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, Saltimbanco sets 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.
EAST MEETS WEST
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.
(The premiere was had at a lot behind Cirque HQ rather than at the Old Port
because, according to Cirque, "of space constraints in the Old Port.")
The Dralion tour launches Cirque du Soleil into the realm of VIP Experiences.
The first VIP experience was was announced in September 1999 as the "Dralion VIP
Package" - a "new and exciting way to live the magic of Cirque du Soleil, before
the show has even begun. The Dralion VIP Package offers not only top quality food
and service but also a unique look inside the fantastical universe of Cirque
du Soleil in the intimate setting of the Lincoln Suite. The Dralion VIP Package
includes one of the best seats in the house, preferred parking, an exceptional array
of refreshments, gourmet hors-d'œuvres and desserts, an exclusive Dralion gift, a
souvenir program and lots more."
Dralion audiences in Santa Monica, California were the first to try out this new
experience when the show opened there on September 23, 1999. It proved successful
enough that the "VIP Experience" was extended to Cirque du Soleil's other touring
shows at the time - Saltimbanco (as the "Saltimbanco VIP Experience"), and Quidam (as
the "Quidam VIP Experiene") - as the tours at that time were sponsored by Lincoln.
(Read more about Cirque's VIP
On October 22nd, Cirque du Soleil announced an association with TVA Group to
develop and produce international audiovisual productions. Their respective
subsidiaries, Cirque du Soleil Images and TVA International, worked on a series
of projects that will combine Cirque du Soleil's creativity with TVA's broadcast,
finance and production resources. "We are very happy to have reached an agreement
with TVA," Wagg said. “Our discussions with Andre Provencher, president of TVA Intl.,
and Daniel Lamarre have enabled us to create a production base in Quebec. This is
the home of Cirque du Soleil, and now we can join forces with TVA in building
complementary television activities with our network of partners, in particular
Granada Media Group, to continue to develop internationally while maintaining our
ties at home."
Cirque du Soleil Images and TVA International will develop and produce various
projects, with Cirque du Soleil Images in charge of conception, development and
creative control and TVA International overseeing financial planning and production
control. The projects include a family-oriented primetime variety series featuring
performers who have been discovered over the years by the Cirque du Soleil. Production
will kick off next spring. There are also plans for a series of one-hour docus on
different aspects of the Cirque du Soleil. In addition, the two companies are going
to produce a TV movie based on the life and career of Sylvie Fréchette, the Canadian
synchronized swimming champ. Frechette performed and coached other performers on "O",
the Cirque's aquatic show currently playing in Las Vegas. Finally, TVA Intl. is in
discussions with Cirque du Soleil Images and Granada Media Group to produce an
animated children's series.
TVA topper Lamarre added, "Uniting two brand names as powerful as TVA and Cirque
du Soleil, and forging an association with the Cirque du Soleil's prestige and
international recognition, is a dream project for us. This association will ensure
TVA Intl.'s rapid development and visibility."
SPOTLIGHT: CIRQUE IN SPACE
The headline says it all: "CSA astronaut Julie Payette will fly into space with the
red nose of Cirque's famous Mystère clown!" - and indeed she did.
As part of space mission STS-96, a number of Cirque du Soleil objects were
launched into space on May 27th for a twn-day trip on board the Space Shuttle Discovery.
In response to a request by Canadian Space Agency astronaut Julie Payette, who is a
fervent admirer of Cirque du Soleil, presidents Guy Laliberté and Daniel Gauthier
presented Ms. Payette with a red clown nose. The prop was worn for many years by
Wayne Hronek, alias "Benny LeGrand", the clown from Cirque's resident show Mystère,
which has been presented at Treasure Island in Las Vegas since 1993. The astronaut also
took along compact discs of music from three Cirque shows: "O", Cirque's resident show
at Bellagio in Las Vegas; Alegría, the resident show at Beau Rivage in Biloxi; and
Quidam, currently on tour in Europe.
The red nose was be vacuum-packed before being launched into space from NASA's
Kennedy Space Center in Florida, on board Discovery. The launch was watched by
hundreds of guests, including Guy Laliberté and Daniel Gauthier, who were both invited
to witness the event. As for the compact discs, Julie Payette took the Cirque du
Soleil music along on her ten-day journey into space. A few weeks after the Space
Shuttle returned to Earth, Julie Payette handed back the clown's nose and the
autographed CDs in person to Cirque du Soleil's presidents. The objects were then
displayed at the Studio, Cirque du Soleil's international headquarters in Montreal.
STS-96 was a logistics and resupply mission for the International Space Station
carrying the Spacehab Double Module (DM). Julie Payette was be the first Canadian
citizen to visit the Station.