Cirque du Soleil: The Great Chinese Seduction

It’s tomorrow night that Cirque du Soleil will officially launch its first permanent show in Hangzhou, China, in a brand-new 1,500-seat theater built on the site of a former railroad yard. With X: The Land of Fantasy , Cirque hopes to finally break through this coveted market.

The arrival of the Circus in China inspired Quebec director Hugo Bélanger ( Harold and Maude , Around the World in 80 Days ) the theme of the meeting between East and West. Even the cast of X: The Land of Fantasy , of which half of the 50 circus performers are Chinese, reflects this “encounter”.

“It’s a huge project,” says Hugo Bélanger, who has been designing the show for three and a half years. “Just to give you an idea, Robert Lepage’s show Kà [presented in Las Vegas since 2006] comes back four times here! It is very impressive. ”

Since the sale of Cirque to the consortium led by the US investment firm TPG Capital (in 2015), the deployment of the multinational entertainment company in Asia, and in particular in China, has become THE priority, despite the challenges (and collapses) encountered by many foreign companies.

In the spring of 2017, Cirque’s former creative guide, Jean-François Bouchard (now in Lune Rouge), unveiled at C2 Montréal the models of this new theater built in Hangzhou, a “small” city of 15 million people. residents located 200 km from Shanghai – a real estate project made by Chinese co-producer XTD and valued at 200 million US.

The scenic device of X: The Land of Fantasy is probably the most sophisticated ever created by Cirque: 2 mobile islands of 750 seats each, which rotate 360 ??degrees and move laterally. Four distinct scenes, therefore, the longest of which is 100 meters long!

“This is a breakthrough for us, but I remain cautious because we are still at the beginning of the wave of all that is live entertainment in China”, told us the CEO of Circus, Daniel Lamarre.

“I hope we are not too far ahead of the wave and that we will find an abundant public to see it. One day there will be a market and that day we will be there.” – Daniel Lamarre, CEO of Cirque du Soleil

During the first show of the series of previews, last Saturday, the Chinese public has responded, said Hugo Bélanger, who was chosen for his ability to “tell a story.” “The magic of the theater operated, there were people of all ages, a lot of oh! and ah! a lot of applause. They really reacted well. ”

It must be said that the Cirque put the package, creating acrobatic numbers of high aerobatics. Icarian games, acrobatic bungee, aerial straps, tumbling, trampomur, Chinese mast: all the acrobatic arsenal has been deployed. Luc Langevin even participated in the creation of illusions numbers presented in X: The Land of Fantasy .

The role of the “faceless” narrator has been entrusted to Acadian artist Mathieu Chouinard, one of only 10 Canadian artists participating in the adventure.


Contrary to the habits of the circus, which develops its concepts of shows before building its theaters (this is the case of all the shows presented in Las Vegas, for example), it was necessary for Hugo Bélanger to write a scenario according to the concept. of the room.

“Each of the stands follows his own hero,” he explains. In the yellow tier, which represents the East and is directed by an empress, one follows a boy, while in the red tier, representing the West, one follows a girl. So, there is 20% of the story that is different from one side to the other.”

The stands then move according to the story before facing each other or standing side by side.

Hugo Bélanger, who has been in Hangzhou since February, was inspired by Clint Eastwood’s Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima , which tell the same story during the Second World War – the first from American view, the other on the Japanese side.

“I favored a fantasy world where two worlds [Aria and Petra], represented by a dragon and a phoenix, were separated following an earthquake and have been in dispute ever since. I invented a story where a royal seal was broken in two and lost. With this prophecy that once the two halves together, peace between the two worlds would return. These are two children who are at the heart of this adventure and this reconciliation. Hence the X of the title which symbolizes the meeting of the two diagonals. ”


Cirque wanted to avoid a “Chinese” show despite the fact that in this city that seduced the European explorer Marco Polo at the end of XIII th century, over 80% of tourists are Chinese.

“Young Chinese people are eager for things that come from elsewhere. They do not want to hear more about legends and Peking Opera, they want to open up to the world.” – Hugo Bélanger

Despite the pitfalls related to the political nature of the Chinese empire, Daniel Lamarre looks forward to the future. “I hope this show will then help us to establish the brand and Cirque du Soleil, when I put my pink glasses, I think it may have the potential to do for us in China show that the O ‘s made for us in Las Vegas. If there is a big show that can work in China, that’s it. If it does not work, I do not understand anything anymore … ”

Have recent tensions between China and Canada had a negative impact on Circus? Daniel Lamarre weighs his words well.

“Historically, it was an extremely important advantage to be Canadian, we were welcomed as friends and it was fantastic. Today, we no longer have that aura, but we are not treated like villains either, so I would say we do not have too many disadvantages. ”

What works for the Circus is that it will create jobs in China, says Daniel Lamarre, who talks about at least 125 jobs, including a team of Chinese technicians trained by the circus. “Circus brings a lot of positive things to China, and that contribution, I believe, is beginning to be recognized. ”

{ SOURCE: La Presse }