Source: Cirque du Soleil
Odyssea – The dreamer’s odyssey
The History of Cirque du Soleil in their own words.
The Cirque du Soleil story is about a group of young people who wanted nothing more than the freedom to dream a dream. Beginning with a street kid from Montreal called Guy Laliberté, it’s the tale of individuals who have come forward at special moments in time to move that dream forward, and share it with the world.
1979 – 1980: The inspiration
In the late 1970s, Guy Laliberté attends a concert by Zachary Richard, a musician from New Orleans. The show inspires him to organize a school trip to the city, which proves to be a big success. It’s the first time he experiences bringing a group of people together for travel and entertainment, and it sets the teenager on his life path.
Chance encounters occur that will galvanize the still unformulated dreams of the people who are to found Cirque du Soleil.
It is a time of creative ferment and great energy in Quebec that is gathering momentum.
1980 – 1981: Artists gather in Baie-Saint-Paul
Guy Laliberté, barely 20, burns with a desire to entertain and travel. He leaves Montreal for the artist colony of Baie Saint-Paul where he comes together with a group of young street performers who have pooled their talent and dreams and founded “Les Échassiers de Baie-Saint-Paul” (the Baie-Saint-Paul Stiltwalkers).
The stiltwalkers’ group also features fire-eaters, jugglers and other buskers. The group includes Gilles Ste-Croix, who will later become Artistic Director of Cirque until the production of Dralion.
Riding the crest of the Quebec street entertainer movement-on a roll since the mid-70s-a group of young stilt-walkers, fire-eaters and assorted mountebanks is born.
They are loud, eccentric, brash, impossible to avoid.
1981 – 1982: An idea takes form
In 1982, Guy Laliberté and Gilles Ste-Croix create another association to support their work with the Échassiers de Baie-Saint-Paul: “Le Club des Talons Hauts,” or the High-Heels Club. Through the Club, they decide to organize a street performer’s festival, La Fête Foraine de Baie-Saint-Paul. Keeping a neglected tradition alive, they walk on stilts, juggle, and breathe fire to the crowd’s obvious delight.
This talented group of young Quebec street entertainers has come together under a lucky star. Although a full two years pass before Cirque du Soleil as we know it today is created, its founders say that it was at that mystic moment in Baie Saint-Paul in 1982 that Cirque du Soleil was conceived.
The aurora borealis hits Baie Saint-Paul on the first day of La Fête Foraine. The sun has set but the sky is streaked with waves of otherworldly light. Green and silver refractions chase each other across the dome of the
sky throughout the performance.
1983 – 1984: Cirque du Soleil is born.
In 1984, with the financial assistance of the Quebec government, Cirque du Soleil is officially formed by Guy Laliberté as part of the celebrations surrounding the 450th anniversary of Jacques Cartier’s arrival in Canada. Guy is inspired to choose the name by the sun itself, a symbol of youth, energy, power and light.
His goal to bring together creative talent to delight new audiences in new locations takes a bold step forward.Cirque becomes a multicultural gathering point, with performers from Quebec, Belgium, Switzerland and Argentina.
The crazy dreams of a two friends begin to take wing. And maybe those dreams aren’t so crazy after all. Maybe this idea about a different kind of circus is something that audiences will respond to. Maybe it will flourish. Sometimes you just have to trust to fate and follow where your dreams lead you…
Youth, boldness, instinct, vision and a certain zany talent are their stock in trade.
1985 – 1986: Inspiration from abroad.
In 1985, Cirque welcomes Guy Caron as Artistic Director. Guy has toured the world and discovered new trends in live entertainment of all kinds.Cirque experiences a burning desire to return to the circus tradition the esteem and quality it knew at the beginning of the century.
Guy Caron brings in Franco Dragone to teach Cirque artists commedia dell’arte. Inspired by the best of what is happening internationally, Cirque creates a new theatricality and adopts a vision whereby rules exist only to be broken.Cirque also performs La Magie Continue at the 1986 universal exposition in Vancouver
Guy Caron scours Europe and Asia to cast We Reinvent the Circus. He is looking for new ways of doing things. The mandate is clear: to produce a European-style professional show anchored in acrobatics, with original music and without animals.
From the Chinese we learned about perfecting the blend of presentation, music and choreography–about grace and beauty, gestures and smiles. We drew upon an Impressionistic sensibility, took everything that had existed in the past, and pulled it into today.
