2007 Filmed exclusively for German national TV channel, ZDF.[citation needed]
2008 Koozå Film adaptation of the touring show Koozå, directed by Mario Janelle.
2008 Delirium The last performance of Delirium was filmed in London. This film was released in limited theatrical runs on August 20 and October 15, 2008.
2008 All Together Now A documentary about the making of Love.
2010 Zed in Tokyo A documentary filmed during the creation period of the Tokyo residency show, Zed.
2010 Flowers in the Desert A look at all the Vegas shows including Viva Elvis.
2011 Crossroads in Macao A documentary filmed during the creation period of the Macao residency show, Zaia.

Legal issues

In November 2003, a US federal discrimination complaint was filed against Cirque du Soleil by Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund on behalf of gymnast Matthew Cusick.[93] The allegation was that in April 2002, they fired Cusick because he tested HIV positive. Cusick had not yet performed, but had completed his training and was scheduled to begin working at Mystère just a few days after he was terminated. Even though company doctors had already cleared him as healthy enough to perform, Cirque alleged that due to the nature of Cusick's disease coupled with his job's high risk of injury, there was a significant risk of him infecting other performers, crew or audience members.[94] Cirque du Soleil said that they had several HIV-positive employees, but in the case of Cusick, the risk of him spreading his infection while performing was too high to take the risk. A boycott ensued and Just Out ran a story on it with the headline "Flipping off the Cirque".[95]

An additional complaint was filed on Cusick's behalf by the San Francisco Human Rights Commission. Their complaint stemmed from the issue that the City of San Francisco bans contracts (or in this case land leases) to discriminatory employers.[96]

Although Cirque du Soleil's position remains that this was a safety issue, not a discrimination issue, they settled with Cusick on April 22, 2004. The terms of the settlement include that the company would initiate a companywide anti-discrimination training program and alter its employment practices pertaining to HIV-positive applicants. In addition, Matthew Cusick received $60,000 in lost wages, $200,000 in front pay, $300,000 in compensatory damages and Lambda Legal received $40,000 in attorney fees.[93][95]


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