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  2016

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MAJOR CHANGES UNDERWAY

Sweeping changes have been made since TPG's takeover of Cirque du Soleil, moving quickly to identify and exploit opportunities that may have been anathema to Cirque’s original managers. The private equity giant replaced nearly all the executive leadership, cleaned up Cirque’s financial practices, and implemented data analytics and discipline where once there was mostly instinct. And, yes, the new team found ways to cut costs. "Cirque needed to make some major changes," says Daniel Lamarre, its CEO since 2006 and one of a few executives who were asked to stay on post-acquisition. "We couldn't continue to do the same thing and hope for different results." The changes have reportedly sparked a great unease internally among managers and among employees who are not fond of the new direction advocated by management. In particular, the replacement of the Chief Operating Officer by corporate lawyer Jonathan Tetrault, who is more adept at finance than entertainment, irks staff who view their work as performance art. But Lamarre seems happy with the changes. "I passed from a regime of a one-man show... to feeling it's a partnership," he says.

Cirque’s management style prior to the sale was unusual. There was no board of directors. The top decision-making group, known as le noyau créatif (the creative nucleus), comprised of Mr. Laliberté, Mr. Lamarre, another Cirque founder, and the senior director of creation. A six-member executive committee oversaw business operations. A group of four prominent Quebec executives, including the heads of Bombardier, the train and aircraft maker, and Power Corporation, one of Canada’s most powerful family-controlled companies, met four times a year to offer advice on running the business. Now? "The Cirque has always been balanced between business and creation, but now everything is focused on business," an anonymous source close to the matter told Radio-Canada.

The company's growth strategy under its new private quity owners centers in part on pushing the expansion of the in-house corporate events and special projects division - 45 DEGREES. Started about 15 years ago as Cirque’s marketing arm, the group was spun out in 2014 as part of the company's effort to recalibrate resources after a dismal financial performance two years earlier. In its infancy, the production house launched and staged private performances for the troupe’s sponsors. When the team created a performance for the Academy Awards in 2002, the business really took off. Soon the phone started ringing constantly. The company now gets about 1,500 requests a year big and small. But more than a profit opporunity, 45 DEGREES is also a kind of incubator where Cirque can try out performers and ideas for its larger shows. As with Cirque’s other subsidiaries, such as multimedia design firm 4U2C, it feeds into and draws from the larger mother ship.

Another piece is jumping into new geographies, including Asia, and leveraging the Cirque brand and talent into money-making opportunities outside the scope of its core arena and touring shows. Cirque is also still intent on expanding in Russia. There’s no doubt business in Russia has been challenging for Cirque du Soleil, but the company is bent on growing its Russian business. Ergo, it finalized a deal for a new $50-million theatre opening Moscow in 2019.

SHOWS AND SPECIAL EVENTS

Via the 45 DEGREES brand, the year kicks off with JOEL (Pronounced "yule"), a show inspired by the traditions of the Russian New Year (January 3rd); then "Journey of a Basketball Dream", a special five-minute opening show for the NBA All-Star Game in Toronto (the first-ever to take place in Canada on February 14th); launched "La Forge aux étoiles", an aquatic and pyrotechnical show for the Futuroscope Theme Park in France (April 9th); Presented VISION, the fourth chapter in the SCALADA story, over in Andorra (July 2nd); Rocked the Amphithéâtre Cogeco in Trois-Rivières (a city located halfway between Montréal and Quebec City) with TOUT ÉCARTILLÉ, the second show in the Hommage Series that pays tribute to Charlebois (July 19th); helped rebrand Stella Artois through "Le Savoir", an unforgetable multi-snsorial culinary journey (August 4th); helped launch Level Kids brand store in Dubai (November 10th), and more.

On the main brand side, we have... Three shows closed: Quidam, after almost 20 years on tour under the big top and in arenas, held its final show in Christchurch, New Zealand (February 26th); BELIEVE, Criss Angel's magic show at the Luxor on the Las Vegas Strip, closes and is replaced by MINDFREAK LIVE (April 17th); and Zarkana, after a tumutuous five years at Radio City Music Hall and at Aria in Las Vegas, holds its final show (November 9th). Two shows opened: OVO makes its debut in arenas (April 8th), and Luzia-A Waking Dream of Mexico opens to much fanfare (April 21st). And a number of shows hit important milestones: La Nouba celebrates its 10 millionth guest (January 8th); JOYA at Vidanta Riviera Maya in Mexico celebrates its 500th performance (June 4th); LOVE is updated to celebrate it's 10th Anniversary (July); and Mystère sees some new additions (a new Teeterboard act and accompanying music.)

IMAGES & MEDIA

Cirque du Soleil released four CDs during the year - TORUK (on January 26th), JOYA (on January 15th), Luzia (on April 15th), and Paramour (on August 26th) - and CDS Images released two filmings of its shows - TORUK (in July) and Luzia (November 17th).

OTHER ENDEAVOURS AND NEWS

Acrobats from two different shows attempted rare and even record-setting feats: First, on March 31st, La Nouba's energetic Trapeze troupe attempted two rarely performed tricks. The first, a Double & 1/2 layout to the legs, is an extremely skillful maneuver that includes a 2 1/2 backward layout with a twist, all performed within seconds before the artist is caught by his/her legs. The second, a Quadruple layout, is a trick that starts like a layout somersault, but the swinger must break extremely hard and then let go for a quadruple somersault in a straight position. It's a maneuver rumored only to be completed less than 20 times in the 150 year history of trapeze. Although the trapeze team did not achieve this amazing feat during the first show of the evening, they nailed both skills during the second show. Then, on September 28th, Luzia's Juggler Rudolf Janecek put his superior eye and hand coordination to the test setting the Guinness World Record for the fastest juggler on the planet. Janecek took on the challenge during a live sanctioned event in the west wing of Toronto’s Union Station. Under the watchful eye of official Guinness World Records adjudicator Andrew Glass, he set the benchmark for the most individual juggling rotations in 30 seconds with five clubs - at 429 rotations!

One Night for One Drop 4, a 90 minute spectacular titled "AMANZI - A Quest for Water", was a huge success in Las Vegas. Cirque and Felix & Paul Studios continued their virtual reality partnership by releasing the 13-minute 3D VR experience "KÀ The Battle Within". And the company took a stand against North Carolina's HB2 legislation that passed by cancelling it's scheduled performances in the state. Last, but certainly not least, on October 3rd, acrobats, aerialists, dancers and fire-stick performers from six Cirque shows were part of one of the biggest episodes ever of ABC-TV’s "Dancing With The Stars". The 11 remaining couples performed big-spectacle dances for a Cirque theme night. Each couple performed a dance inspired by a Cirque show while the amazing Cirque stars perform alongside them.


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