“The Book of JOYÀ – Bringing Cirque to Mexico”

“If I were to tell you the story of my relationship with my grandfather it would be difficult to separate reality from fiction. For a child, is there really a difference?” – JOYÀ

Behind the veil of the lush Mayan jungle exists a world of crystal-clear water pools, coral rocks, and rich flora and fauna – an oasis within an oasis. A wooden walkway leads to a theater perched above a massive lagoon cascading in a majestic waterfall. This is the world of JOYÀ – a unique entertainment and culinary experience by Cirque du Soleil.

Inspired by the fabulous migratory journey of the monarch butterfly in which life is passed from one generation to the next to ensure the survival of the species, JOYÀ (Hoy-ya) follows the adventures of a rebellious teenage girl whisked away to a mysterious jungle in her grandfather’s fantastical world. Surrounded by a strange band of half-human, half-animal masters inspired by ancient Mayan iconography, the aging naturalist yearns to pass on to his granddaughter his relentless quest for the meaning of life.

Inhabited by entrancing characters that work hand-in-hand to perpetuate the love of life, JOYÀ abounds in subtle allusions to the history and culture of Mexico, from the 5,000-km migration of the monarch butterflies (from Canada to Mexico) and the 66 million year old Yucatán asteroid believed to have caused the extinction of the dinosaurs (a dinosaur puppet that trots on stage also refers to this cataclysmic event) to artists such as Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo (vines, giant flowers and jungles are oblique references to the artists), and with mariachis, masked wrestlers, pirate legends (famous pirates took refuge on Isla Mujeres – the Island of Women – in the 17th and 18th centuries), and the rhythms and sounds of Mexico: cucaracha, marionettes, horror films (in reference to master of horror Guillermo del Toro), and even the underwater sculptures of Jason deCaires Taylor.

It’s an engaging, immersive, multisensory experience in which joy, courage, and friendship conquer all, but with the show beginning its fourth season in the Riviera Maya (on Wednesday, September 27th), I realized there’s very little I, here in the United States, know about this unique show. A few weeks back I sought to rectify that by getting my hands on a hardcover book Vidanta Resorts provides to its members: THE BOOK OF JOYÀ. This book, while not a tell-all, is a wonderful reference source about the production and has given me wonderful insights into not only the show itself, but the Theater, the Grounds, and the Menu!

So, in celebration of JOYÀ beginning its fourth season (it’ll also celebrate its third year of existence in November), I’m going to share the texts found in the book with you – in three parts. Part One: “A GEM IN THE JUNGLE” covers the development of the concept and the grounds. Part Two (November): “SWEET, SAVORY, and SURREAL” takes a peek at the menu and the show itself. And in Part Three (December): “INNOVATOR PROFILES” we’ll meet creators and some of the cast that brought the show to life.

Let’s get started, shall we?


“Through our partnership with Cirque du Soleil, we are providing an entertainment experience beyond what currently exists in Mexico or the world. This is an entirely new category of entertainment that everyone must see, hear, and taste. We are extremely proud to bring this dream to life” – Daniel Chávez Morán, Founder of Grupo Vidanta.

The story of JOYÀ begins with a dream. It was a dream to do something bigger and more extraordinary than anything Vidanta had ever done before. We wanted to create a magical world where happiness ruled and the imagination ran free. A mesmerizing place where families and friends could come together to smile, laugh, and share unforgettable moments. It would be an entertainment experience that would do more than just dazzle audiences – it would inspire generations.

They needed a partner who could dream right alongside us and who knew a thing or two about happiness. We considered only one company – the most beloved performance company in the world – Cirque du Soleil. So in the fall of 2009, Cirque du Soleil and Vidanta embarked on a miraculous journey and a whirlwind of beautiful collaboration. It was unprecedented. Here were two visionary companies dreaming together, both dedicated to pushing the boundaries of the imagination and bringing happiness to the world. It was an incredible time. Everyone involved knew that this project was special.

And after almost five years of planning and preparation, the dream came true – Cirque du Soleil JOYÀ made its debut at Vidanta Riviera Maya on November 21, 2014.

“Welcome to Our Dream. It’s here for you and all the world to experience. From its beautiful home hidden deep within the Mayan jungle, JOYÀ will enchant you with spellbinding performances, amazing music, culinary wonders, and theatrical magic. Through astonishing new sights, sounds, and flavors, JOYÀ will take you to fantastic worlds and show you the beauty of nature and the unbreakable bonds of friendship and family. JOYÀ has truly become one of the world’s most extraordinary entertainment and dining experiences. It is adream come true. It was ours. Now it is yours.”


The Cirque du Soleil Theatre is perched above a massive lagoon overlooking the Mayan jungle on the Vidanta Riviera Maya property. It is an oasis within an oasis. The JOYÀ experience begins the moment you enter the grounds. You wind your way through the lush Mayan jungle – quiet, peaceful, mysterious – and the fantastic world of JOYÀ slowly unfolds before you. You walk beneath palapas (a traditional Mexican shelter roofed with palm leaves or branches), through a world of lush vegetation, waterfalls, and rich flora and fauna, and you hear the sounds of Cirque du Soleil – you’re far away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Warm smiles welcome you. Then you see it – the breathtaking Cirque du Soleil Theater perched atop a waterfall overlooking the lagoon, the grand centerpiece of the impeccably designed grounds. As more people arrive, the buzz of excitement builds. The sun begins to set; brilliant colors emerge from the darkness, and faint points of light twinkle in the secret island. Everyone knows they will soon be experiencing something magical. The night of JOYÀ has begun.

