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Cirque du Soleil has been quite popular through the years, but this year would see the company's popularity sour through the roof. At the beginning of the year, Cirque du Soleil and the milk industry came together for an innovative Got Milk campaign. Featuring two of the Mongolian contortionists from "O", the milk industry gives Cirque the milky moustache! ("Try this at home," the caption reads. "*We mean the drinking milk part. Lowfat milk helps prevent osteoporosis and keeps your bones supple.") And then Cirque du Soleil wows its largest audience ever when it presents a one-of-a-kind performance at the 74th Annual Academy Awards held on March 24th at Grumman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood, California. The reaction is electrifying, breaking records at Cirque du Soleil's website and catapulting the company to new heights. How much you might ask? The Oscars were watched by 41 million people. Based on audited circulation figures and Nielsens, Cirque du Soleil reached an additional 81 million people through print and electronic news media placements (that's 25,210,382 electronic impressions and 55,674,930 print impressions, and that didn't include the press at large.

A month later, Varekai, by first-time Cirque director Dominic Champagne in collaboration with twelve other talented creators, began its incredible journey across North America. It would be Cirque's first new traveling show in three years. And another show to debut in a newer, bigger big top - the largest covered performance space yet. "It is higher, wider, more spacious and it seats about 100 more people than the old one," troupe publicist Chantal Blanchard said. The air-conditioned tent is 19 metres high and 51 metres in diameter. It can accommodate more than 2,600 people in seats that now boast more comfortable backrests. A new configuration means cleaner sight lines and fewer obstructed views. During the creation process a film crew shot a reality-TV series about some of the show's performers and their struggles during its development. The series - Fire Within - would air the following year on BRAVO in the United States and CBC in Canada. In June, Alegría returned to North American soil for a two-year long run in select cities across Canada, the United States and, for the first time in history, Mexico (joining Dralion). Alegría is later joined in the US by Quidam, while Saltimbanco continued playing to audiences throughout Europe.

In October, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II visited Canada as part of the year-long celebration of her 50 years on the throne, and was treated to a royal performance - "The Golden Jubilee Gala" - showcasing artists who are considered some of Canada's foremost cultural ambassadors. Among them were ballet dancers, opera singers, Quebec pop-stars, Jazz pianist Oscar Peterson, rock band The Tragically Hip and of course, Cirque du Soleil. The Gala was held at Toronto's Roy Thompson Hall, home to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and featuring a large, multi-tiered, in-the-round seating auditorium which provided a perfect setting for a Cirque performance. The hall was filled with dignitaries, politicians, and other elite dressed to the nines for this invitation-only black tie soirée. Fortunately, for those of us not lucky enough to have been invited, the gala was broadcast live on the CBC.

After a duet sung by two opera singers the stage lights dim, ominous music starts to play and a swath of red silk falls from the rafters to the stage. The lights come up to reveal Quidam's aerial contortionist, Isabelle Vaudelle suspended high over the stage wrapped in the band of silk. Cirque singer Richard Price starts singing the first strains of the live version of "Let Me Fall". Throughout the evocative performance, the camera zooms in to provide beautiful close-ups of both Isabelle and Richard as they perform passionately. Isabelle writhes and contorts during the performance which, for those who have never seen the original version, is entirely different than Isabelle Chassé's version presented in the Quidam Live in Amsterdam television special. At the end of this emotionally-charged performance, Isabelle looks tentatively at a noose she fashioned from the silk and hangs herself forming a powerful image. She then struggles back to life and slides down the length of the crimson fabric ending a starkly beautiful performance.

And by year's end, another resident show for Las Vegas was announced, something a little more risqué - Zumanity, another side of Cirque du Soleil.

Using CirqueClub as an outreach portal, Cirque du Soleil created a number of screen backgrounds from the various pages of its Spectaculara section and from some of the teaser posters for Zumanity. Although these backgrounds have been replaced with newer, higher resolution images, once we found them in our archives we couldn't help pulling them out and putting them up.

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