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In 2009, even the sky wasn't the limit for Guy Laliberté. He blasted into space on a Soyuz rocket after selling a fifth of the Cirque du Soleil to Dubai investors that promised him the world. But the Cirque's midlife crisis has brought its co-founder back to earth with a critical mission: fix the iconic yellow and blue Big Top that he built over 30 years. And it's not a task that Mr. Laliberté, the Roi Soleil as some employees knickname him, is taking lightly. "I am a warrior," he says.

A year ago, Mr. Laliberté discreetly reclaimed half of the 20-per-cent stake in the Cirque du Soleil he had sold to Dubai investors in 2008 after the publicized partnership turned into a mirage. The Cirque du Soleil was to lend its shows and its creative design talent to the two Dubai firms. However, when the financial crisis crushed their global real estate ambitions, the indebted Emirati investors could no longer hold their end of the deal. Expecting accelerated growth, however, the Cirque had beefed up its organization at great expense, Mr. Laliberté explained. That expansion contributed to the Cirque's financial difficulties, which culminated with 400 layoffs last year. The rising Canadian dollar, which swelled production costs, also hit the bottom line, shaving off "at least $50-million in profits per year," he added. The Cirque co-founder concedes his company is to blame. "We should have been more watchful," Mr. Laliberté said.

In 2008, Mr. Laliberté turned his attention to his five kids, his One Drop Foundation, and his widely publicized trip into space, leaving Cirque management in the hands of a team presided by Daniel Lamarre. "I thought I had put in place a solid team that could manage the circus gang without me being there," he said. Laliberté returned in the summer of 2012 after a concerning look at the books. The Cirque wasn't losing any money but profits were falling precipitously. "I realized that if we didn't commit to a serious shift in direction, we would hit a wall," Mr. Laliberté said. "We fell into the trap of thinking we could do all things entertainment-related. In the end, you realize that you don't always have the internal expertise and that people can't deliver on their promise."

But what really hurt the Cirque, according to Mr. Laliberté, were its failed shows, a first in the circus's 30-year history. Some, like the closing of ZED in Tokyo following the 2011 tsunami, were unforeseen. Others were entirely avoidable. The high-priced IRIS show failed to attract thrifty tourists that whisked through the Hollywood district only to take pictures of sidewalk stars. "That failure rests squarely on a poor market study," Mr. Laliberté said. The acclaimed ZARKANA show is losing money because its production costs were underestimated. The Cirque should also be making a killing with Michael Jackson THE IMMORTAL, one of the top-grossing live shows of all times, Mr. Laliberté said, but the show is barely profitable because of its high production costs.

To protect its core circus business, Mr. Laliberté expects the live entertainment company to choose its projects more carefully even if that translates into lower revenues. "It has to make business sense," he said. Growth, however, will come from new initiatives outside of its more traditional Big Top and permanent hotel shows. "There is a limit to the number of circus shows that we can produce and to the number of hotel partners that are rich enough to build theatres for us," Mr. Laliberté said.

Despite its setbacks, the Cirque has big dreams in its latest five-year business plan – Mr. Laliberté has mapped the company's growth that way ever since its creation in 1984. "There are people knocking at the door," he said. And Laliberté's ready to sell between 20 and 30 per cent of his company. "A decision will be made before the end of the year," he added. "I always said I won't be here forever," he said. But Mr. Laliberté won't leave the Cirque's yellow and blue Big Top until it is totally straightened up.

So, where does Cirque go from here? Anywhere it pleases, it seems, and without delay.


At the beginning of the year Cirque du Soleil announces the creation of - Cirque du Soleil Theatrical - with Scott Zeiger, co-founding partner of Base Entertainment - as President and Managing Director of the new division. Zieger's task is to develop unique theatrical opportunities for the Cirque - based on traditional theatrical practices - but created using the Cirque du Soleil signature style and aesthetic. The new division is to be based in New York City and will continue to promote Cirque's on-going strategy of diversifying its content and live-entertainment activities worldwide. Cirque du Soleil Theatrical joins other newly minted divisions within the Cirque, such as: The SANDBOX Hospitality Group, to develop and operate new concepts for clubs, restaurants and hotels (Revolution Lounge, Gold Lounge, and LIGHT); 45 DEGREES, to organize events, galas, and weddings; 4U2C, a partnership between the Cirque and Solotech to rival Montreal-based Moment Factory in the multimedia and video space; OUTBOX Enterprises, it's own ticket office; and, of course, Cirque du Soleil IMAGES, MEDIA, and MUSIQUE.