Unlike other shows where you watch the performance and head home, the JOYÀ experience begins well before the first act and lasts long after the actors take their final bow. Before the show, friends and families enjoy dinner at Nektar (Yucatecan Grill & Lounge), couples relax in lounges overlooking the water, and giddy children dart about the wooden pathways. Afterwards, the experience continues with live music and drinks at Nektar, shopping at the JOYÀ boutique, or a pleasant walk around the lagoon. When you are here, time doesn’t matter. Watch the stars come out. Listen to the water. Take in the view of the jungle at night. Enjoy your loved ones. Make the moment last. That’s what JOYÀ is all about.

You’ll even find a few surprises… Before the show, guests are treated to a Mayan fire dance where performers recreate an astonishing ancient ritual. It begins as the performers mingle with guests and spread the rich aroma of incense harvested from local Copal trees. Then they slowly traverse the lagoon in a small boat and light up the darkness with spinning rings of fire. The beautiful dance of light is brilliantly reflected in the waters below. And, along the wide wooden pathway leading up to the Cirque du Soleil Theater, is the JOYÀ Boutique. Inside this small palapa, everyone can find that perfect piece of JOYÀ to take home – JOYÀ-themed sketchbooks, clothing, and collectible characters; soundtracks from JOYÀ and other Cirque du Soleil shows; even one-of-a-kind pieces of art and lighting.


From far away, you can just barely see it above the trees, curiously peeking out from the jungle canopy. As you get closer, its strange shape makes you wonder, “What is this?” Maybe it’s a giant flower with its petals unfurled toward the skies. Or a furry animal sleeping soundly on the jungle floor. Is it alive? Who lives there? This strangely beautiful place is the Cirque du Soleil Theater – JOYÀ’s home – at Vidanta Riviera Maya.

When Vidanta and Cirque du Soleil set out to build the theater for JOYÀ, their top priority was to create a completely unique and immersive theatrical experience that had never been done before at a resort. Vidanta’s team of master architects, designers, and engineers worked closely with the lead creatives at Cirque du Soleil to bring the dream to life. Grupo Vidanta architect Arturo Hernandez based his designs on three guiding principles: have the utmost respect for the jungle environment, conceal the theater among the mangroves, and play with sinuous lines and organic shapes.

The beautiful result of their work is the Cirque du Soleil Theater at Vidanta Riviera Maya – an awe-inspiring structure that transports audiences into the dreamlike world of JOYÀ with timeless beauty, gorgeous natural surroundings, and intricate details. The Theater was purposefully designed to reflect and blend into the lush Mayan jungle, almost like it just sprouted there. With it organic shape and decor, the Theater recaptures the essence of nature – the swaging trees in the breeze, the fluttering of butterflies, animal migrations, and the cycle of life.

In fact, if you’ve stepped foot onto any of Vidanta’s resort destinations, you’ve experienced Chief Architect Arturo Hernandez’ brilliant mind at work. Throughout his prolific 33-year career, Arturo has seen the completion of more than 1,500 architectural projects in Mexico. Majestic vistas; soaring palapas; giant tiled columns; brilliant colors; elements of the surreal; playful combinations of water, fire, wood, stone, and metal – these are all the hallmarks of Arturo’s visionary style. Most of Vidanta’s sweeping structures and breathtaking buildings have been designed by this incredible talent. Many of which have helped Vidanta reinvent the Mexican resort experience. Joining him in executing these amazing feats of architecture is a full team of more than 125 architects, engineers, designers, and staff.

Arturo is an architectural pioneer whose structures often defy physics. His inspiration comes primarily from the natural beauty of Mexico and its wealth of art and cultures, and he cleverly incorporates both into almost every design. Arturo is a true leader and a kind, humble man. Just spend an evening in the Cirque du Soleil Theater… look around and take it all in. You’ll see firsthand why he deserves such praise.


When you first saw it, what did you think it was? A plant? An animal? It’s been described as many things – a pomegranate, a furry moth, even an alien. Arturo Hernandez calls it a “beautiful flower.” This is the beauty of the Theater – it invites you to explore your own imagination. It begs you to think about your world, what is a dream and what is reality, and if there really is any difference. Much like the journey of JOYÀ itself. Because of the Theater’s complex geometry (not many right angles here!), one of the main construction challenges was in the installation of the HVAC systems. The kitchen, the stage, the audience areas, the basement, and other areas all require different temperatures at various times during the show!

But that’s not all. Construction in this ecologically rich part of Mexico is subject to stringent environmental controls and restrictions; it is prohibited, for example, to build anything above the 12-meter tree line of the lush, low-lying jungle that is not made of natural materials. During construction of the JOYÀ site, Vidanta went to extremes to protect the jungle. Trees, rare plants and animals were all displaced. Every plant that was moved, no matter how large, was relocated and replanted. Hundreds of new trees were planted in and around the site. To better preserve the natural habitat, the wooden walkway leading to the theatre was deliberately built above ground, allowing animals to pass freely underneath. 80% of the Theater was preserved as pristine jungle. 100% of permeable ecological concrete was used for roads and parking lots around the site. And local woods were used for pergolas and other decorative elements.

