Stemming from the dream of a group of acrobats, the Cirque du Soleil's successful history began in Baie-Saint-Paul, a municipality in Québec's Charlevoix County and a summer meeting place for painters. A troupe of street performers known as Les Échassiers and including Guy LALIBERTÉ, was formed by Gilles Sainte-Croix, who entertained vacationers by juggling, dancing, breathing fire and playing music. This group of young performers then founded the Club des talons hauts (The High Heeled Club) and in 1982, developed the Baie-Saint-Paul Fête foraine, a holiday fair which attracted public entertainers from all over. Thus the dream began to take hold: to create a Québec circus that would travel the world.
The Cirque du Soleil takes flight
The Cirque du Soleil was officially founded in 1984, thanks to financial support from the Québec government on the occasion of the 450th anniversary celebrations of Jacques Cartier's arrival in Canada. Guy Laliberté was the president, a position that he has continued to occupy in 2012. The artistic concept was developed around dramatized circus and street theatre techniques: colourful zany costumes, lighting effects, and original music to which were added acrobatic and technological feats, all contributing to create worlds of poetry and mystery. The Cirque du Soleil is further distinguished from the traditional circus by its lack of animals.
From its first performance in the Gaspé later presented in ten other cities in Québec under a tent that seated 800, the Cirque du Soleil experienced continued and growing success. In 1985, the company traversed the borders of Québec, travelling to Ottawa, Toronto and Niagara Falls, and the following year took a new show, La Magie continue, to Vancouver in western Canada in a 1500-seat tent. With Le Cirque réinventé, in 1987, the Cirque du Soleil scored a hit in the United States (Los Angeles, San Diego, Santa Monica) that set off a series of successes on American soil that continued into 1988 and 1989. Then, in 1990, in Montréal, in a new tent with 2500 seats, the show Nouvelle Expérience, broke the box office sales record, notably in California where the company was acclaimed.
Trans-Atlantic travel started when Le Cirque réinventé was presented in London and Paris. In 1992, the Cirque visited Tokyo and seven other Japanese cities. In the same period, it covered sixty other Swiss cities with the Circus Knie, and then went on to conquer Las Vegas. Saltimbanco, created in Montréal, also began an extensive American tour. The following years saw the consolidation of the Cirque's activities in Las Vegas, with the creation of Mystère, planned as a resident show for ten years. 1994 marked the birth of d'Alegria, another enduring success. Saltimbanco toured Europe (the Netherlands, Germany, Austria) at the time when Quidam was created (1995), which was an American hit in its turn.
In 1997, the Cirque du Soleil inaugurated its international headquarters, le Studio, in Montréal, its unique centre for creation and production. New shows including the aquatic "O", a second resident show in Las Vegas, and the Nouba, in Orlando, Florida, were mounted while the previous shows continued to tour throughout the world, notably in the Asia-Pacific region. At the time tours lasted an average of three years. The Cirque du Soleil embarked on film and television production in 1999, the year Dralion was created. In 2001, the company began the installation of a 15,000 square metre annex to its Montréal headquarters. Varekai was produced in Montréal the following year, then Zumanity, an "erotic comedy" for adults was permanently set up in a Las Vegas casino.
In 2004, the Cirque du Soleil marked its 20th anniversary by launching a book, creating KÀ a resident show in Las Vegas that surpassed all previous shows in technical wizardry, and launching its own record label. Corteo was produced the following year, and the Cirque designed the opening performance for the XIth FINA World Aquatics Championships in Montréal. The musical Delirium, performed in an arena, was also created. In 2006, the Cirque du Soleil paid tribute to the musical legacy of the Beatles with LOVE, also in Las Vegas, while achieving new markets in South America and Asia. Increasing its projects and its partnerships, the company pursued its development with its twentieth new show, Kooza, in 2007, then with Wintuk, a seasonal show in New York. In 2009, OVO, was produced followed by the Las Vegas musical, Viva Elvis. Totem toured in 2010, followed in 2011 by Zarkana, Iris, and Michael Jackson, the Immortal World Tour.
A Corporate Citizen
The Cirque du Soleil, which stopped receiving government or private operational subsidies in 1992, has itself become a support to numerous artistic organizations. In 2012, the Cirque counted more than 5000 employees spread across the globe, of which 2000 work at the company headquarters in Montréal. The workers, who represent some fifty nationalities, express themselves in more than twenty-five different languages. The Cirque du Soleil is a global citizen who takes social engagement seriously, and its mission includes helping youth-at-risk through their Cirque du Monde programme, and fighting poverty. In this spirit, since 1989, the company has given 1% of its gross revenue to social action programmes in more than 80 communities throughout the world and to its One Drop Foundation which deals with major issues of accessible water for everyone on the planet. At the office of its headquarters, the Cirque in addition, gives young artists the opportunity to exhibit their work.
The recipient of several prestigious awards (Emmy, Drama Desk, Bambi, ACE, Gémeaux and Félix, Rose d'or in Montreux...), the Cirque du Soleil has never stopped employing Québec and Canadian artists, in particular several Québécois theatre directors including Dominic Champagne, Serge Denoncourt and Robert Lepage. In 2002, the Cirque du Soleil had already taken part in the televised Oscar gala, and was again present in 2012, offering a spectacle revolving around cinematography where fifty artists moved to the music of Danny Elfman.
Author RAYMOND BERTIN
Links to Other Sites
The website for the Historica-Dominion Institute, parent organization of The Canadian Encyclopedia and the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada. Check out their extensive online feature about the War of 1812, the "Heritage Minutes" video collection, and many other interactive resources concerning Canadian history, culture, and heritage.
Cirque du Soleil
The website for the phenomenal Cirque du Soleil. Features colourful video clips, music, and backstage anecdotes about the world famous circus troupe.
Canadian Women in Theatre and Dance
This Library and Archives Canada site features biographies of prominent women in Canadian theatre and dance. Also offers teaching guides and reference sources.