“Cirque at Sea II: Syma & Varelia”

In 2017, MSC Cruises partnered with Cirque du Soleil, the world-leader in live entertainment, to offer a unique onboard experience: Cirque du Soleil at Sea. With this unique long-term partnership, MSC Cruises has set new standards in live entertainment at sea, with 8 original and breathtaking shows not available anywhere else in the world, launching exclusively across MSC Cruises’ Meraviglia generation ships. MSC Meraviglia was the first ship to debut the new Cirque du Soleil at Sea concept with the launch of the two shows VIAGGIO and SONOR in June 2017, and with work is already underway for the next shows for MSC Grandiosa (that will also launch in November 2019), we thought now was a good time to take a dive into SYMA and VARELIA, the two shows that launched with MSC Bellissima in March 2019.


The entertainment experience takes place six nights a week, in a multi-million-Euro, custom-made entertainment and dining venue, the Carousel Lounge, where guests can enjoy dinner or cocktails and then watch the Cirque du Soleil at Sea performances.

The Carousel Lounge was designed to meet the unique needs of Cirque du Soleil. The state-of-the-art live entertainment venue is equipped with the latest cutting-edge technology, complex rigging systems, a 360-degree rotating stage and high-specification audio & lighting equipment to elevate the performance to the next level. Designed as an intimate performance space, The Carousel Lounge holds 413 guests for each show, making the interaction between the guests and performers even more special.

The name “Carousel” was chosen to convey the combined spirit of MSC Cruises, offering unforgettable experiences, and of Cirque du Soleil’s unique performances, evokes festive and magical emotions. There is something inherently captivating about a carousel. Associated with childhood memories of festive outdoor fairs, it conjures up visions of music, colours, lights, movement all combined in a unique, breathtaking experience.


A fantastical odyssey into the heart of an imaginary world, and the search for a mysterious island inhabited by phantasmagorical creatures.

Aboard her boat, a young sailor with a prolific imagination dreams of fabled lands. While navigating a violent storm, she capsizes, sinks into the depths of the sea, and finds herself in the enchanted kingdom of mermaids. Returning to the surface, the sailor is lost and disoriented. A giant sea creature, emerging from the waters, comes to her aid and guides her to a mysterious island. There, she meets a strange being defying the laws of gravity. The sailor descends with him into the heart of the island where she ventures into a surreal jungle. While in the jungle, the sailor meets the chief of the tribe, a character who is all at once intimidating and benevolent, who recognizes the sailor as one of his own. Before leaving this enchanted island, the entire tribe gathers for a ritual and festive celebration. The sailor returns to reality, her heart rich with the experiences from the edge of imagination. Immersive video images, an original set design, bioluminescent lighting and acrobatic feats make SYMA an unforgettable show.


The Storm – Aerial Pole
Underwater – Bungee Dance
The Strange One – Leviwand / Manipulation
Magical Jungle – Antipodism
The Bounce – Skipping


– An Island in the Middle of the Ocean: The original idea was that an MSC Cruises’ ship is like an island in the middle of the ocean. The guests on board MSC Bellissima are embarking on a journey of discovery, just like the main character of the show.

– Journey of Initiation: The show title could have been ‘some place’ as it is all about exploring the world, travelling from different places and meeting with extravagant creatures. The journey matters more than the destination. SYMA is the story of a journey of initiation: a rite of passage for the young sailor. Drawing strength from Mother Nature, the character will experience the torments of danger, fear, solitude but also the wonders of discovery, friendship, hope and beauty.

– Physical & Organic Materials: During creation, mood boards were a mix of vivid colours and natural textures. All the scenographic elements are tangible, physical and organic. The key stage device is a threefaced pyramid which will serve different purposes: acrobatics, scenography, props and will also be used as a canvas for video mapping.


– The Sailor: Syma, a young sailor, has a prolific imagination. She still has her child-like mind and she uses origami to channel her imagination. She is adventurous and, after many days of mental preparation, she sails away from her coastal village to reach a legendary island. Throughout her exploratory journey, she will encounter fear, hope, beauty and friendship. Syma is a sailor and a brave adventurer. She is known for her affinity for lollipops,
which give her lips a gradient color. She also has prominent freckles, a result of her prolonged escapades in the sun.