Did you know, hidden away on the island in the lagoon, is a small cenote? Abundant in the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico, cenotes are naturally occurring sinkholes resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that expose groundwater underneath. The Maya believed these pools were sacred gateways to the afterlife, their openings representing sacred portals to a mythical underworld, a place of awe. The architecture and esthetics of the JOYÀ site reflect and celebrate the Maya’s reverential respect for nature and are inspired by the natural beauty of the surrounding jungle, which sits atop an intricate underground labyrinth of rivers and cenotes. In fact, the entire JOYÀ site concept is meant to give the impression one is stepping into a large cenote among the mangroves, complete with crystal-clear water pools, coral rocks, and a magnificent waterfall. When architects discovered it during construction, they protected the cenote by creating the island around it.

If you peek behind the curtain and look past its stunning artistry, you’ll see that the theater is a marvel of form and function. Despite the theater’s organic shape and softness, it is one of the most technically advanced theaters ever built. (In fact, The Cirque du Soleil Theater has the most highly advanced sound system of any public building in Mexico!) For its groundbreaking design and adherence to high quality standards required for safety of performing artists and the public, the Cirque du Soleil Theater won the coveted “Building Project of the Year” award in 2015. Given by Grupo Expansion and Obras Magazine, this achievement recognizes the most important construction projects for innovation, development, engineering, technology use, and economic impact.

An intricate web of curved steel girders and woven palapa roof create an intimate 600-seat theater with a multi-level, 360-degree stage. Above, behind, and underneath the stage, there is amble prep space – rehearsal areas, a costume shop, dressing rooms, lobbies, two bars, lounges for actors and audience, and, most impressively, a full commercial kitchen that supplies eager guests with a three-course gourmet dinner. In this incredible space, actors and acrobats, musicians and magicians, chefs and servers, and bussers and bartenders can all safely do their jobs and create the unforgettable experience that is JOYÀ.

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The Cirque du Soleil Theater is more than a physical place – it has become another lovable character in a show that amazes audiences each night. Did you know it took 18 months to build? With 600 seats, it is the most intimate Cirque du Soleil Theater. Even the seats farthest from the stage are only 18 meters away! Guests enjoy 2 distinct dining areas, 2 bars, and 2 lounges. 832 tons of steel were used to make the structure. 218,362 meters of electrical cable run through the theater. And 17,000 square-meters of ecological concrete were used for roads and parking lots, all 100% permeable. But there’s more to JOYÀ than just the theater and grounds. There’s also the food! Did you know the kitchen crew – the chefs, sous chefs, servers, and bussers – have to rehearse their parts just like the actors? Leading up to the show, the dinner service was rehearsed for weeks to get the timing just right.


“The JOYÀ dinner experience should be as enjoyable – and surprising – as the show itself. It should feel like you are eating part of the show.” – Alexis Bostelmann, Vidanta corporate chef.

Like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or the magically surreal stories of Gabriel García Márquez, things are rarely as they seem inside the Cirque du Soleil Theater – especially at the dinner table. Here, heavenly desserts hide inside giant library books. Caviar is made from fruit. Breadsticks, like bonsai trees, grow from their bowls. And it is perfectly normal for you to tip your dinner menu into salsa and take a bite. The three-course JOYÀ dinner tempts every sense with culinary wonders as spectacular as the Theater, music, and performances of JOYÀ. It is the first dining experience of any Cirque du Soleil production and another tasty step on an unforgettable journey. So, if the Cirque du Soleil Theater and its immaculate grounds are where you begin your journey into the world of JOYÀ, then the dinner experience is where you cross the threshold into the truly fantastic. The new aromas, tastes, and sights of the gourmet meal fully immerse you in the magic of the moment. JOYÀ takes you on a wild journey where you meet new characters and see things that only happen in dreams. The JOYÀ dinner takes you on another trip – this one mouthwatering – through the rich culinary history of Mexico, bite by bite.


If you’ve ever vacationed at a Vidanta destination, then you’ve tasted the culinary gifts of Chef Alexis Bostelmann. Chef Alexis leads a team of executive chefs, sous chefs, pastry chefs, butchers, and kitchen assistants responsible for the incredible dining experiences at over 120 restaurants at the Vidanta destinations across Mexico. His training began in his parents’ kitchen in Mexico City. He then traveled the world, cooking for celebrities and heads of state, then returned home to Mexico and Vidanta, where his menu and presentations for the JOYÀ dinner have garnered accolades from food critics and audiences alike. To create the unforgettable dinner loved by so many, Chef Alexis explored traditional and modern cooking techniques and found inspiration in the geography of Mexico, the culinary heritage of the Yucatan, and the story of JOYÀ. When asked about his goal for the JOYÀ dinner experience, his answer is simple, “I want to surprise the audience.”

Vidanta Corporate Chef Alexis Bostelmann and his team combine traditional Mexican flavors with modern cooking methods to create the exquisite dishes on the Joya dinner menu. The flavors of the Maya dance on the palate with herbs like Chaya and epazote, xcatic and habanero peppers, annatto, pumpkin seeds, mole-inspired sauces, and bright citrus. Special culinary styles open up a whole new world of taste and texture for dinner guests – liquid nitrogen is used to make the Dragon Breath, and molecular techniques are used to create melon caviar and other edible oddities.

