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Cirque du Soleil [ You are here: Grand Chapiteau | Historia | 2000 ]




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Audiences on three continents continue to marvel at Cirque du Soleil's four resident shows (La Nouba, Mystère, "O" and Alegría, which found a permanent home at Beau Rivage, a new Mirage resort in Biloxi, Mississippi) and three touring productions (Saltimbanco, Quidam and Dralion); in the year alone, close to 6 million spectators will attend Cirque du Soleil shows worldwide. By October, Alegría leaves its home at the Beau Rivage and prepares to embark on an Asia/Pacific tour beginning in Australia. Dralion continues to make its way across North America and provides yet another backdrop for a special TV Production, which earns Cirque du Soleil three Primetime Emmy Awards the following year.

Cirque’s performances continue to be a unique balance of physical strength, art and beauty, deeply ingrained with audacity. With Gilles' historic stilt walkathon from Baie-Saint-Paul to Quebec City, Guy Caron's artistic instincts, and Guy Laliberté's go-for-broke gambling spirit, it's been there from the beginning. It's stitched into the very fabric of the Grand Chapiteau. But Cirque also begins looking beyond live entertainment for new means to share their which wonder, joy and creativity. After a grand premiere in Berlin in January 2000, the Cirque launches its first-ever large-format IMAX production in North America by May: Cirque du Soleil - Journey of Man ("Passages" in French). Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics, after a grand premiere in the film will opens in Montreal, New York and Los Angeles before moving on to other markets.

Although through Dralion, Cirque du Soleil seems to retain its creative juices, it would soon lose what some have considered the heart of the company. For the first 15 years of the Cirque's existence, Laliberté could count on the guidance and financial acumen of his alter ego, Daniel Gauthier. The two were 50-50 partners in the Cirque until 1999, when Gauthier told his boyhood pal he wanted out. The breakup was traumatic for both men, not to mention the entire Cirque family. "We lived in symbiosis, without even needing to speak to understand each other," Gauthier said, then added: "My decision to put an end to our business partnership comes after a great deal of reflection and lengthy discussions with my partner. My choice was made on strictly personal grounds, and I wish these reasons to remain private."

    The expertise that he developed has earned him a great deal of public recognition during his years as President of Cirque du Soleil. In 1999, the Faculty of Management of McGill University gave him the McGill Management Achievement Award. In addition, the magazine Commerce named him a "Bâtisseur du siècle" (builder of the century). In 1998, he was inducted into the ranks of "Great Montrealers," one of the most prestigious honors awarded by the City of Montreal and the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal. Guy Laliberté had this to say about the announcement: "I respect Daniel's decision and I thank him for all these years of stimulating partnership; his unflagging commitment to the development of Cirque, his passion, his unbridled devotion and the fact that we shared a common vision greatly helped to make the Cirque du Soleil brand known on four continents. With the help of Daniel and the organization's senior managers, I will provide the leadership for this transition and do my utmost to ensure that it is harmonious and efficient, just as our collaboration has always been."

Laliberté admitted to having "bawled" when the partnership was finally dissolved earlier this year. Gauthier's desire to move on didn't just create a management void, it presented Laliberté with the dicey task of raising a mountain of cash to buy out his partner. The Cirque was already a striking success by then, with two permanent Vegas shows, but its staying power had yet to be established. It is unlikely Laliberté, protective of the Cirque's independence, seriously considered taking his creation public or selling a stake to an outside investor. Yet those would have been the easiest ways to come up with the reported $483 million he needed to buy Gauthier's shares. In the end, a syndicate of banks came through.

The announcement comes at a time when the organization had achieved maturity and stability in all respects. Guy Laliberté added, "Cirque du Soleil has always been very adaptable. We are developing a transition plan. I am remaining at the helm of Cirque du Soleil in order to ensure that we do not lose sight of the mission and values of the company that I founded in 1984. The vision I had at the outset remains the same, and our projects under development will always continue to push back the limits of the possible. Our dream goes on." But it was quite a shock and if there was any doubt that Cirque du Soleil was in transition, losing Daniel Gathier removed that doubt. Gauthier's departure also marked the beginning of a transformation of the Cirque's structure from a loose one, not big on job titles, to a more traditional corporate ladder. On December 11, 2000, Laliberté announces the appointment of Mr. Daniel Lamarre to the position of President of the New Ventures business unit of Cirque du Soleil effective January 15, 2001. Lamarre, as you might recall, worked for a rather large public relations firm in Quebec in 1986 and represented Cirque du Soleil for free, knowing the company couldn’t afford his fee.

    Mr. Laliberté said, “Daniel's appointment is a reflection of my desire to expand Cirque du Soleil’s international business activities. For the past 16 years, we have successfully created, produced and operated live shows. I believe that we are ready to take on new challenges by expanding our creative platform to non-live show areas. Daniel's solid track record as a leader will assist me in achieving our ambitious goals.”

    “Today, with this new challenge, I am fulfilling a dream,” declared Mr. Lamarre. “I have always wanted to apply my skills at an international level. With Guy and the management team at Cirque du Soleil, I have the opportunity to bring Cirque’s brand of creativity into new and exciting areas.”

Before joining Laliberté's team, he served as president and CEO of TVA Group, Quebec's largest private television broadcaster, for nearly four years. In addition to his day-to-day management duties, he was also responsible for strategic planning and business development. While holding a seat on the TVA Group board of directors, he also served as an administrator for McDonald's Restaurants of Canada, the Canadian Association of Broadcasters, and the Montreal Heart Institute Research Fund. From 1984 to 1997, Daniel Lamarre worked with National Public Relations, the largest private public relations firm in Canada, first as executive vice-president and senior partner, then as president starting in 1995. He became president and CEO of Burson-Marsteller in 1981, and opened a first Montreal branch for this, the world's largest PR firm. In 1977, he served as public relations director for the cable operator Cogeco. Before that, he was communications director for the Fédération des Caisses Populaires du Centre du Québec.

Initially, Lamarre's mandate was to expand the Cirque's ambit to include the development of Cirque-themed hotels and entertainment complexes, starting with projects in London and Montreal. But when those projects foundered, Lamarre's role evolved into that of a traditional head of operations. He's assisted by the six senior vice-presidents on the Cirque's executive committee, which includes company veterans Robert Blain (who took over as chief financial officer after Gauthier left) and Gilles Ste-Croix, a onetime commune-dwelling hippie and acrobat in the original troupe who now oversees all of the Cirque's creative content. "Gilles is probably the only person in the organization who knows Guy's tastes well enough to replace him [in meetings]" says Lamarre. Little did he realize how far he would go within the company.

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