– The Underwater Creatures: They embody the legendary mermaids of the ocean. Living in a parallel underwater universe, these fascinating deep-sea creatures dance a hypnotic and weightless ballet. They will save the sailor and bring him back to surface. These enchanting aquatic creatures can charm and hypnotize. Their makeup will transform depending on the time in the story and stage lights thanks to the use of UV makeup.

– The Giant Jellyfishes: These two giant translucent characters will help Syma to cross the ocean to get to his mysterious destination: the legendary island.

– The Strange One: He is an eccentric outcast, living alone near the beach. He defies the laws of gravity and mesmerises whoever he encounters. He will guide Syma to further explore the depths of the island jungle.

– The Nymph: These vivid bushes are no ordinary plants. From this surreal jungle, a nymph emerges and plays with spherical fruits.

– The Chief: The Chief is the leader of the island tribe. At first intimidating behind his big mask, he turns out to be benevolent and will recognise Syma as one of his own. He will give her a very special present: a magical origami that can help her travel to this fantasy island whenever she wants and protect her from future dangers.

– The Islanders: They love to party and gather for festive celebration! With them, Syma will participate in a joyful rite of passage. After the festivity, Syma will return home riding a giant origami bird; she will return to reality.


SYMA’s score is epic and cinematic, lyrical and adventurous. The performance is a saga of many twists and turns and a formidable inner journey. The music conveys the emotions the characters and the audience can all experience when embarking on a wild and unknown adventure: fear, hope, danger along with the wonder and beauty of an imaginary world.


The creatures we meet along our Sailor’s journey are inspired by nature, sporting an organic aesthetic. Each character has a unique textile pattern. Bones, fossils, X-rays of marine fauna and fish scales have all been infused into the design of costumes. The knots, braiding, straws and raffia were used to convey the more primitive spirit of the show authentically, rather than have them feel as though they were created with modern methods of fabrication.


Video Projection Mapping: Video projection mapping is used during the show to project visual content on tangible set elements and props, such as the 3-faced pyramid and the mask of the Chief. This technology enhances the guest experience by animating static objects and surfaces. The feeling of watching objects becoming alive is very exciting. We want guests to ask themselves, “How did they do that?” This visual effect also helps the narration of the show, bringing life to the story on stage. It creates an immersive experience in the intimacy of the Carousel Lounge.


Discover VARÉLIA, a tale of modern chivalry, where love and courage triumph over the greatest divides.

Varélia is a princess whose rare violet skin has isolated her from the rest of the world. She dreams of finding acceptance and of her prince charming to save her from her sorrow. Nearby, a young blind man is also lonesome. One moment changes his destiny: meeting Varélia. It’s love at first sight. The maleficent Mr. Pourprier, obsessed by the color violet, thwarts their budding romance and kidnaps Valéria. Distraught by the disappearance of the princess, the young hero formulates a plan and assembles a crew of friends to rescue his beloved. At the end of the epic battle, the villain is defeated. True love conquers all. Delight in the acrobatic feats, the laser show and the unique set design of this futuristic medieval tale.


The Princess – Dance Trapeze
The Hero – Slack Wire
The Villain – Cube Manipulation & Contortion
The Rescue Plan – Diabolo
Hapily Ever After – Roller Skating & Duo Cerceau


– Hybrid Fairy Tale: The show title could have been ‘some time’ as it mixes eras using chivalry novel codes with modern and contemporary elements. A medieval tale with a futuristic twist. The inspirations lie in the cartoon world using a simple story arc but offering a multi-layered interpretation with a humoristic touch. In VARÉLIA, like in comic books, the physical differences become strengths. Loneliness is a common emotional state, shared by the Princess and the Hero. They recognise themselves as the same, yet different. This is a story of love, a love that is threatened when a Villain kidnaps the Princess. The Hero and his friends manage to deliver her while defeating the evil one. A happy ending then seals this classic yet modern storyline.