The company celebrated it's 30th anniversary by launching a new touring show in April - KURIOS-Cabinet de curiosités; released a new book (BACKSTAGE); and held, for the first time in its history, a unique exlusive event celebrating 30 years of its music (LE GRAND CONCERT). In November, Cirque du Soleil and Grupo Vidanta (a leading developer of world-class resorts and tourism infrastructure in Mexico) introduces a new brand of cultural and culinary entertainment to Mexico and Latin America: a brand-new show - JOYÀ. And on December 27th, Mystère celebrated it's 10,000th show. But more than that, Bruce Rickerd, Mystère's guitarist, broke the world record of most theatrical performances by a male musician. In 21 years, he'd never missed a show. It never occurred to the 62-year-old musician to do otherwise. "This is not work for me," he said. Anyone looking for a secret to Rickerd's longevity, including his ability to avoid catching a bug requiring a sick day, or a routine that was a motivational key, won't get one. There's no secret, no routine. How does he do it then? "It's very simple. You show up," he said.


Via 45 DEGREES, Cirque du Soleil commemorated all things The Beatles. First, on February 9th, the Cirque commemorated "The Night That Changed America": twenty-seven dancers and acrobats delivered a captivating performance to a unique rendition of "Here Comes the Sun" sung by Pharrell Williams and Brad Paisley and contributed to a very special finale alongside the likes of Sir Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and many notable others. The performance was broadcast exactly 50 years to the day, date, and time of the Beatles' memorable first appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show".

Then, in August, helped Southwest Airlines commemorate the 50th Anniversary of The Beatles' historic Las Vegas arrival in 1964. In celebration of the band's first and only visit, cast members from LOVE took the same route the Fab Four did 50 years ago by taking a Southwest flight from San Francisco to Las Vegas while travelers arriving from all over the globe were treated to surprise performances from the critically acclaimed show inside McCarran Airport Terminal 1 baggage claim. Earlier in the day cast members surprised guests at San Francisco International Airport with a special performance prior to boarding a Southwest flight to Las Vegas. During the flight, passengers were treated to in-flight giveaways as they posed for photos with the cast. The celebration continued at McCarran International Airport's baggage claim as travelers were greeted with pop-up performances by the "Love"cast. The performances featured a special arrangement of three of The Beatles' biggest hits including "Get Back," "Drive My Car" and "Sgt. Pepper," with "Love" performers dancing on top of the carousels and acrobats flipping on trampolines as a vintage 1960s Volkswagen Beetle was driven through baggage claim.

And lastly, the company attended the "Life is Beautiful" festival whereby on the closing afternoon of the festival's three-day celebration of music, food, art and learning, artists from The Beatles LOVE and members of The Las Vegas Philharmonic came together in a one-of-a-kind showcase of artistic creativity and expression.

The Special Events team also performed at South by Southwest's Inaugural Gaming Awards Ceremony; visited the NASDAQ Market and rang the closing bell; continued to tell the epic story of KA through comics at New York Comic-Con; continued the SCALADA series with "Mater Natura"; put on the second-annual One Night for One Drop at the MJ One Theater, titled "One Thought, One World"; partnered with ETH Zurich and Verity studios to develop a short film featuring 10 quad- compters in a flying dance performance (SPARKED), collaborated with Felix & Paul Studios for a Virtual Reality experience based on ZARKANA; and marked the 150th anniversary of the Compañía Minera Santa Maria de la Paz in the town of Villa de la Paz, San Luis Potosi, Mexico with a special performance.

And the company also helped Glade demonstrate how its fragrances can incite emotion, spark the imagination, and arouse the senses. Beginning with an immersive, multi-sensory experience on Wednesday, October 22nd, Cirque du Soleil transformed Madison Square Park in New York City into a dreamland. Animators and acrobats altered the park landscape as various scents fill the air. Inspired by Glade fragrances Pumpkin Pie Diner, Apple Cinnamon, Red Honeysuckle Nectar, Cashmere Woods and Clean Linen, the visual animation will shift as each scent elicits a different emotion and artistic expression. { See Pics! }


But it's these two next announcements that really got fan's attention.

First, a partnership agreement with Academy Award-winning filmmaker James Cameron to develop an arena-touring show inspired by the world of AVATAR. This "live experience", announced during the international business Commerce + Creativity Conference in Montreal (C2MTL), is slated to debut sometime late 2015, featuring the creative signature drive of Cirque du Soleil in association with Cameron's and Jon Landau's Lightstorm Entertainment. Although nobody knows what we're in store for, the show is expected to debut before the first of four upcoming AVATAR sequels.

And then an announcement that plans were underway to construct and operate a first-of-its-kind immersive THEME PARK experience in Nuevo Vallarta. The entertainment experience was to include water park and nature park elements and would feature an outdoor evening show accommodating as many as 3,000 to 5,000 spectators. Each experience within the entertainment park would be animated by Cirque du Soleil artists and follow a common storyline. The entertainment park would create thousands of new jobs in the Mexican state of Nayarit and was imagined to encourage tourism visitation to the region. Construction was expected to be complete by 2018 but was delayed many times. By April 2018 it was clear that the park as originally envisioned would not be completed, and Cirque du Soleil would not become the dominant intellectual property on display within whatever got completed.

Cirque du Soleil is back on stride... or is it?

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