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On Friday, March 11, 2:45pm Japan Standard Time, a magnitude 9.0 undersea earthquake struck off the coast of Japan. The quake triggered powerful tsunami waves that traveled up to 6 miles inland, leaving catastrophic death and destruction in its wake. Of the extensive and severe structural damage caused by the earthquake and ensuing tsumani, none is perhaps more poignant than the level 7 meltdowns at three reactors in the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant complex near the epicenter. Japan was in crisis, but the spirit of the Japanese people would not be broken. Many attempted to go about their business and reclaim lives before chaos ensued, and the hope was that the country could get back to business as usual.

But that was not meant to be.

Like the proverbial shot heard around the world, shocking news hit the Cirque fandom around Noon on Sunday, July 24th - ZED, Cirque du Soleil's resident show in Tokyo - would cease operations and close at the end of the year. Though it came as no surprise to learn that ticket sales and attendance had plummeted since the 2011 Tokoku earthquake and tsunami, hope sprung eternal that this great show might be spared. But based on a review of the expected results and the long-term viability of the show, it was mutually agreed by both Cirque du Soleil and OLC to indefinitely close the Cirque du Soleil Theater Tokyo and cease performances of ZED.

And it wasn't the only shocker of the year.

On November 24th, MGM Resorts asked Cirque du Soleil to replace VIVA ELVIS at the Aria by the end of 2012, citing poor ticket sales. The move is the first time that the Canadian company, which has come to dominate the big-production showrooms on the Strip, has been asked to shut a show since arriving in Vegas in 1993 with its first permanent show Mystère at Treasure Island. “As attendance levels have not been meeting expectations, we have asked our partners at Cirque du Soleil to replace the show," a company statement said. "We will work closely with Cirque as we explore future entertainment options." The company was in the process of making changes to the show when the plug was pulled.

Despite the setbacks, Cirque du Soleil moved creatively on.

They launched three new shows: ZARKANA, written and directed by acclaimed film and theatre director François Girard began at the legendary Radio City Music Hall in New York City on June 9th; Written and directed by director-choreographer Philippe Decouflé, IRIS created exclusively for the Dolby Theatre at the Hollywood & Highland Center began on July 21st; and Michael Jackson THE IMMORTAL World Tour, written and directed by Jamie King, began its tour in Montreal on October 2nd.

Besides its new shows, the company launched a gift card (applicable towards show tickets); released GAIA, a book presenting stunning photographs of the Earth taken during Laliberté's eleven-day trip orbiting the earth as a private space explorer (with unique views of nearly forty countries); collaborated with Barcelona-based Spanish sportswear brand Desigual (pronounced "dezzy-GWAL") on a 60-piece debut collection of clothing and accessories (including T-shirts, dresses, short-dresses, handbags, totes and jackets) for men, women and children; looked to expand their hospitality offerings in Las Vegas by partnering with The Light Group for a theatrical nightclub project at Mandalay Bay (this would become LIGHT Nightclub); and helped curate a project called SAFEWALLS that brought time-honored circus posters into the 21st century by pairing up with renowned international street artists. Les Chemins Invisibles, of course, continued with "The Kingdom of Tin", its third chapter; and the company made a number of media appearances, such as at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Awards (with VIVA ELVIS - pictures below), the Mashable Awards (with ZUMANITY), the 38th Daytime Emmy Awards (with VIVA ELVIS - picture above right), the San Diego Comic Con (with KA), and even found time to put on a 1 hour creation in Moscow for VTB Bank, one of the largest banks in Russia.

Although Cirque du Soleil's ambitions in Asia were tamped down by year's end, the company still looked toward the continent for its expansion, planning to use ZAIA in Macau as a "springboard" to further its Asian ambitions. "Macau now the way it’s developing is attracting a lot of clientele not only (from) mainland China but now we're seeing more and more people coming from India and other countries and I think it will help establish our brand not only in this neighbourhood but across all of Asia and that’s the plan, that's the strategy," Lamarre said. He said gambling probably accounts for 90 percent of Macau’s activities right now, but expects it to follow the Vegas model where he says gambling has lost its dominance of the city’s attractions and entertainment is huge. "So that's why we're here, to help develop the entertainment business not only in Macau but in all of China," he said. Cirque du Soleil’s immediate goal is to maintain ZAIA as a flagship showcase in Macau, and will have the potential to grow into multiple shows per day. "We hope to have three permanent shows in Macau one day and I see a day where we can have a permanent show in big Chinese cities like Shanghai and Beijing and who knows," Lamarre said. But first Lamarre said the Cirque plans to begin regularly touring key cities in China in the next 18 months with a view to establishing permanent shows within four years and spreading out across Asia. "We've been to Shanghai once, we've never been to Beijing." He intends to follow a similar strategy in India and elsewhere in Asia.

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