On February 7, 2012, the Macau unit of Las Vegas Sands Corp. and Cirque du Soleil announced they were ending a 10-year contract after just three and a half years and closing ZAIA, underlining the difficulties faced trying to transform the Chinese gambling enclave of Macau into an entertainment destination to rival that of Las Vegas. As such, ZAIA – Cirque du Soleil’s first permanent production to open in Asia – would have its final show on February 19th after several years of disappointing ticket sales, the companies said in a joint statement. Average occupancy at ZAIA in January was just 40%, according to a Cirque du Soleil representative, not enough to recoup the cost of day-to-day operations nor the $150 million plus price tag for creating the show and its custom-built theater.
There is no denying that ZAIA had a tumultuous three and a half years, but we had hoped the show would be able to survive its initial troubles and slouch off any further misgivings about its quality. Unfortunately it will not get that chance and it, like ZED, is a great loss to the Cirque du Soleil repertoire.
With a little more than two weeks from announcement to closure (not to mention its far-off location across the ocean), we won’t get a chance to celebrate the show’s accomplishments like we did for ZED’s closing – that and we’ve never seen the show – but rather than let the show’s closing pass, we decided to celebrate ZAIA instead by taking a walk through its time and space via press releases, blurbs and other statements made about the production over the years, tracing its history from beginning to end.
RUMORS CONFIRMED ///
In 2004, as Cirque du Soleil celebrated its 20th anniversary, the company looked to capitalize on its recent successes and expand beyond their current strong holds of North America, Europe and Japan. Even before then rumors cropped up at regular intervals detailing how Cirque would expand to house resident shows in Berlin, London, New York, Singapore, Tokyo and other worldly cities, many never coming to fruition (a topic of conversation you’ll also find within this issue – “CIRQUE’S DREAMS OF THE PAST: A WHAT IF? PART 1: CIRQUE TO RESIDE”, by yours truly). But with Cirque du Soleil finding successes in the Asia-Pacific region, it was only a matter of time before something regarding Asia was announced.
On May 2, 2006, the Las Vegas Sands Corp. and Cirque du Soleil announced their intention to create a one-of-a-kind show on the Cotai Strip, then being developed in the People’s Republic of China Special Administrative Region of Macau. The new show, conceived and created solely by Cirque du Soleil, was scheduled to open in the Spring of 2008 in a 1,800-seat theater built to Cirque specifications and would be unlike anything we’d yet seen.
It was a doorway into Asia and a new market for Cirque du Soleil.
More than a year later (on August 28, 2007) the Venetian Macau opened its doors to paying customers, but the show was not yet ready. By October of the same year we learned the show’s creative team, salivating over the possibilities this group of talented individuals could produce:
o) Gilles Maheu — Director
o) Neilson Vignola — Director of Creation
o) Guillaume Lord — Set Designer
o) Dominique Lemieux — Costume Designer
o) Axel Morghentaler — Lighting Designer
o) Violaine Corradi — Composer
o) Steve Dubuc — Sound Designer
o) Martino Muller — Choreographer
o) Guy Lemire — Acrobatic Equipment and Rigging
By December the first kink in the show’s plans appeared: the as yet unnamed show was behind schedule due to a six-week delay in theater construction. But the work did get finished just in time to begin preview performances on July 26, 2008.
THE BIRTH OF THE UNIVERSE ///
Macau, China – May 29, 2008 – ZAIA was unveiled today as the name of the very first permanent Cirque du Soleil production set to open in Asia. ZAIA will be presented at the Venetian Macao-Resort-Hotel in Macau and will hold its Gala Celebration August 28, 2008 to coincide with the 1st Anniversary of its host resort-hotel, with preview performances beginning July 26, 2008.
Cirque du Soleil is a Canadian-based global entertainment company providing high-quality artistic entertainment. Cirque du Soleil productions have played to almost 80 million spectators in over 200 cities on five continents. In 2008, Cirque du Soleil will present 17 shows simultaneously throughout the world. Each production fuses innovative acrobatics, theatre, dance and music with spectacular costumes, lighting and make-up. Cirque du Soleil has successfully toured to 13 cities in Asia, including Singapore, Hong Kong, Seoul,Tokyo, Taipei and Shanghai with Big Top productions but ZAIA will be the first production to be housed within a permanent theatre in the region.
ZAIA is about the dream of a young girl who journeys into space.
