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Historia

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  1988

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THE CIRCUS AS A BUSINESS?

    With all the fire and optimism of youth, Cirque du Soleil set out to reinvent the art of the circus, an art hitherto almost unknown in Canada. Back in that first year, we already had the feeling that nothing would come between us and the realization of their cherished dream. And indeed, in the space of four short years, the Cirque du Soleil has become a success story, gaining recognition not only in Quebec and Canada but also internationally. This tremendously gratifying achievement would never have been possible without the unflagging determination creativity and willingness to go one step further displayed out by every member of our company. This was especially true for 1987, the year of Cirque's first appearances in the United States and a tour of California that can only be described as a triumph. Although Cirque's still basking in the glow, we've no intention of resting on our laurels. This year - 1988 - is the last year of our five-year plan, and a very important point in the evolution of the Cirque du Soleil. To consolidate our breakthrough in the American market, we've set our sights on the Eastern US. The challenge is colossal, but our accomplishments of the last four years told us we can do it! – Guy Laliberté.

Far from being polar opposites, Cirque du Soleil proves that creativity and business go together like hand and glove. When asked what makes him tick, Guy Laliberte responds, as artist and administrator, that his goal remains to surpass himself. "Anything is possible," he says, "if you're prepared to do what it takes to make it worthwhile." In his case, that means unswerving determination, the kind of honesty that inspires immediate respect and a very rare gift of intuition, plus the many other qualities of Guy's unique personality. All of which are inseparably bound up with the destiny of the Cirque du Soleil, and the company's growing reputation for fresh thinking, sharp business acumen and second-to-none standards of quality.

Not only did the Cirque forge ahead; it was able to decrease its dependency of government grants to 50% in 1985 and 27% in 1986, by seeking out and developing ties with private industry. In 1987, government subsidies accounted for only 15% of the company's operating budget. A turning point was reached when the Cirque headed south across the border last summer after a tour of Quebec and performed the opening of the prestigious Los Angeles Festival before embarking on a three-month tour of California. The praise was enthusiastic and the tour got extensive media coverage.

Meanwhile, the Cirque was turning heads in the Quebec business community for its success in exporting - of all things - a cultural event. New openings led to an internal reorganization that included provisions for indoor performances, the rental of the circus' costume and set production facilities and the marketing of secondary products such as tee-shirts, coloring books, educational toys, video-cassettes and records. (See "Le Groupe du Soleil")

The company was also turning heads overseas. January 1988 marked Australia's 200th anniversary, which was to be celebrated with a two month "Bicentennial Festival of Sydney". Cirque du Soleil was invited and later accepted an invitation to perform at the festival, as well as a tour through the rest of Australia that would have lasted through May of that year. However, citing increased travel costs and a less than cordial welcome from some Australians, Cirque du Soleil withdrew from its scheduled appearance at the Festival and canceled their Australian tour. The brouhaha began when the Australian Actors Equity and the country's Circus Oz objected to Cirque's plans, especially one week in which Cirque's appearance in Sydney would have coincided with a Circus Oz run. "We were very vulnerable to comparison with them," said Circus Oz administrator Susan Provan, "and we thought we just couldn't compete with their promotional campaign." So Circus Oz asked Cirque "to revise their dates and not appear until four to six weeks after we did in any city," said Provan. When Cirque wouldn't budge, "we lodged a request with the immigration department to put pressure on them to alter their dates." The Australian government finally overruled the objections and granted Cirque du Soleil the necessary visas, but by then the air fares had doubled in price (from what Cirque had expected to pay), said Cirque general manager Norman Latourelle, and so the company pulled out, as they'd never signed a formal contract to appear. Unfortunately, the Festival's programme books had already been printed...

Australia's loss was California's gain. Cirque du Soleil returned to Santa Monica in February 1988 ("Le Cirque comes to us from Montreal, but surely via the moon or Mars!" — The Los Angeles Times), traveled to San Francisco in April, and expanded its U.S. appearances. The company now comprised of 150 people. With the success of Le Cirque Réinventé on the West Coast of the United States, Cirque boldly launched a Midwest and Eastern itinerary. After a brief appearance at the Calgary Winter Olympics, the blue and yellow big top popped up in the shadows of the World Trade Center in New York City, spending several weeks dazzling Toronto, then Washington D.C. Wherever it went the result was the same: rave reviews and sold-out performances went hand-in-hand. 796,937 people had now seen Le Cirque Réinventé, including patrons in Cirque's home town.

Despite the cold Canadian winter, the company ended its 1988 tour at home in Montreal. There, as well as all over the continent, Cirque du Soleil wins many awards for its entrepreneurship and its innovative and creative spirit: including Emmy, Drama Desk, Bambi and Ace awards, Gémeaux and Félix trophies, and a Rose d'Or de Montreux. Cirque du Soleil's performers take part and win several awards at various festivals throughout the world, including the Festival international du cirque de Monte-Carlo, the Festival mondial du cirque de demain (France), the Festival international de cirque de Vérone (Italy), the Festival international de cirque de Gênes (Italy), and the Wuhan International Acrobatic Art Festival (China). And with the proportion of government funding down to 10% and its budget in the $10 million range, the Cirque du Soleil had met its objectives.

But not everyone is happy.


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