Chef Alexis and Cirque du Soleil wanted to create the feeling that the dinner was an extension of the show – Mexican artists created the plates and food presentation elements to match the JOYÀ set. But like the JOYÀ show, the dinner menu is in constant transformation. So, the dishes you enjoyed once before will be different when you return. But they will always be delicious.


THE PLANNING – The JOYÀ dinner had to be as unexpected and memorable as the performances themselves, and it had to be delicious. This was, after all, Cirque du Soleil’s first production to include food. Vidanta’s Corporate Chef, Alexis Bostelmann, worked closely with executives from Vidanta and Cirque du Soleil for over a year before the show opened to create the menu and to design a kitchen that could support such an incredible culinary experience. After experimenting with hundreds of dishes and presentations, the menu was set. But executing the JOYÀ dinner would prove to be the greatest challenge Chef Alexis and his team at Vidanta had ever faced.

THE SERVICE – Each night, the three-course JOYÀ dinner is served to almost 60 guests (twice if there are two show times) in less than 45 minutes, with full wait service before and during the show. To efficiently and safely serve food and drinks among actors and acrobats who often perform in the aisles and on top of tables, the dinner staff routinely rehearses with the cast and crew. “This took an incredible team because what is normally possible in a standard restaurant isn’t as easy to do from the belly of a strangely shaped theater,” Chef Alexis notes, “so timing is everything.”

THE TIMETLINE – A dedicated team of nearly 100 chefs, waiters, bussers, and bartenders work throughout the day to prepare for the JOYÀ dinner service.

• 7:00am – The tapas prep cooks arrive and prepare 1,200 tapas servings
• 9:00am – At the Vidanta resort kitchen, breads are baked, desserts made, and meat trimmed. Chefs and cooks arrive and start preparation for dinner, sear and braise meat, prepare dehydrated veggies, and begin slow-cooked items.
• 12:00pm – All the staff arrives at the theater and stars preparation of fruits and vegetables.
• 1:00pm – Breads, deserts, supplies, and the staff meal are transported to the Theater from the Vidanta kitchen
• 2:00pm – Staff enjoys lunch
• 4:00pm – Appetizer plating begins.
• 4:30pm – Waiters set up tables with glasses and flatware
• 5:00pm – All food preparation is complete
• 6:00pm – Plating of tapas and the dessert book
• 7:00pm – Bread basket set up
• 7:30pm – Entrée plating begins
• 7:45pm – Theater doors open for VIP guests. Appetizer and tapas served; Dragon Breath given to guests.
• 8:00pm – Waiters take entrée orders
• 8:20pm – Entrée served
• 8:30pm – Dessert served
• 9:30pm – Tables cleared and kitchen cleaned
• 1:00pm to 7:00am – Deep cleaning of kitchen


MERCIER CHAMPAGNE – When one takes an extraordinary journey to magical worlds, one must stay hydrated. Because experiencing JOYÀ is an event worth celebrating, champagne was the beverage of choice. After a number of tastings, the Vidanta team felt that Moet & Chandon’s Mercier Brut Champagne was the only bubbly worthy of the JOYÀ experience. It has a soft sweetness, delicate bubbles, and a clean finish. This variety of Mercier Brut can only be found in France and at the Cirque du Soleil Theater at Vidanta Riviera Maya.

DRAGON BREATH – Another playful surprise waiting for JOYÀ dinner guests is Dragon Breath, an amuse-bouche made tableside with freeze-dried tropical fruits quickly dipped in liquid nitrogen. As you eat it, your breath condenses and steam billows from your nose like a dragon. This is a bite to remember!

THE BOOK OF DESSERTS – The passing of knowledge is one of JOYÀ’s central themes, and the classic symbol of knowledge, the book, is seen many times throughout the show and set. And in dessert. One of the more memorable moments for dinner guests is when they receive their dessert box. Uniquely crafted for JOYÀ, the dessert boxes are large books that open to reveal a quartet of delectable desserts.

The JOYÀ gastronomic experience sets the stage, as it were, for diners to experience the performance collectively in the spirit of the Mayan greeting “In Lak’ech Ala K’in” (which means “I am you and you are me”), which speaks of unity and oneness.


“JOYÀ is a unique Cirque du Soleil experience. The theater, the dinner, and the show all contribute to a complete evening. It’s a fantastic privilege for guests to be so up-close to the performers and to be totally immersed in a dream world where all your senses are involved.” – Joel Bergeron, Director of JOYÀ.

Welcome to a place where anything is possible. Here, up is down. Left is right. Backwards is forwards, and the past is really the future. Our guides on this whimsical journey are sweet JOYÀ and her zany grandfather, Zelig. They’ll take us on a whirlwind of adventures through time and space where we’ll meet peculiar creatures with superhuman powers. They will do things that bend the mind and baffle the eyes. We’ll battle pirate ships, cannon fire, and dinosaurs. Rockets will shoot across the stage. We’ll swim under sea and breathe just fine. In this magical new world, statues come to life, giant flowers grow in seconds, and paper butterflies fall like soft rain. And you have a very important part to play. Welcome to JOYÀ.

But what is JOYÀ? Is it theater? A circus? A musical? Comedy or drama? History or science fiction? Maybe fantasy? The beauty of JOYÀ by Cirque du Soleil is that it is all of those things and much more. It is a mind-bending, genre-blending show that has truly created a new category of immersive entertainment. JOYÀ invites you to leave this world for a while, forget what you know, and trust your imagination. We are guests at a Parisian art deco theater in 1920. Then we’re aboard a traveling spaceship. Next we are inside a giant machine, the belly of a robot. Maybe we’re all just small creatures in an ancient, giant library.