The title, ZAIA, comes from a Greek name meaning “life” and is
also reminiscent of “Gaia,” the living, self-aware, spirit of
“We are extremely excited to bring this unique show to the Cotaï
Strip as our first permanent step in China,” said Daniel Lamarre,
President and CEO of Cirque du Soleil. “The creative challenge
is very interesting for us as this area has yet to be developed
for its entertainment offers. Thanks to our partnership with Las
Vegas Sands, we are anxious for Asian audiences to discover this
Cirque du Soleil production.
“We are both proud and delighted to be partnering with Cirque du
Soleil and bringing this internationally acclaimed production to
Macau and to its first ever permanent base in Asia,” said Mr.
Mark Brown, President of Sands Macao and The Venetian Macao-
Resort-Hotel. “Cirque du Soleil will surely give the people of
this region a chance to experience wholly unique and world-class
entertainment, an aim to which we are also committed.”
ZAIA is about a young girl who journeys into space on a strange,
yet familiar voyage of self-discovery. As she travels, she
encounters the beauty of humanity and eventually brings it back
with her to share with the inhabitants of earth.
ZAIA presents a young girl’s perception of the stars and planets,
space and infinity, all populated by a panoply of fantastic,
literally out-of-this-world creatures. ZAIA is a show that
highlights dance, movement and aerial acrobatics, soaring to the
farthest reaches of space and human beauty.
ZAIA will be presented in a custom-built 1,800 seat theatre at
the Venetian Macau-Hotel-Resort. The combined cost of show
creation and the custom-built theatre for ZAIA is in excess of
$150 million USD.
Preview performances begin July 26, 2008 and the Gala Premiere
will be held Thursday, August 28, 2008.
THE CREATIVE TEAM
Guy Laliberté Guide
Gilles Ste-Croix SVP, Creative Content
Gilles Maheu Writer/Director
Neilson Vignola Director of Creation
Guillaume Lord Set Designer
Dominique Lemieux Costume Designer
Violaine Corradi Composer and Musical Director
Martino Müller Choreographer
Jeff Hall Acrobatic Choreographer
Rob Bollinger Acrobatic Performance Designer
Guy Lemire Acrobatic Equipment & Rigging
Jimmy Lakatos Projections Designer
Raymond Saint-Jean Projections Designer
Steve Dubuc Sound Designer
Nathalie Gagné Make-up Designer
Leonid Leykin Clown Acts Designer
The preview period for ZAIA will be from July 26, 2008 to August
27, 2008. During this preview period there will be no shows on
Mondays and Tuesdays and the show schedule will be irregular.
Please consult the most current show schedule at
The Gala premiere is scheduled for August 28, 2008. Regular
performances will begin August 29, 2008.
Regular performances for ZAIA will run Tuesday through Sunday.
On Tuesdays and Wednesdays the show time will be at 8p.m. On
Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays the show times will be at 7p.m.
and 10p.m. On Sundays, shows will be at 4p.m. and 7p.m. There
will be no shows on Mondays. Please consult the most current
show schedule at www.cirquedusoleil.com. Schedule is subject to
change without notice.
Tickets on sale May 30, 2008!
Adult ticket prices: MOP$1288, MOP$788, MOP$588, MOP$388
Children* ticket prices: MOP$688, MOP$488, MOP$288
*Children: Aged between 2 and 11
AN INNER JOURNEY ///
“For me, ZAIA is an inner journey through time and space. The
set, in which arcs and perspective lines predominate, evokes the
viewpoint of a human eye looking through a large observatory
- Guillaume Lord, Set Designer
The ZAIA Theatre is reminiscent of ancient architectural
telescopes such as Jaipur in India and the vast stone Mayan
observatories of Central America. It is not a planetarium as
such, however it contains many visual cues and references that
add to the show’s underlying theme of cosmic exploration.
In keeping with the primary theme of a journey into space,
verticality is an important component of the show and the
theatre was designed with a higher than 80-ft/24-meter ceiling
and the set elements are intended to recreate the experience of
being in space – an experience that is both mysteriously alien
and strangely familiar. This is a timeless journey from through
the stratosphere and beyond, while keeping an eye on Earth.
When the audience enters the theatre, one of the main set
elements, a gigantic sphere, appears to be a chandelier and the
house is illuminated by light sources at ground level, creating
the effect of a deep dark cave. When the sphere is revealed in
all its constantly-changing glory following the opening number,
its full scope and the effect of its trajectory over the heads
of the audience is nothing less than stunning.
