THE END OF AN ERA (15 YEARS)
Can Cirque du Soleil go on without Dragone? "There's no reason why
the circus can't change with the times." – Guy Caron
While artists get used to their new home in Orlando, Saltimbancosets up
shop in Asia and the Pacific, beginning a three-year tour of the region in
Sydney, Australia (January 1999). In March, Quidam embarks on a four-year
European tour in Amsterdam. And in May, Alegría, which has already dazzled
audiences on three continents, finds a permanent home at Beau Rivage, a new
Mirage resort in Biloxi, Mississippi. Cirque’s plans become even more
ambitious with the release of its first feature film: Alegria. In the film,
the magical spellbinding universe of Cirque du Soleil becomes the backdrop
for a tender love story between a street performer (Frac) and the lead singer
of a travelling circus (Giulietta). Franco Dragone directs the before-mentioned
film and it’s the last project he works on for Cirque du Soleil.
The end of an era is reached.
Following the launch of “O”
at Bellagio and La Nouba
at Walt Disney World,
the creative team behind so many of Cirque du Soleil's productions in the
1990s – Franco Dragone, Michel Crete and Dominique Lemieux – concluded their
remarkable run of artistic and professional development with the company,
leaving the creative reins to future shows in the hands of others and giving
Cirque du Soleil an interesting dilemma to overcome during the first-half of
the new millennium: how to move on from a very successful run of productions
under the helm of Franco Dragone and his team of conceptors and show the
world it could still re-invent the circus.
After "O", Cirque founder and
owner Guy Laliberte wanted to accelerate
Cirque's production schedule and expand the brand. Dragone, fearful of
losing creative control and uncomfortable with this direction, departed.
"I talked to Guy, and I say, 'We have already so many shows.' And he say,
'Oh, Franco, don't worry. There are so many places to do a show.'"
There's nothing wrong with a company trying to grow, of course. Dragone
actually agrees. He departed not because he dislikes commerce and profit.
Dragone flew the Cirque coop because he didn't want to be a factory hand;
he wanted to own his own factory. Franco would go on to form
Dragone Productions and
go on to bring his brand of entertainment to Las Vegas, China, and Dubai.
Faced with the challenge of mounting a new show, with a new team, in a
compressed period of time, Guy Laliberté turned to an old friend: Guy Caron.
Since he had left Cirque in 1988, Caron had maintained friendly relations
with Laliberté. In 1992, he had even directed a show called “
Cirque Knie Presents Cirque du Soleil”
for the Swiss National Circus, produced in
collaboration with Cirque. Caron's job wasn't easy, though. He'd have to
pick up the creative pieces and attempt to meet or exceed the expectations
laid down by the likes of Quidam,
Despite the challenges - or perhaps because of them - Laliberté and Caron
were able to show that it was the creative juices of the whole rather than
just one man that drove the company, and launched a new North American tour:
is an unprecedented fusion of ancient Chinese acrobatic
traditions and the avant-garde approach of Cirque du Soleil, paying homage
to the four elements - earth, air, fire and water – which take on human form
and rule worlds defined by their individual vivid colors. It may have become
Cirque’s higest grossing tour up to that time, finding successes throughout
North America, but it was hardly liked by Cirque’s employees in Montreal.