The performance happens in front of you, behind you, and sometimes right under your nose – characters emerge from every nook and cranny in the theater. It is a show full of incredible energy, endless surprises, and stunning physical and mental feats. JOYÀ combines all of the artistic and technical disciplines – acting, music, sound, lighting, special effects, makeup, costumes, sets, props, and storytelling – to stimulate every sense and fully immerse you in a magical world. Take your seat. You’re in for a wild ride.


Our story begins in the whimsical workshop / laboratory / library of Mr. Zelig, an endearing old alchemist who performs mad experiments to find the meaning of life, helped by his band of half-animal, half-human assistants. Joya, his granddaughter, pays Zelig a visit and accidentally leads them on a wild journey through the magical mangroves. Along the way, they encounter strange characters who do amazing things. Throughout their zany and mysterious journey, Zelig passes generations of knowledge to JOYÀ, teaching her important lessons about nature, the universe, and herself. The story of JOYÀ is a story of love – love for family and friends, love for learning, and love for life.

The story of JOYÀ is about Mexico in many ways, drawing inspiration from Mexico’s complex history, diverse cultures, and the beauty of its art, architecture, and environment.

THE BUTTERFLY – Seen throughout the show, the butterfly is the classic symbol of transformation, beginning life as a caterpillar, retreating to its cocoon, and emerging as a magnificent winged creature. Joya, the character, is our butterfly who transforms from a clumsy teenager into an enlightened hero. The monarch butterfly is also famous around the world for its spectacular 2,500-mile migration from Canada (the home of Cirque du Soleil) to Mexico (the home of Vidanta), where it spends the winter. A perfect symbol of JOYÀ’s two parents.

BOOKS – Symbols of knowledge, books are everywhere in JOYÀ – a book is the main prop in the show that gets passed between characters; large volumes tower behind the stage; and desserts are even served inside books. The set itself was inspired by the UNAM library in Mexico City, the largest library in Latin America and one of the oldest in the Western Hemisphere. Even the costumes of the pirates are made from hundreds of pages torn from books.

METEORS – The meteor that makes a dramatic appearance in the show refers to the Chicxulub crater buried beneath the Yucatan Peninsula where JOYÀ takes place. The crater is the result of a meteor that hit Mexico millions of years ago, triggering a mass extinction of the dinosaurs (we meet two dinosaurs in the show). The meteor is a visitor from another world, like many of the show’s characters, and symbolizes the end of one era and the beginning of something new.

There are many other hidden symbols in JOYÀ. You’ll see references to Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, allusions to the stories of Octavio Paz and Carlos Fuentes, and hits at the work of Guillermo del Toro. We can’t divulge too many secrets here. You’ll have to see the show – more than once – to find them all.


A singer with a soaring voice like a celestial being from another time. A trumpeter whose sweet, sublime sounds come from everywhere – the stage, the aisles, and the catwalks. A percussionist who plays mischievous beats. A guitarist who blends the sounds of rock, samba, and merengue. These are the artists who make the stunning music of JOYÀ – a whimsical score for a wild night. The music of JOYÀ is your incredible guide through a strange new world, zigging and sagging alongside JOYÀ and her grandfather on their magical journey. In true Cirque du Soleil fashion, the music and the artists who create it are main characters in the show. Their unforgettable melodies bring all the elements together to create the mind-blowing spectacle that is JOYÀ. And also in true Cirque du Soleil fashion, there are surprises everywhere. What guests don’t realize is that there are really four parts to the musical experience of JOYÀ:

THE WELCOME PARTY – The music starts when you arrive. The sounds of different Cirque du Soleil shows play throughout the grounds, filling the air with excitement and whimsy, reminding you that this is a place of magic and of fun – you are in Cirque du Soleil’s world now and anything is possible.

THE VIP SHOW – Guests who choose the VIP dinner experience are treated to a spirited performance by Arpason, a lively trio of musicians from Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Mexico. As you dine on exquisite dishes and drink delicate champagne, the festive sounds of rumba, cha-cha-cha, samba, and merengue fill the electric air. The musicians all sing, snap, and clap along to well-known beats, play the harp, violin, and drums – and even do a little tap dancing to liven the mood. Sometimes, guests get a lucky visit from the JOYÀ vocalist or trumpeter who join the band. It’s a bustling treat to an incredible evening.

THE MAIN EVENT – When the house lights dim, ethereal music welcomes you to the main attraction. Angelic vocals and regal trumpets announce your arrival to Zelig’s Naturalium. The beat quickens, and the amazing trip begins. Live music is always a part of Cirque du Soleil’s performances – the music is just as important as the acts themselves. The musicians of the JOYÀ ensembles merge musicals styles from around the world to create a beautiful and balanced score that sets the mood and supports the actors and acrobats. You’ll hear traditional Mexican melodies, Caribbean drums, improvisational jazz, rhythms, merengue, rumba, samba, and rock all in one show. The music guides you through all the emotions of the story – drama and deceit, comedy and the absurd, elation and inspiration. Some songs are fast-paced and full of action, some zany and unpredictable, and others delicate and introspective. Each one takes you to a different dimension of the JOYÀ universe – deep under the sea, through the Mayan jungle, and even into the afterlife. The final song leaves you energized and inspired with a modern rock anthem backed by powerful vocals that linger playfully in your head as you leave the theater – still in awe of what you have seen and tasted.