The proscenium is made up of several layers that create a sense
of depth through perspective lines and curves made of bronze
that converge on the single focal point located at the centre of
an enormous sun-like gong set against the backdrop, known as the
“Star Drop,” which recreates the night sky with 3,000 fiber
optic “stars.” Designer Guillaume Lord used a star map to give
the Star Drop an accurate representation of the constellations
at the exact location of the theatre.
o) The theatre has a capacity of 1,852.
o) The Proscenium is 88′ high and 97′ Wide.
o) The 12,221 sq. ft. Star Drop measures 121′ x 101′.
o) The polished bronze-plated Gong Sun has a 20′ diameter.
o) The 25′-diameter Sphere moves on three axes. It
consists of an aluminum exoskeleton covered in Lexan
and weighs 4,000 lbs. It contains 6 projectors that
beam integrated images through a full 360 degrees.
o) Above the audience the Oval Track transports performers
and set elements (such as the 600-lb ice blocks) on
148′ x 95′ 5 chariots that weigh 800 lbs.
o) It takes 30-40 backstage technicians to operate the set.
Choreography I – City Scape
The dance troupe embraces social diversity through a series of choreographies. First, a couple performs a languorous tango to the sound of a bandoneon (a small accordion), the flexibility of the dancers sometimes evokes the movements of contortionists. Then, two other dancers perform a high-energy gypsy dance without any musical accompaniment, tapping out the rhythm on their bodies with their hands as other performers arrive on stage from everywhere. Finally, the entire troupe presents a rhythmic dance that merges styles.
Hanging from a pole, two artists perform a hand to hand act on a pole suspended in mid-air. They move up and down in unison, as if on a surface inclined at a 90-degree angle in the middle of the cosmos. From time to time, one of the artists grips the hand or foot of the other, creating acrobatic figures by executing fluid movements steeped in poetry.
Chinese Poles on Globes
As her earthly odyssey leads her to the Orient, Zaia discovers acrobats clinging to poles shaped like weathervanes symbolizing the points of the compass perform Chinese Poles act. What makes this act special is the fact that the poles are held by porters who are standing on globes.
Choreography II – Dance of the Automatons
Characters whose fanciful costumes are reminiscent of toys made from recycled objects perform modern dance and break dancing moves, sometimes as if their bodies were dismembered. One of the dancers rotates on his head like a spinning top at an amazing speed!
A Charlie Chaplin-like character arrives from the sky on a big ladder, and finds bits and pieces of pipe and planks, which he uses to build a rickety structure at center stage. He balances precariously as he makes it climb higher and higher so he can rejoin his “celestial ladder.”
Under a panoply of ladders slung high above the stage, acrobats perform an act that merges aerial disciplines in a mixture of styles inspired by North Korean acts. To achieve this, four stations are equipped with suspended swivel chairs to hold porters who catch and release the artists flying in both directions. Timing is crucial when flyers perform pirouettes with spectacular spins from one station to the next.
Hand to Hand
Two acrobats evoke the love of the original couple by performing a hand to hand act full of sweetness and sensuality. The two artists create impressive figures and seemingly impossible feats of balance that require absolute mastery and control.
Aerial Straps Duo
A pair of artists uses aerial straps to evoke their nascent passion, sometimes using a single strap for synchronized movements, sometimes a double strap to perform an aerial ballet of seduction, finesse and elegance.
Choreography III – Fire Dance
After attending the union of Romeo and Zaia, the Sage, who incarnates an African shaman performs a dance in the dark, twirling a stick that is lit at both ends. Other dancers and acrobats join in. At the climax all them are dancing with incandescent objects and then they disappear into the entrails of the stage.
Trampoline and Double Teeterboard (X-Board)
In a veritable tribute to weightlessness, acrobats present an act combining two disciplines: Teeterboard and Trampoline. A flurry of criss-crossing flights, rebounds, daring leaps and jumps takes over the stage.
Zaia is the name of the main character, a young girl who dreams of becoming an astronaut and discovering the mysteries of space. Her imaginary celestial journey will follow in the footsteps of her parents and she will encounter love. Her odyssey leads her to take a fresh look at the beauty of Earth and the humans who live there.
Captivated by the innocence of Zaia, Romeo is a young spectator she meets at the beginning of her voyage. This character will search for her throughout the story. When they come together at last they will delight each other in a sensual straps duet.
A mysterious ageless character, the Sage embodies the memory, knowledge and different eras of humanity. He is the archetype of the ancestor, the first of all ancestors, a kind of bright spot in the blackness of space. The Sage watches over Zaia.
Sensitive and silly, the clowns are the companions of Zaia in this wonderful adventure. Although they become separated their friendship will reunite them in the end.
Zaia’s parents, itinerant acrobats on tour in space, passed on to her their wanderlust and desire for discovery.
A Charlie Chaplin-like character, the Handyman builds a precarious structure with planks and its pipes. When his shelter collapses, everyone bands together to save him.
