When we previously reviewed the Monday, October 3, 2016 broadcast of the ABC TV show, “Dancing With The Stars,” (DWTS) encompassing a first-ever Cirque du Soleil “theme” night (our review can be read here, highlights from the broadcast can be found here) we marveled on how much work and negotiation from both the DWTS and Cirque sides must have occurred to bring this collaboration forward.
Which made us curious to know more, since a show of this scope and scale must have required much more coordination than an appearance on a late-night talk show or local morning television. So we reached out to Ann Paladie, PR Director, Resident Shows Division, Cirque du Soleil to provide some insight. Ms. Paladie enlightened us to the history of Cirque/DWTS collaborations, how this one came about, and what it took to make it happen.
Cirque du Soleil’s relationship with Dancing With The Stars began years ago. “We’ve had a relationship with Dancing With the Stars for years,” Ms. Paladie explained. “We did a special appearance with dancers from Viva Elvis (May 4, 2010). And there was a special performance from Michael Jackson THE IMMORTAL World Tour (November 14, 2011).”
But it was back in August of 2014 that a producer from DWTS first contacted Jerry Nadal, Senior Vice-President of Resident Shows in Las Vegas, and asked if they could do a Cirque du Soleil-themed night in the way they did their Disney-themed nights. “We started having the conversation in 2014 and were trying to figure out how to make it work. And it just didn’t come to fruition at that point. When we had the opportunity in November, 2015, to have the collaboration with The Beatles LOVE and their dancers (for the November 9 broadcast), that really solidified the concept of how we could work together and collaborate, incorporating our show elements with their dancers.”
It was in August, 2016 that the decision was made to proceed with the collaboration, taking the experience with LOVE and applying it to an entire broadcast centered around Cirque shows and content. It was then given to Ms. Paladie to be the point person on Cirque’s end, which she was prepared for. “I’ve been with Cirque for 15 years. We’ve done a number of TV appearances but I don’t think I’ve ever done anything to this extent. ”
The first step was to present producers at DWTS with the smorgasbord of Cirque shows and content that might fit. “We had their team come to Las Vegas, a couple of executive producers, and they watched all of the shows they could in a weekend. And they put together a wish list of what they wanted to use, what they were interested in in terms of content or elements, or performers or characters, or set pieces and like that.”
“Then they had to listen to all of the soundtracks and select music based on the type of dance style that they needed to use. So that was a process on their end. And then they came back with what songs they wanted to use and the different styles associated with each number.” The selected songs musical charts were then provided by Cirque and were arranged by DWTS’s Musical Director, Ray Chew. The live performances by Ray Chew Live during the show were in many cases eerily close to the actual Cirque band sound, an impressive feat.
Once the “wish list” was in hand, it fell to Cirque to determine what was possible. “At that point we met with our two Senior Artistic Directors who oversee all of the shows. We also had our head of Technical Show Support (who oversees the technical aspects of all the shows) in that meeting. Once [DWTS] determined which acts they wanted to use we had to get Rigging involved. We have a Technical Manager at our office here at the Resident Shows Division who oversees Rigging, and we have a Technical Manager that oversees Automation. So I sent the Head of Rigging to do a site visit (to the DWTS set at CBS Television City in Hollywood, CA) to see where they could put the winches and hang the points and all of the technical aspects, and he worked directly with their production team to determine all of that. And of course [we] worked with all of the production managers at the different shows that had aerial involved in the performances. We also made sure that technical specs would work for each of the individual acts.”
But the scheduling and rehearsal requirements of a television show broadcast live on Monday afternoon (5pm Los Angeles time for an 8pm Eastern Time slot) meant not everything could be accommodated. “Because their show rehearsal and camera blocking is on Sunday, and all of our shows perform on Sunday, we were somewhat limited with the things and people that we could send without having a huge impact on the shows that need to be performed that night. So we did some negotiation that way like, ‘Can we send three artists? No but we can send two.’ Those types of conversations.”
A total of 15 artists, including acrobatic/circus arts performers and characters, were involved on-camera. And there were show props used throughout the show, such as the tricycle train from LOVE. “Again, there were things that they wanted that we didn’t have spares of that we couldn’t send because we needed them for the show. But there were things that we could spare. It was those conversations, ‘Well, we can do this but we can’t do that.’ And, ‘We can send you this but we don’t have that.’ Things like that.”
From August 2016, when Cirque committed to the collaboration, to show air date, Monday, October 3, was just three months, a compressed amount of time. “Absolutely, and honestly it came down to that last week, because it’s a competition show. They didn’t know who the 11 contestants were going to be until after the elimination on Tuesday (September 27).”