1987: Cirque decides to make it or break it in L.A.
After years of honing its craft across Québec and in cities throughout Canada, Cirque du Soleil mounts We Reinvent the Circus. In 1987, Cirque takes the biggest risk in its history by agreeing to perform at the Los Angeles Festival, without the funds necessary for a return trip.
Its future will depend entirely on being successful in the U.S. market. The gamble pays off. The show is performed in Los Angeles, San Diego and Santa Monica to rave reviews. It then successfully tours the U.S. for two years.
Franco Dragoné is now taking on increasing influence directing all major Cirque productions from Nouvelle Expérience to La Nouba.
Cirque du Soleil leaves its home province for the first time in 1985 to take its show to neighbouring Ontario. In 1986, Cirque du Soleil visits eight more cities across Canada, including Vancouver, and holds performances at Expo ’86.
“Cirque du Soleil comes to us from Montreal, but surely via the moon or Mars.”-S.D., Los Angeles Times
1988 – 1990: Nouvelle Experience:a new level of theatricality
Buoyed by its growing success, Cirque du Soleil begins attracting artists from around the world, particularly Russians whose proud circus and acrobatic tradition makes a valuable contribution. Cirque mounts Nouvelle Expérience, its most successful show yet.
Franco Dragoné becomes Director, pushing Cirque’s theatricality to new limits. His impact is enormous: Franco’s theatrical vision will inform Cirque’s approach for years to come. Key to Franco’s indelible stamp will be his successful creative association with set designer Michel Crête and, later, costume designer Dominique Lemieux. They will work together on every show until “O,” after which new creators will take up the challenge.
Suddenly it begins to happen. The show, like a reluctant spirit hounded by a posse of mediums, slowly reveals itself. An organic resonance emerges: each act finds its place, a succession of moments as fleeting as they are eternal.
Long before the house lights go down and the excitement begins to build under the Grand Chapiteau, designers and craftspeople have put in months of work behind the scenes to create the perfect costumes and makeup to bring life to a cast of characters.
1990 – 1992: The magic continues: Saltimbanco and more
In the year 1992 alone, Cirque encounters success in Japan with a show called Fascination and kicks off a 12-month engagement in Las Vegas with Nouvelle Expérience at The Mirage Hotel. Then it introduces a new show in Montreal: Saltimbanco. Today, the show is still playing to audiences around the world.As Cirque grows, it benefits from a greater number of artists, performers and creators who bring their own spark to the creative fire.
Saltimbanco is a celebration of life. Designed as an antidote to the violence and despair of the 20th century, this phantasmagoric show offers an alternative view of the urban environment brimming with optimism and joy.
“It is a circus, but then again it’s not. Unquestionably, Cirque du Soleil Nouvelle Expérience is a visual and audio mind-twister bent on stir-frying your senses into a frenzy.” -Las Vegas Sun
1992 – 1994: Mystère changes Las Vegas
Having seen Cirque in action, the president of Mirage Resorts in Las Vegas, Steve Wynn, makes an offer: why not bring Cirque du Soleil to a permanent installation in Las Vegas? Cirque responds to the challenge of staging a show outside of the traditional big top, and resolves, in its own words, to “plant a flower in the desert.”
In 1994, Mystère premieres at the Treasure Island hotel in Las Vegas, setting a new standard and changing the way live entertainment is presented in Las Vegas. Cirque du Soleil celebrates it 10th anniversary by staging Alegría, which premieres in Montreal.
Mystère’s message is universal because movement, music and humor are universal. Mystère is so richly diverse that it can be experienced over and over again, every performance revealing something new and extraordinary.
Be obnoxious. Be stupid. Be sweet. Be nasty. Be masculine, feminine, androgynous. Be amazing.
1994 – 1997: New home, new media
Cirque du Soleil now has four shows running: Saltimbanco, Mystère, Alegría, and its newest show, Quidam. Cirque decides that its artists must have a single home in which to gather, create, rehearse, and dream. The Studio, its new International Headquarters in Montreal, is born.
All of the shows will be created and produced in the new facility.The year 1997 sees the birth of a multimedia division, Cirque du Soleil Images, and the release of its first feature film: Alegría.