Adam and Eve
This couple represents original, pure, mythical and eternal love. It is through them that Zaia herself discovers love, a feeling that she will later share with Romeo.
These characters of all ages and all social strata represent the last people on Earth. Pressed and jostled in their daily lives, they are equally capable of humor and great impulses of unity.
Characters from another era, the Aristos represent high society and elegance as they participate in the aerial number.
These characters from the Chinese Poles on Globes number represent the points of the compass.
The ice-encrusted Fossils are silent witnesses to the union between Adam and Eve.
The Primitives represent the first men who tamed fire and learned to use it. They include us in their celebration of love and fire.
A COSMIC DISTURBANCE ///
ZAIA’s initial attendance figures were dismal, atrocious even, to the tune of 20% capacity per show or less. And rumors of its imminent demise were floating around before the cast had 100 performances under its belt. By April 2010, perception regarding the show had soured so much that Cirque du Soleil had to step in for a little damage control and Jerry Nadal, Senior Vice-President for Resident Shows of Cirque du Soleil, had to re-iterate that Cirque du Soleil was at the Venetian Macau for the long haul.
“ZAIA is here to stay, at least for eight more years.” No conversation was held between Cirque du Soleil and Venetian about terminating the show before the end of the ten-year contract. That is what the senior vice-president for resident shows of Cirque du Soleil, Jerry Nadal, assured in an exclusive interview to Macau Daily Times. Although he admits the show’s occupancy results are far from what were initially expected, he claims that improvements are being made and that numbers are rising every day. As for the recent news that referred to the end of the show within a short-term period, he says they’re just rumors.
But changes were afoot.
By the show’s second anniversary, the Chinese Poles on Globes and Rola Bola acts were replaced, and a more traditional Asian Lion Dance routine was added. In early 2011, the Aerial Frame routine was removed all-together but that still didn’t do the trick. Cirque du Soleil and Sands Macau went back to the drawing board and decided even more drastic changes had to be made. First, the show would get a new name in China – ???? – and a new visual but it would take some time for those to make a public appearance.
Beginning September 1, 2011, ZAIA would feature even more new diversified performances and characters. A dazzling Hand-to-Hand act, a high-level acrobatic element of Roller Skates (a la TOTEM), Juggling, and a Lion Dance performance to give the production more of an Asian element were added. The show now would flow like this: the Opening, Aerial Hammock, Roller Skates, Lion Dance, Juggling, Trapeze, Hand to Hand, Aerial Straps & Hoops, Fire, Dragon, X-Board & Trampoline and the Finale. And Cirque du Soleil’s immediate goal? Maintain ZAIA as a flagship showcase in MACAU.
“We hope to have three permanent shows in Macau one day and I see a day where we can have a permanent show in big Chinese cities like Shanghai and Beijing and who knows,” Lamarre said.
Two months later (November 21, 2011) the Macau Daily Times reported ZAIA’s losses continued to mount but that Venetian Macau was willing to shoulder them, Sands China president Edward Tracy revealed. “Ticket sales have gone up” with the addition of new Chinese-style elements such as a lion dance performance and a flying dragon, Tracy said. Nonetheless, the Venetian Macau show remains “the only business sector that doesn’t make a profit,” he added. Criticism from Sands China chairman Sheldon Adelson led to rumors that the 10-year contract of ‘Zaia’ would be terminated earlier. But Edward Tracy rejected this possibility. “We are prepared to take a loss to provide that kind of entertainment,” he stressed.
But less than three months later Sands China and Cirque du Soleil announced they were ending the 10-year contract for ZAIA after just three and a half years, underlining the difficulties in trying to transform the Chinese gambling haven of Macau into an entertainment destination. Average occupancy at the Zaia show in January was just 40%, according to a representative for the Canadiann company. “In view of the market trend and customer demand shown in the research we’ve conducted, the company will again be investing to redesign the theater,” said Gus Liem, Vice President of Entertainment at Sands China Ltd.
“[I]t comes down to time, and visitors to Macau seem to have little of it,” said the Wall Street Journal. “According to the territory’s government, visitors (the overwhelming majority of which come from China) stayed an average of just 1.5 nights during the first 11 months of 2011. The average visitor to Las Vegas stayed 3.6 nights in 2010, according to the most recent statistics available.”
According to the Macau Daily Times Cirque du Soleil and Sands China revealed that they were currently discussing a variety of options for working together on other projects. They said that “both organizations are excited by what might come next”, without disclosing details of any possible new shows.
ZAIA had its final curtain call on Sunday, February 19th.