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.
It's a feeling that Cirque Éloize, which entered a strategic partnership with Cirque
du Soleil back in 2010, most certainly felt. On March 10th the two companies parted
ways. "This partnership no longer fits the business strategy of Cirque du Soleil," said
Renée-Claude Ménard, company spkesperson. "We are no longer in the diversification of
our business, it no longer matches our business reality. We want to focus on our own
shows and not be distracted in other companies." Cirque du Soleil helped Éloize in
organizing international tours, marketing and promotion.
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 aforementioned 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 -
the performance took the audience on a tribute to basketball — the game, the dream,
its heroes and the culture); turned the world-renowned Bal en Blanc EDM festival into a
benefit event to help make safe water available to all (five Cirque acts perfored
during the Sultan+Shepard set); launched
"La Forge aux étoiles", an
aquatic and pyrotechnical show for the Futuroscope Theme Park in France (April 9th); and
along with Swarovski, gave Fashion Business students at l’École des Sciences de la
Gestion de l’Université du Québec à Montréal (ESG UQAM), the opportunity to reimagine
Swarovski crystal-embellished costumes that have previously appeared in some Cirque
shows (April 19th).
After a brief break, the special events team 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); dazzled guests
at the the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal's (MAC) ball (September 17th); took over
With the Stars" for a night (October 3rd); and helped launch LEVEL KIDS brand store
in Dubai, with a concept inspired by the multi-level boutique's themes (November 10th).
Perhaps one of the most unique experiences that 45 DEGREES took part in was helping
rebrand Stella Artois through "Le Savoir", an unforgettable, multi-sensorial culinary
journey, a dining experience like none other that challenges all the body's senses to
see, touch, taste and celebrate a culinary spectacle that uses time as a metaphor
and Stella Artois as the muse. Within a forgotten garden in the heart of the city,
guests in Montreal (and later New York City and Buenos Aires), are transported through
the four seasons — winter, spring, summer, autumn — to explore frigid tunnels and
luxuriant labyrinth while discovering edible curiosities paired with and inspired by
the tasting notes in a Stella Artois. The highlight of your multi-sensorial quest;
you will find yourself immersed in a forgotten greenhouse for a feast from Bompas &
Parr designed to enhance each of your five senses. Sight. Sound. Taste. Touch. Aroma.
The mad scientists of the food world bring their unique wizardry to an immersive
dining experience. Inspired by the tasting notes in a Stella Artois — refreshing and
iconic savory Saaz hops, unique fruity yeast, sweet malty cereals — your senses will
be indulged and awakened by interactive canapés, deconstructed elixirs, unusually
prepared meats, and more in this feast you'll not soon forget.
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); Mystère
sees some new additions (a new Teeterboard act and accompanying music); and
LOVE represents Cirque du Soleil at
this year's Royal Variety Performance gala, with a rousing rendition of the "My Guitar
Gently Weeps" scene.
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. However, the company did have to cancel 40 performances of "BLÜM" for the
Horitcultural Expo 2016 in Antalya, Turkey , which had been scheduled from August 16th
through September 17th. "We were not able to ensure the safety of our employees
to our satisfaction." – Marie-Hélène Lagacé, Senior Public Relations Manager said.
A total of 70 people were involved in the show. But Cirque and Felix & Paul Studios
continued their virtual reality partnership
by releasing the 13-minute 3D VR experience "KÀ The Battle Within". Four new CDs were
released during the year - TORUK (on
January 26th), JOYA (on January 15th),
Luzia (on April 15th), and
Paramour (on August 26th). Two new
DVDs were released too - TORUK (in
July) and Luzia (November 17th).
And rounding out the news for the year, Cirque du Soleil took a stand against
North Carolina's HB2 legislation that passed by cancelling its scheduled performances
in the state. "Cirque du Soleil strongly believes in diversity and equality for every
individual and is opposed to discrimination in any form," the company said in an
announcement. "The new HB2 legislation passed in North Carolina is an important
regression to ensuring human rights for all. We therefore choose to cancel our
scheduled performances [in the state]. Cirque du Soleil believes in equality for all.
It is a principle that guides us with both our employees and our customers. We behave
as change agents to reach our ultimate goal of making a better world with our actions
and our productions. We sincerely hope that the customers that have purchased tickets
for our performances in North Carolina will understand our motivation and we look
forward to performing in North Carolina when this issue is addressed." Cirque du
Soleil would continue touring in North Carolina in 2017, when part of the law was
SPOTLIGHT — CIRQUE SLOT MACHINES
On September 28, 2015, Scientific Games announced a new partnership with Cirque
du Soleil at the Global Gaming Expo ("G2E") with the first featured production: KOOZA.
The experience is an eye-catching, bonus-rich slot game that combines Scientific Games'
Pro Wave 360° slot configuration with the acrobatic adrenaline rush of KOOZA.
The slot game transports players into the extraordinary world
of KOOZA, an electrifying and exotic visual world full of surprises, thrills, chills,
courage, and total sensory immersion. Featuring a four-level jackpot along with engaging
bonus events, a U-Spin wheel bonus feature, two free games features, a mystery stack
feature and an instant win, the Cirque du Soleil gaming experience delivers an
unparalleled entertainment experience that thrills players like they are part of
the show's live audience. KOOZA is rich in surprises, with bonus events, beautiful
graphics, high-definition show video, breathtaking music, and a special in-game
appearance by The Trickster himself! The main attraction on the 360° wheel is
a shared player experience wheel bonus that awards credits, jackpots, the Trickster
free games, and the exciting Wheel of Death free games. Featuring a potentially
life-altering "Très Magnifique" top progressive award that starts at $400,000 and
increases with play across the linked games, the new Cirque du Soleil-inspired
title joins the library of Bally brand premium games on the Cash Connection wide-area
progressive link. The game is also available as a near-area progressive.
"We are honored to partner with Cirque du Soleil to bring our customers and their
players such an entertaining and high-quality gaming experience," said Derik Mooberry,
Scientific Games' Chief Executive. "The artistic and imaginative
entertainment of Cirque du Soleil combined with our engaging gameplay in our
beautifully rendered Pro Wave 360° package truly delivers an experience unlike
any other. More than 160 million people have seen a Cirque du Soleil show either on
the Las Vegas Strip or closer to home through one of many traveling Cirque du Soleil
performances across the globe."
Marie-Josée Couture, Licensing for Cirque du Soleil, said, "As we do with all our
projects, we approached the partnership as a unique creative challenge. Our initial
objective was to imagine a new type of gaming experience. A great collaboration was
born between Scientific Games and Cirque du Soleil, each expert in their field, and
the result is the creation of a transformed gaming experience filled with interactions
between the [our] characters and the players."
Scientific Games would also go on to release a similar game based on AMALUNA in 2018,
and developed - but not release - a game based on TOTEM. No further Cirque-themed games
have since been produced.