It’s done The move, carried out over three weekends, goes very smoothly, and all employees are now ensconced in the new Studio. A few last-minute adjustments and everyone is able to get down to work.
As its repertoire grows and it moves into new and bigger premises, Cirque’s plans become even more ambitious and audiences flock to the Grand Chapiteaus in ever-greater numbers.
1997 – 1999: New Benchmarks
Inspired by the success of Mystère, Steve Wynn, the president of Mirage Resorts, invites Cirque to Las Vegas to mount “O” in a specially constructed theatre at the Bellagio Resort. “O” sets a new benchmark for excellence in theatrical entertainment everywhere.After almost 10 years of discussion, Cirque du Soleil finally teams with Disney to present La Nouba in Orlando.
The agreement occurs after direct intervention from Michael Eisner, chairman and CEO of Disney, who concedes to Cirque’s long-maintained insistence that it retain creative control. Moreover, a custom-made theatre is built for Cirque’s unique requirements.
Quidam tours North America in 1997, while Saltimbanco ends its two-year European tour at London’s Royal Albert Hall and Alegría kicks off its own tour of Europe. Saltimbanco tours Asia and the Pacific in 1999, while Quidam embarks on a four-year European tour. Starting with Dralion in 1999, new creators like Stéphane Roy and François Barbeau pave the way for Cirque’s continued success.
Cirque’s performances are a unique balance of physical strength, art and beauty.
Audacity is deeply ingrained in Cirque’s culture. With Gilles’ historic stiltwalkathon from Baie-Saint-Paul to Quebec City, Guy Caron’s artistic instincts, and Guy Laliberté’s go-for-broke gambling spirit, it’s been there from the beginning. It’s stitched into the very fabric of the Grand Chapiteau.
1999 – ?: The dawn of a new era.
Cirque also begins looking beyond live entertainment for new means to share their which wonder, joy and creativity. The team produces Cirque du Soleil Presents Quidam for television, and the IMAX film Journey of Man. Guy Laliberté declares 2001 the beginning of “Cirque du Soleil, Volume 2.”
In 2002, Varekai, directed by Dominic Champagne in collaboration with twelve other talented creators, begins its journey. Since its origins, Cirque has been an unique meeting space for more than 50 creators with big dreams.
Cirque du Soleil wows its largest audience ever when it presents a one-of-a-kind act at the 74th Annual Academy Awards® in 2002.
In 2003, the television documentary series “Cirque du Soleil Fire Within,” an intimate and revealing inside look at the making of a Cirque show, wins an Emmy award plus two Gemini awards. While Quidam tours Japan in 2003, the adults-only show ZUMANITY premieres at the New York-New York Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, and Cirque du Soleil Images completes “Solstrom,” a family-oriented TV series that merges acrobatic acts with dramatic comedy.
As the future approaches, Cirque prepares to embark on new projects and connect with new audiences everywhere. Dreams never die. Come along as they take on new forms with us
Final words from Guy Laliberté, Founder of Cirque du Soleil
So long as we keep our sense of excitement at discovering new paths, we’ll never lose our determination to share that excitement with every audience, at every performance
Today, we have our place in the sun and a roof over our heads, but once upon a time the street was our home. I would say we took a little dusty carpet and shook it out pretty well We’ve shown the world that under the dust, something exceptional is coming out of contemporary circus. My mission has not yet been accomplished. I still have a lot of entertaining to do.
For more information about Cirque du Soleil, their shows, their TV productions, their Music, their DVDs and more, check out my Cirque du Soleil Primer article and subsequent articles.
Cirque du Soleil Articles in this Series
- Main Cirque du Soleil Primer Article
- Cirque du Soleil – Historic Time-Line 1984 to Present
- The Cirque du Soleil Story – Odyssea – The dreamer’s Odyssey
- Cirque du Soleil Show Names and their Meanings
- Cirque du Soleil Touring Shows (Complete List)
- Cirque du Soleil Resident Shows (Complete List)
- Cirque du Soleil Arena Shows (Complete List)
- Cirque du Soleil Special Events & Performances
- Cirque du Soleil Releases for TV and IMAX
- Cirque du Soleil Documentaries (Complete List)
- Cirque du Soleil DVD Releases (Complete List)
- Cirque du Soleil Music Releases (Complete List)
- Cirque du Soleil File Archive (Videos, Audio and Images)