THE AFTER PARTY – As you leave the theater, humming the JOYÀ songs and wondering what you just experienced, you’ll hear it from far away – the kitschy catchy sound of The Red Shoes. At Nektar, the all-female group from Cancun performers covers of your favorite pop songs in their signature quirky style to keep the experience going. And yes, they do wear red shoes: red velvet heels, to be precise. And finally, as you leave the JOYÀ grounds, the musical experience comes to a close. But not to fear! With your newly purchased JOYÀ soundtrack (wink, wink), you can relive the experience over and over again, whenever you need to add a little magic to your everyday life.

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• 10,000 – the number of beads and jewels in the masks worn by Zelig’s Masters. 33 – full time performers.
• 35 – full-time theater technicians
• 15 – months it took to prepare for JOYÀ
• 6 – months it took to build the set.
• 6 – costume designers who take care of the actors’ wardrobe
• 6 – Zelig has six half-human, half-animal assistants: the Master of Time (the rabbit), Master Physicist (the iguana), Master Botanist (the cat), Master Archivist (the bird), Master Alchemist (the ram), and the Master Entomologist (the lemur).
• 4 – times each performer rehearses his/her routine each week.

Being part of Cirque du Soleil show is often considered the pinnacle of success for performers – only the world’s top talents are asked to join the renowned organization. For JOYÀ, Cirque du Soleil assembled a team of acrobats, aerialists, actors, jugglers, dancers, and magicians from all over the world, including Mongolia, Ukraine, France, England, Japan, Canada, USA, and Mexico. Cast members follow a strict training schedule, exercising every day and often practicing their full routines four times each week to maintain the excellence and stamina required for the rigorous JOYÀ schedule.


As you’ve turned the pages of this article series, you’ve been given a glimpse into the reasons why Iván Chávez, Executive Vice President of Grupo Vidanta, sees JOYÀ as “a gift for Mexico, for Riviera Maya, for Vidanta, and for all of us.”

He continues to say: “The theater is a work of art and a marvel of architecture. The grounds are a testament to the beauty of the Mayan jungle and to the power of preservation. The dinner is truly spectacular, as creative as the show itself. The show brings smiles, laughter, and gasps of delight every night. The story is steeped in the rich history of Mexico and its many cultures. JOYÀ is more far more than just a show – it’s an enchanting night full of new sights, sounds, flavors, and memories. We are so proud to work with the hundreds of performers, artisans, designers, chefs, servers, and crew who come together to make JOYÀ possible. They are an incredible team.”

Indeed they are.

“The reason we are working with Vidanta is because they share the same values as Cirque du Soleil, which is first and foremost creativity.” – Daniel Lamarre, CEO of Cirque du Soleil

RICHARD DAGENAIS, Director of Creation

“Our goal in creating JOYÀ was to tell a story completely inspired by the energy of Mexico. Without using clichés and stereotypes, every scene had to have its seed in the history, culture, or values of Mexico. My role as Director of Creation was to assemble and support a team of creators who understood this mandate and who could deliver an experience that would create long-lasting memories in the minds of the audience. With JOYÀ, we wanted to show audiences a side of this beautiful and rich country, its humanity, and the care it shows future generations. JOYÀ is more than a show, it is a rare voyage into the heart of a culture hungry to learn and to pass on life’s secrets.”

MARTIN GENEST, Stage Director

“When I have the opportunity to create a show with people from a culture other than mine, I always try to find what unites me with them. This is what has touched me and inspired me to create JOYÀ. Since the beginning of time, every spring, monarch butterflies leave the volcanic peaks of Mexico and fly for months to Canada where they lay their eggs. Small and fragile, they take turns from generation to generation, between our two countries, to complete the annual cycle that ensures the continuity of their species. I invite you to discover the stupendous history of Mr. Zelig and of JOYÀ. To experience a playful and exciting adventure, where the love for life is passed from one generation to another, like the instinct that guides the monarch butterflies on their great journey.”

JAMES LAVOIE, Costume Designer

“The process of designing and creating the costumes for JOYÀ was as dynamic and exciting as the show is to watch. I spent six months researching, sketching, and collaborating with the rest of the creative team. When then worked at the Cirque du Soleil costume shop in Montreal for six weeks, exploring different techniques, designing custom fabric prints, and, of course, sewing and cutting. Then in Mexico, we spent two months with 10 Cirque du Soleil costume makers, as well as several local tailors, to create all of the costumes for the premiere. Finally, after almost nine months of preparation, filled with many ups and downs, from the snow of Montreal to the beaches of Riviera Maya, we opened. I remember a mix of emotions, but mostly pride, wonder, and joy.” (Some of the masks worn by Zelig’s masters have over 10,000 beads and jewels, each one glued by hand. It took over five months to create them.)

NATHALIE GAGNE, Makeup Designer

“For JOYÀ, we used a lot of a white in the makeup concepts. I wanted to bring out the purity and light in the story. The two main characters, Zelig and JOYÀ, are albinos. This is their family link – they are beings of the light. The Masters, underneath their animal masks, wear white makeup with lines to represent their animal family. This was done in a simple and graphic manner like a child’s drawings, as if JOYÀ had drawn them in her notebook. For some actors, I applied special Swarovski crystals to their faces to capture the light and enhance their look. After more than six months of preparation, we saw all the elements come together on opening night – artists in makeup and costumes, the lighting, dancing, and performances. We all, with tears in our eyes, felt an incredible sense of satisfaction from all the hard work.”