– Graphic Lines, Lights and Illusions: The scenography is based on an intangible and virtual universe. From the very beginning, the idea was to play with laser lights to create a changing and futuristic-like set design. The lasers are used to create geometricshaped architecture and set elements, as well as a storytelling device; helping the story progress (the Hero’s teepee, the Villain’s cage).


– The Princess: Valéria is rejected because of her rare purple skin colour. This difference has shaped her strong personality. She has felt sad, isolated and bored for her whole life but an unexpected encounter will change the course of her lonely life. Varélia is the heroine of the story and her most striking feature is that her skin is purple. In order to achieve a realistic composition, the purple was highlighted with a light pink. It took three makeup trials to get the right shade of purple.

– The Hero: The young Hero is blind and has been struggling to find his place in the world. He’s caught in his own inner imagination. But his love for Varélia will reveal him to the world and change his destiny.

– The Villain: The maleficent Mr Pourprier is an eccentric character who is obsessed by the colour violet and dreams of having a purple wife. Soon, he encounters the Princess and in a fit of madness, kidnaps her. But she soon will be rescued. The villain is a comedic antagonist. Despite the chaos he causes, his antics make him an audience favorite. So, we purposely exaggerated his eyebrows and used some pink around his eyes to emphasize the madness of the character.

– The Racoon: He’s the Princess’ best friend, he is very friendly and protective.

– The Joggers: They come in the morning to do their jogging in the park, as usual. They are the amusing crowd, the archetype of the hip city dwellers with funny caps and reading glasses. They will help the story move forward.

– The Warrior Friend: With his agility and skills, the warrior friend will help the Hero come up with a rescue plan to deliver his beloved Princess. His act is the rehearsal of the rescue plan. It is a blend of martial arts and weaponry.

– The Angels: They’re the inhabitants of Cloud 9, the cherubim of Heaven. They are the representation of romanticism and celebrate Love. They perform for the new couple and everyone bathes in joyfulness.


The original music concept for VARÉLIA relies on two artistic statements: first, use classical music in conjunction with electronic beats to counteract the cold aspect of the lasers and second, personify the main characters with specific instruments (the piano for the Princess, strings for the Hero, brass for the Villain, etc). The show experience is very well-balanced with the techno-like visual effects and the timeless classical music.


The colors in VARÉLIA are more saturated, with higher contrasts, for a cartoonesque look. The white and purple hair, animals in Tartan clothes…we are in an altered reality! Urban looks, inspired by current fashion, are made with more technical materials and processes: double mesh, tissue spacer, molded silicone, 3D patterns and laser cutting to name just a few.


Lasers: Laser lights create an intangible, futuristic and changing set design. They convey the theme and atmosphere of the show. With a strong focus on aesthetic principles and the safety of both the artists and the audience, the set of lasers create graphic figures and illusions where Cirque du Soleil at Sea artists can thrive. The creative team worked hand-in-hand with the technical team to make this possible, as it is quite a technical challenge, and ensured a rigorous testing process.



With a bachelor’s degree in History of Arts, Nathalie started her career in TV production in 1991, transitioning quickly to live show production, where she occupied various roles such as Props Project Manager, Production Stage Manager and Production Manager. Mainly working for Cirque du Soleil for the past 21 years, Nathalie has collaborated on more than ten new show creations and even more events and special projects. She has also worked on projects with Just for Laughs Festival, Cirque Éloize and the United Nations, to name a few. Nathalie currently acts as a Line Producer for different projects in development as well as managing the partnership with MSC Cruises and the creation of the new Cirque du Soleil at Sea shows.

ANH-DAO BUI – Production Director

Anh-Dao joined Cirque du Soleil in 2002 as an assistant director for the production “KÀ” followed by “ZAÏA”, “TOTEM” and “MICHAEL JACKSON: The Immortal World Tour”. In 2013, she had lived in China for over a year while collaborating on the “Han Show”. Upon her return to Montreal, Anh-Dao held the positions of project manager for C:LAB, assistant production director on “VOLTA”, project administrator at Vigie Creative and was responsible for the production of special events.

