With the plethora of show announcements steaming full speed ahead in 2007 - a show at Madison Square Garden
(“Wintuk”), a rumor about a show in Shanghai (which didn’t pan out), Cirque du Soleil pulling out of the Jackie
Gleason Theater deal in Miami (which might have seen a South-Beach version of Zumanity installed), announcing
Cirque in Dubai (which has also failed to pan out), preparing to partner with Criss Angel in an attempt to re-invent
the magic show (“BELIEVE”) and launching a new touring show (“Koozå”) – it’s little wonder that the Cirque fandom
was blindsided by the announcement that Cirque would open a new, $100 million production at the Kodak Theatre
in Hollywood in 2010.
The unnamed show would focus on Hollywood’s role in the history of film, the release
announced. Seventy-five performers will put on the show 368 times a year as part of a 10-year agreement
between Cirque du Soleil and the CIM Group, which owns the Hollywood & Highland Center where the Kodak Theatre
is located. The $100 million project includes modifications to the showroom’s configuration costing about $60
million, and a production featuring 75 artists. The show would be directed by France’s Philippe Decouflé, who
directed the Albertville Olympic Games opening and closing ceremonies in 1992.
After the initial announcement regarding the show concept, information became lost in the shuffle of the debuts
of CRISS ANGEL BELIEVE at the Luxor in Las Vegas, ZAIA at the Venetian in Macao, China, and ZED at Tokyo Disneyland
in Japan. That is until news of a delay began to circulate in early 2009 (pushing the show from its originally
announced 2010 premiere into 2011). The reason for the delay was not widely known until a June 29, 2009 article
in the Los Angeles Business Journal shed some light on the matter:
The Los Angeles city government is stepping in to help save plans for a reconstruction of the Kodak Theatre
so the home of the Oscars can accommodate Cirque du Soleil's 10-year Hollywood-themed show. L.A. developer CIM
Group, which co-owns and operates the Kodak at Hollywood & Highland, is seeking a $30 million loan from the city
to replace a private financing deal that collapsed in the capital market meltdown.
Under the deal, the city essentially would borrow $30 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban
Development and then loan that money to CIM for the project. It carries some risk to the city. If the Cirque
show tanks or otherwise is unable to pay, then CIM is obligated to pay. But if it can't, the city would lose
up to $30 million of HUD money.
Already, design changes have forced a delay of at least nine months in the project's opening, pushing it back
to summer 2011 from the September 2010 opening date originally announced. The major change has involved fitting
an on-site training center for Cirque performers into the existing complex.
A month later the loan situation would be resolved. A five-member committee of the Los Angeles City Council
voted to move ahead with the $30 million loan to bring a decade of Cirque du Soleil performances to the Kodak
Theater in Hollywood. The council’s Housing, Community and Economic Development Committee unanimously forwarded
the loan proposal to the full council for a vote, saying the deal would boost the economy by drawing tourists to
the Hollywood & Highland shopping mall, where the theater is located. Under the proposed loan agreement,
TheatreDreams LA/CHI (a joint venture with CIM/H&H Retail, LP, which operates the Kodak Theater and the Legendary
Chicago Theater) would promise to create no fewer than 858 jobs and stage the acrobatic show 368 times per year.
Is This a Good Idea?
With the loan situation behind Cirque and its partners, attention began to turn toward the question of bringing
the company to Los Angeles in the first place. Considering that Cirque celebrated its 25th Anniversary in June 2009
and had plans to open VIVA ELVIS in Las Vegas by the end of that year, the LA Times pondered, “Hasn’t everyone seen
at least one Cirque du Soleil show by now?”
It doesn't matter, says James Hadley, senior artistic director for Cirque's North American shows. "Our biggest
challenge is not about diluting the brand," Hadley said as he stood in the shade watching his performers go onstage
at the Grove. "It's letting people know each show is different. People see Cirque du Soleil once and think,
'Well, I can cross that off my list.' One of the reasons we came to the Grove is to show how different each show
is." On Sunday afternoon, performers from each of the six Vegas shows performed an excerpt from their shows.