JEAN LAURIN, Lighting Designer

“The inspiration for the lighting design of JOYÀ costumes from the surroundings of the Theater and old European museums (for Zelig’s Naturalium). From our first site visit to Mexico, we could feel something special that was deeply linked to the story for the show. The nature, the ocean, and the sky were all references that I used to create different visual looks. JOYÀ’s lighting design is complex because it must work on many levels – the action happens on stage, but also in the air, on the mezzanine level, and in the audience. I wanted to highlight the performances while keeping the atmosphere of each scene bold and unique. With that in mind, I was able to evoke new feelings, create a sense of time and place, and change the ambiance for each specific act.”


“Inspiration for the JOYÀ set came from many places, but nature was the main source for our style. The backbone for designing the space was to create a seamless link between the Theater and the set. Martin Genest came up with the general story, and together we sketched different environments that would enhance the situations the characters would go through. Lots of ideas and design options later, in collaboration with the technical team, the sketches became drawings, and then they became set elements. After lots of sweaty days in Mexico building the set, I was happy that we were ready for the premiere. A lot of time and energy went into JOYÀ, and being a creative on a show of this magnitude was, for me, a life-changing experience.”

PIERRE MASSE, Acrobatic Equipment and Rigging

“Our biggest influence was the wonderful storyboard created by Stage Director Martin Genest. We were also very influenced by the beautiful nature, history, architecture, and people of Mexico. My main duty was to make the storyline come alive, acrobatically and technically. We designed the acrobatic elements to fit each scene and to meet the needs of our incredibly talented performers. From the first sketch and the drafting of construction plans, to the fabrication and validation, it sometimes took three months to design each act. Opening night was a mixture of both excitement and nervousness. For me, the end of a creation is always a moment of satisfaction and accomplishment. But, above all, it was a great opportunity to meet wonderful people and be able to call them friends.”

PHILIPPE AUBERTIN, Acrobatic Performance Designer

“When our job is done on a creation like JOYÀ, there is always a mix of feelings, like nostalgia and happiness. During the premiere, I remembered all the stages of development we went through for each act, like a movie played fast forward. I was sad that it was over, but I was extremely proud that my friends were going to carry on and spread more joy to our audiences. My goal is always to make a show that will inspire the audience for a long time after their journey to our special universe comes to a close.”


“Designing and building props for JOYÀ was a unique experience for me, because I had to make them be magic, somehow alive. For my research, I found inspiration from old alchemist books and the fascinating sketches of botanists, entomologists, or inventors from a few centuries ago. Their vision of nature often portrayed the world more like a large delirious dream than true reality. It was then our turn to find solutions, like how to give a giant book an illuminated heart, giving life to captured larvae in a jar, and how to fill this great library with curious objects that may or may not be alive. Aesthetically, JOYÀ has been a fantastic universe to explore, opening up an infinite world of possibilities to its creators, as nature often does with the truth.”

ANDRE MORENCY, Script Writer

“When I was a child, my father would travel to the four corners of the world for his work. His returns were always a celebration. Around the dinner table, he would tell us about his encounters and exploits, and it would fill our dreams with faraway travels and adventures. He would take out his notebook and pencils, and then he would illustrate his stories on these large sheets of paper – the wind would swell the sail of a ship; horses would gallop on the edge of a fjord; a smiling farmer welcomed you while raising his glass of gin. For JOYÀ, it is my father who inspired me: a storyteller who, while never imposing it, conveyed a passion to me what I am passing on to my children without even realizing it – the passion to tell a good story!”

HAROLD RHEAUME, Choreographer

“As a contemporary dance choreographer, I found JOYÀ to be across the board a unique a unforgettable artistic and human experience. I had the privilege to work with an experienced artistic team. I also worked closely with the Cirque du Soleil artists to refine their acts. JOYÀ was challenging for me because I had to understand the acts of the show, as well as the technical and executional challenges, in order to create cohesive movements. The night of the premiere, a great sense of accomplishment and pride came over me. The success of JOYÀ was a testimony to the collaborative effort between the artistic, technical, and production teams. The sad part in all of this was that I had to leave such a beautiful place and the JOYÀ team that is filled with such talented, professional, and generous people.”

JOEL BERGERON, Show Director

“The making of JOYÀ was a completely unique experience. We combined a cast and crew from all over the world and created an unforgettable experience. That is what normal Cirque du Soleil shows do, have performers from all over the world, but JOYÀ is different. The Theater, the dinner, the whole area is unique for a Cirque du Soleil show. And all of the bar, kitchen, and waitstaff are from Mexico. They are a part of the experience just like the performers and crew. For me, JOYÀ is a constant learning experience just like the theme of the show. I love working with people from different places and different backgrounds. JOYÀ is very special because we offer the audience, if only for a little while, the opportunity to dream, to escape to another world.”