The Cirque shows to be represented, music, artists and set pieces had already been negotiated. And DWTS had some idea of what shows would be right for their cast, such as using Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte in a number from the water-inspired “O”, and Olympic gymnast Laurie Hernandez in a number inspired by her hero Michael Jackson. “Exactly. And I think they had that in mind but just couldn’t share that information with me early on. Another piece of the puzzle was that their contestants have other projects going on, they couldn’t all travel to our theaters, to have that experience. They were only able to send a couple of their people.” Partner Val Chmerkovskiy (with eventual champion Laurie Hernandez (via FaceTime)) went to Michael Jackson ONE, Ryan Lochte (with partner Cheryl Burke) went to “O”, actress/singer Jana Kramer (with partner Gleb Savchenko) went to LOVE, and race car driver and eventual runner-up James Hinchcliffe (with partner Shauna Burgess) went to Paramour in New York City.
The week of the show was a flurry of activity. “We found out Tuesday night who the 11 stars were going to be. And we knew we wanted to host Laurie Hernandez and her partner Val at Michael Jackson ONE. The only time that they could come to the theater to meet with the cast and to see the number that they were going to be doing was after the results show on Tuesday. So Val came to Las Vegas to visit the Michael Jackson ONE Theater and met with the team, and talked to the Artistic Director and Dance Master and the two performers that were going to be part of the number. Lori was on via FaceTime. So that happened right away Tuesday night.”
“So we did that shoot, and I want to say it was Wednesday or Thursday that [James and Shauna] went to Paramour. Thursday [Jana and Gleb] came to LOVE; Friday [Ryan and Cheryl] came to “O”. So all of those arrangements were made pretty quickly. I mean we had an idea of what dates they were going to be coming, but then finalized them on Tuesday night and Wednesday.”
“And it was Friday that we loaded up a truck with all of the props, and we ended up needing a second truck. Two trucks full of props and equipment and everything were driven out to LA. Some of the team flew in on Saturday and some on Sunday. We did the rehearsals on Sunday, and then Monday was dress rehearsal and the [broadcast]. They got everything loaded out right after the show on Monday night and drove the trucks back on Tuesday. And we all flew back on Tuesday.”
“It was actually a fairly small group that was there on-site. In addition to the performers we had a very small support staff. But a lot of people were involved leading up to it for sure.”
The result of this whirlwind of work was a broadcast that several times powerfully invoked the Cirque ethos. “And I really give the Dancing With The Stars team credit for that. They were so respectful of our brand and really made us look great.”
It was a collaboration that greatly benefited both sides. “We were just happy to have the exposure; to be able to showcase the individual shows in the way that we did. It’s such a well-produced show, and it’s got such a huge following. Plus the social media exposure; the show tends to trend most nights it’s on, so just to have all the chatter and exposure was really key for us.”
Something we wondered about in our original review was why there was no ad buy from Cirque that could make the point that the shows represented were all different, and that the various Cirque elements could all be seen live in context on tour and in resident theaters. This was an intentional decision. “Usually when we do major national TV appearances we look at doing an ad buy, but I think the consensus was that this was basically a two-hour commercial, so having that additional exposure wasn’t entirely necessary.”
And the impact was significant. “I know that our ticket agents were getting more calls from people, and I want to say our sales were a bit higher on that Tuesday than they normally were.”
In a show that was essentially two hours of pure “Cirque!” Ms. Paladie did have some highlights. “In my opinion, the highlight for me was the intro, where all of our individual logos came up on the screen behind the contestants. There was that recognition and that pairing. That was really a true highlight for me.”
As for a favorite performance, “It’s hard for me to say. I feel the way they used the projections and the screen content from KÀ, it really made you feel like you were there, that was really strong. I thought the Paramour number was really strong. I loved the aerial act in the La Nouba number, that act is just jaw-dropping. The aerial act in Kurios was great. Gosh, it’s really hard to say.”
For such a special show, which we don’t think has even been done to this extent before, big kudos go out to all involved and to Ms. Paladie for being the producer. An effort for which she is still enthusiastic. “I just want to do it again next year! So hopefully there will be a Cirque night next fall.” Not that she’s giving us a scoop. “No. It was so much hard work, but it was so worthwhile that the minute it was over it was like, ‘let’s do it again.’ (Laughs.) It truly was a really amazing opportunity for us. It came together so beautifully and we were just thrilled with the outcome.”
The show was the 21st most popular show in the US the week of its airing, garnering 10.73 million viewers. It would take all of Cirque du Soleil’s shows – resident, big top and arena – playing two shows a night, seven days a week, at 100% capacity for four months to get the same number of impressions from that one two-hour broadcast.
“Now when you put it like that that is amazing. I love it!”