The Kodak Theatre show would be new and centered on a history of the movies -- as befits the Hollywood location.
And referring to the legendary story of Laliberté's gamble on Los Angeles in 1987, he said, "now to come back to
Los Angeles is just a wonderful way to complete the circle."
On September 22, 2010, Cirque du Soleil officially announced IRIS to the world, a year later performances
would begin and the show was up and running.
That's a Wrap?
The show got off to a great start; however, by the time IRIS was celebrating its second anniversary, ripples of
change were abound. Not only did the theater change hands (from Kodak to Dolby), but as early as summer 2012
(and unbeknownst to most) Hand Balancing and Hand-to-Hand acts had been cut from the show and the intermission
removed. Other remaining acts were shortened so the run-time matched other resident productions: 90 minutes.
Commercials were run and tickets pushed, but it wasn’t working. And then shocking and sad news reached the fandom
on the evening of November 30, 2012 – due to low ticket sales IRIS would have its final performance on Saturday,
January 19, 2013. From IRIS’s Facebook page (where the news first broke):
After close to 500 well-received shows at the world renowned Dolby Theatre, the last performance of IRIS by
Cirque du Soleil will be January 19, 2013. Despite phenomenal reviews and enthusiastic audience response, demand
has not met projections. We have been honored to work with both the City of Los Angeles and the CIM Group to
launch IRIS at this iconic location. It has been a joy to stage IRIS in the beautiful state-of-the-art Dolby
Theatre and we appreciate the wonderful relationships we have built in Los Angeles. For the time being, we will
redeploy as many as our artists and employees to other Cirque du Soleil projects. Performances of IRIS from 20
January through 26 January have been canceled. Any customer who has purchased tickets for these performances,
please return to your point of sale for a refund or exchange into another performance.
Indeed the LA Times asked in the wake of the shocking news: why did the show fail? Their answer: IRIS just
failed to ignite the passions and imagination of the Los Angeles populace.
Despite promises that “Iris” would run for 10 years, the consensus is that the show never captured the
public’s imagination, confounded by a low level of excitement in Los Angeles and high ticket prices, which
rose to as much as $253 for certain VIP packages. “It didn’t capture the fancy of Angelenos like ‘Wicked’ or
‘The Lion King,’ which became must-see events,” said Leron Gubler, president of the Hollywood Chamber of
Commerce. “I did not hear a lot of people say you have to see ‘Iris.’”
Danny Elfman, who composed the music for “Iris,” said in an interview that he had expected the show to
run “at least to the summer,” after which Cirque would make a decision whether or not to continue. “Everyone
knew that the attendance was not up,” Elfman said. The Oscar-nominated composer, who lives in Los Angeles,
said he was extremely happy with the show from an artistic point of view, but said that he was disappointed
by the lack of general public awareness. “After a year of advertising, the fact that most people I ran in
to had no knowledge of it being there says it all. It wasn’t able to get into the general consciousness,”
Cirque officials declined requests for comment. They also declined to provide box-office figures. At
one point the top ticket price of $253 was a record high in Los Angeles. Company officials said that they
expected Southern California residents to drive attendance in the first two years of the shows run, and
that then tourist interest would pick up, according to Gubler. But that obviously has not happened. Michael
Ritchie, the head of Center Theatre Group, said that tourists who come to L.A. don’t usually put theater-going
on their itineraries.
It is unfortunate that IRIS did not have the opportunity to work out the kinks in its cog and mature into
one of the Cirque’s classic productions. But in amongst the uncertainty, the cast kept their head up:
celebrating their 500th performance on December 9, 2012 in style. Will IRIS surface again in the future?
Only time will tell. All that we know is that artists who did wish to continue their careers with Cirque
du Soleil were offered all available spaces in other productions, and those who didn’t lined up new