“JOYÀ is a fantasy-based story, which I love, so I tried to make the sound design compliment it. In my field, the challenges are many – how to create the sound system design, integrate it, mix the music, and produce all relevant sound effects. You have to then balance all these in harmony with the staging. One of my favorite moments of JOYÀ is when the skeleton pirates collapse at the end of their choreography. I used zombie and bone sounds to add more humor. Of course, I was very proud of our collective effort for the premiere. I knew that the audience would be pleased and would have a good time attending the show. One of the best parts of my stay in Riviera Maya was the kindness of the Mexican people. I will never forget that.”


“What a blessing it was to work on JOYÀ! During the creation process, our first goal was to compose music inspired by the Mexican culture that would sustain the script and the acrobatic numbers with an original cinematographic approach. As for the final result, the music of JOYÀ is a subtle mix of classic sounds intertwined with contemporary effects, with a touch of Mayan percussion, mariachi, and Mexican jazz. Sometimes festive and danceable, sometimes melodic and warm, we wanted to create a trip for audiences into a musical environment with many feelings.”

IRINA NAUMENKO, Hand Balancer & Contortionist

One of the most talked about moments of JOYÀ is when Irina Naumenko descends from the sky and puts on a thrilling display of hand-balancing and contortion. From a small town in Russia called Marks, Irina joined the Russian State Circus Company at age 18 and has been performing for over 21 years. The small size of the Theater demands that the performers work very closely with the audience – Irina’s scene takes place directly on top of a table where VIP guests sit and enjoy dinner. “There is no room for errors, so I have to keep an eye on glasses and plates so I don’t accidentally touch them,” she says. Before joining the cast of JOYÀ, Irina spent 10 years touring with the Cirque du Soleil show Varekai, where she was the lead female character.

SOPHIE GUAY, Previous Vocalist

One of the standouts of the JOYÀ performance is the incredibly talented Sophie Guay, an accomplished vocalist from Lac-St-Jean, in Quebec, Canada. She comes to JOYÀ from Corteo, a Cirque du Soleil show she joined in 2011. To prepare for JOYÀ, Sophie spent five weeks training with vocal coaches to build the endurance to perform 10 shows per week. She also had to overcome the challenge of singing while in a harness floating above the audience. She says the voice is a fragile instrument and takes good care of hers by drinking lots of tea and water, and always spends 30 minutes warming her voice up before each show. Of her experience with Cirque du Soleil, Sophie says, “Working with Cirque du Soleil, you get to travel the world, meet new people, experience other cultures, and learn new languages and traditions. It’s a dream to do all of this while doing what you love.”


Before becoming the much-adored trumpeter of JOYÀ, Bryden Baird trained as a classical jazz musician in Toronto, Canada, and traveled around the world as a background musician for various artists. Bryden enjoys performing the JOYÀ score, because he believes it does an amazing job of complementing the action without upstaging the performance. And even though JOYÀ is the first time he’s had to play 5-10 shows per week – a very demanding schedule for a musician – he loves working with the international cast and crew to make JOYÀ possible. His inspiration comes from seeing other musicians truly playing from the soul, which is something he tries to do each night. Bryden adds, “I know that 99% of the audience is seeing JOYÀ for the first time. They deserve the same magic that I initially felt when I first saw the amazing acts.”


Honored to be part of the first resident Cirque du Soleil show in his home country, Abraham G. Buchanan, from Aguascalientes, Mexico, masterfully works the drums for JOYÀ. Abraham is a passionate musician who trained at the Berklee School of Music and works very hard to bring raw emotion to each performance. “I want people to really feel something when I play each night,” he says, “and I really try to support the cast and crew with my music.”

JOE HUNDERTMARK, Bandleader & Guitarist

To create the one-of-a-kind sounds of the magnificent JOYÀ score, bandleader and guitarist Joe Hundertmark plays three guitars during the show – a Martin Parlor acoustic guitar, a Boutin flamenco guitar, and a Fender Stratocaster electric guitar – and deftly moves between the different paces, moods, and genres to enhance the performance. Joe says of his role in JOYÀ, “It’s a thrill to conduct the music as the bandleader and to be part of an intimate show like JOYÀ, very different from the huge scale of Zarkana. I have more responsibilities here and it’s very rewarding.”

* * *

“JOYÀ is a truly special part of the Vidanta family. It’s a milestone on our journey together – a step towards a totally re-imagined vacation experience for you and your family. When happiness is the goal, anything is possible. Only one last thing to say – enjoy the show!” – Iván Chávez, Executive Vice President of Grupo Vidanta

JOYÀ is an homage to Mexico, a triumph of creativity, a celebration of nature, and a tribute to the power of friendship and family. And as you can tell by the images and words in this book, JOYÀ has made a profound impact on everyone who’s been a part of the special experience so far, and on the thousands of guests who’ve shared the magic. Vidanta and Cirque du Soleil brought together the finest people from every artistic and technical discipline to bring JOYÀ to life. And JOYÀ is a first in many ways – Latin America’s first resident Cirque du Soleil show, the first show of its kind at a resort, the first Cirque du Soleil show to include a dinner experience – and the first of many collaborations between Vidanta and Cirque du Soleil. We invite you to experience JOYÀ for the first time or the tenth time. JOYÀ reminds us all that we have important stories to tell, and somewhere – inside all of us – there is a curios child who wants to play and a spark of imagination waiting to ignite.

“On that day, I inherited our ancestors’ legacy. Zelig gave me wings so I could fly on my own and continue his work so that his knowledge will be passed on to future generations.” – JOYÀ