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  2012

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WHEN IS BIG TOO BIG?

Fans have often asked when is big to big with regards to Cirque du Soleil. When will it happen that Cirque du Soleil unhappily realizes, as it explodes to 22 shows across the globe (including an octet on the Strip), a 3D movie in production and contributions to the Super Bowl and the Oscars in a single month, that it has sacrificed its edge? Daniel Lamarre hopes never to find out. “We don’t want to be big. Being bigger is not an objective for us. Being better is an objective for us. We don’t like to be called ‘big,’ we don’t like to be called ‘multinational’ because we don’t feel that way. You have no idea how much we are investing in research and development,” Lamarre says. “I don’t want to wake up one day and hear someone say, ‘Cirque was great in the ’90s and the early 2000s, but now there is this other company doing better.’ The only way to protect ourselves from that is to do what we are doing — to invest in R&D.” The company spends more than $10 million a year on research and development.

Too big or not, the company did have a difficult year. Daniel Lamarre admitted as much sitting with Pat Donnelly of the Montreal Gazette. “[We had two shows in Japan, ZED (at Tokyo Disney), that we had to shut down because of the economy, and Kooza, that had to rest for a month. That was probably the toughest and the most unexpected blow that we had to face. Right now, we are looking to this new show (Amaluna) and to our organization to consolidate the position we are in.” He goes on to say that ticket sales for Amaluna have been brisk, and has cited the aggressive push into new markets. "In the last five years, we've opened another 250 new cities — that's because of our arena shows. For big-top shows, we have to be in a city for at least four weeks; we have to sell about 100,000 tickets. But with an arena show, you can be there for a night or two, sell 30,000 tickets and we're happy. In the U.S., there were about 50 cities we have never been to before we started the arena shows."

Alas, it was the lack of ticket sales that doomed two other shows this year: ZAIA (on Feb 7th) and IRIS (on November 30th, with final shows in January 2013). ZAIA had been on pins and needles for most of its run, but IRIS? Why did it fail? Despite phenomenal reviews and enthusiastic audience response, demand for IRIS had not met projections. Shortly after the IRIS [closing] announcement, it was revealed in the francophone media that there had been 30 layoffs at Cirque headquarters, including three vice-presidents. In La Presse, IRIS losses were estimated at $20 million (plus an initial investment of $45 million, for a total of $65 million). Gilles Ste-Croix had said seasonal layoffs happen every year at Cirque, where many people work on contract, but he didn't deny that the company was going through a period of adjustment. He also admitted to being worried about market saturation. What the Cirque is doing now, he said, is slowing down its pace. "It's a timing situation, where the market is low right now," he said. "So there is less demand. And we have developed a lot. We are covering lots of markets." It's the new ones, in South America and Asia, that are offering hope, he added.

Head of Cirque public relations, Renée-Claude Ménard, said: "We are basically adjusting our operation to reflect our new reality of 2012. Our growth was very rapid in the last five years and production schedules and operations adjusted to that pace. We have now achieved a more normal production pace. So we are reviewing all of our operations over the next months to reflect this new reality."

But 2012 wasn't all doom and gloom, even if we did have to say goodbye to Saltimbanco by year's end. Besides launching yet another successful touring show (the aforementioned Amaluna), Cirque du Soleil partnered with Google for the Chrome Experiment known as Movi.Kanti.Revo, went behind the lens with movie director James Cameron to produce Worlds Away 3D, added a couple of elements from ZED into Mystère, collaborated with pop star Madonna providing artistic direction services for her performance at the Super Bowl XLVI halftime show, created a new joint venture with Bell Media to develop media content for television, film, digital, and gaming platforms, invested in marketing firm Sid Lee, and performed at the 84th Academy Awards ceremony in Hollywood, California.

And, of course, let's not forget ZARKANA's move to Las Vegas. “We are pleased that visitors to Las Vegas will be able to experience the show and feel that Zarkana is a perfect complement to the portfolio of Cirque du Soleil shows on The Strip,” Lamarre said.

Though Cirque has hit a rough patch, there's still plenty to look forward to in 2013, such as: Such as: Dralion, which has been traveling throughout North America since its conversion to the Arena format in 2010, will begin touring the world in 2013, visiting the United Arab Emerates, South Africa, and Venezuela before embarking on a European Arena tour. KOOZA, which recently wrapped up an impromptu 1-year second North American Tour (following a very successful Japanese Tour), will begin its first European Tour in January. Kooza, under the big top, joins Alegría and Michael Jackson THE IMMORTAL World Tour in Arenas (though there are rumblings that THE IMMORTAL will visit Australia and Japan in the next couple of years before returning to North America). By mid-year Quidam will hop the pond and embark on its own tour of European Arenas, while TOTEM and AMALUNA remain in North America and Corteo begins touring South America. And what of Varekai and OVO? They'll be around... but look for Varekai to convert to arena format soon.


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