MAKE OR BREAK IN LOS ANGELES
By the end of 1986, over 250,000 spectators saw La Magie Continue – Cirque
was gaining some traction; however, the company still found itself on hard
financial times. Undeterred, Cirque du Soleil mounted a new tour –
Le Cirque Réinventé
(or We Reinvent the Circus, in English) – and after a brief run in
Canada, visited its American neighbors for the first time. Cirque took the
biggest risk in its history up to that point by agreeing to perform at the
Los Angeles Festival that September without the funds necessary for a return
trip home. After years of honing its craft across Québec and in cities
throughout Canada, its future depended entirely on being successful in the
U.S. market. And Laliberté, a consummate networker, worked hard to make sure
the show was a success. While colleagues slaved to put up the tent, Laliberté,
the story goes, was nowhere to be found. Mutiny was on the minds of many. But
that all changed on opening night. In the days and nights-especially the
nights-leading up to the opening, their absentee leader had been out talking up
his show with the beautiful people in L.A.'s restaurants and nightclubs. He
succeeded in generating the buzz that made the then virtually unknown Cirque
the must-see act of the 1987 Los Angeles Festival. The gamble paid off.
Exhilarated by the Californian public's
response, Cirque du Soleil becomes an overnight success. The show is performed
in Los Angeles, San Diego and Santa Monica to rave reviews. Cirque du Soleil
even appears twice on Johnny Carson's "Tonight Show" program!
They also catch some unwanted attention. Executives from Columbia Pictures
become enthralled with the show and meet with Laliberté and Gautheir under
the pretense of wanting to make a movie about Cirque du Soleil and its success.
Laliberté was unhappy with the deal, claiming it gave Columbia too many rights,
in attempting to secure all rights to the production. Laliberté and Gauthier
pulled out before it could be concluded, keeping Cirque du Soleil independent.
(Consequently, Guy Laliberté has expressed that experience stands out as a key
reason why Cirque remained independent and privately owned for 30 years.)
It's rapid development in three years has amazed almost everybody except
Laliberte. "Growth was one of my targets," he says calmly. "I didn't know exactly
how he would do it, but I always knew it was possible. And who knows, maybe Le
Cirque du Soleil will only be the seed of something else?"