DAVID POULIN – Creative Director

David has been involved in the entertainment industry for more than 20 years, in theatre, music, film and circus arts. He started at Cirque du Soleil in 1998 as a stage manager and later as a stage coordinator on “Saltimbanco”, “Varekai”, and “Corteo”. Since then, he has participated in numerous productions as an assistant director: “Quebec 400th”, “Kinect Launch”, “Kurios”, “Sep7imo Dia”, “Chemins Invisibles – Chapitre V”, “JOYÀ” and “Iris”.

BENJAMIN DUPONT – Stage Director

A graduate of Industrial Design, Benjamin joined Cirque du Soleil in 2008 in the Research and Development department. In 2013, he joined the Creative Guide’s Office where he worked on events and show concepts including an immersive experience with Walt Disney Imagineering and the short film “Sparked – A Live Interaction with Drones”. As a Creative Lead at 45 DEGREES, he applied his unique conceptual approach to the staging of several creations including “Scalada: STELAR” in Andorra and the 2018 Dubai World Cup.

EDESIA MORENO BARATA – Acrobatic Performance Designer and Assistant Director

Edesia, once an elite athlete, was recruited by Cirque du Soleil in 1998 as an artist. For over 10 years, she travelled the world with the shows “Saltimbanco” and “Corteo”. Passionate and creative, she transitioned into creative roles such as performance designer, art coach, acrobatic choreographer, director and event designer. Since she joined Cirque du Soleil, she has collaborated on no less than 35 productions.

NICOLAS VAUDELET – Costume Designer

Nicolas was trained by the giants of the fashion world: Christian Lacroix, Christian Dior, Louis Vuitton, Givenchy, Sonia Rykiel and Jean-Paul Gaultier. With the latter, he participated in designing the costumes for Madonna’s Confession Tour. A frequent traveler, he also worked with Franco Dragone (Le Lido – France) and MGM (Macao). Based in Montreal since 2017, he regularly collaborates with 45 DEGREES: “Helene Fisher Tour 2017-2018”, “Dubai World Cup 2018”, “Diva” in Andorra.

MARYSE GOSSELIN – Makeup Designer

Maryse has worked in the field of performing arts for fifteen years through rich collaborations in the theater and circus universe. At Cirque du Soleil, she has participated in dozens of shows since 2013 such as “LUZIA”, her first as the makeup designer. SONOR and VIAGGIO, the Cirque du Soleil at Sea shows aboard MSC Meraviglia followed. Most recently, Maryse created the makeup design for “BAZZAR”.


Upon completing his studies in classical guitar, Félix began his musical career as a member of two bands. As either a solo artist or in a group, he went on tour, created albums and contributed in writing and recording more than 100 songs. Now a multi-instrumentalist, a director and an arranger, in 2014 he released his debut album “Comme un seul homme” as a singer-songwriter. In 2017, he composed the music for “Scalada STELAR” by Cirque du Soleil.

MATHIEU POIRIER – Lighting Designer

Mathieu has been a lighting designer and photographer for fifteen years. He first studied flute at the Conservatoire de musique de Montréal and before branching out to photography while studying at Dawson College. Self-taught, he transferred his passion for photography to the performing arts while completing his first lighting designs. For him, scenic lighting creates a photographic ensemble always in motion.

JEAN-SÉBASTIEN BAILLAT – Video Content Designer

Jean-Sébastien Baillat has been active in the world of design and digital arts for the past 15 years and remains one of the most influential designers in Quebec, with clients like Moment Factory, 4U2C, Silent Partners Studios, Cirques du Soleil, Red Bull Music and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Amongst other things, he has signed the video direction 2017-2018 of Helene Fischer, a German popstar who gained numerous awards and prizes. Throughout his career, Jean-Sébastien Baillat has won more than 200 national and international awards in design, including a Lion (Cannes).

PIERRE-LUC BRUNET – Sound Designer

Pierre-Luc is passionate about performing arts and the unique human aspects that excite different societies around the world. A true globetrotter, he travelled the world and collaborated with Moment Factory, Cavalia, Just for Laughs (“Grease” and “Fame”), XYZ (“City Walk”) in Dubai, Phare the Cambodian Circus, “Darwin Festival” and “Adelaide Fringe” in Australia and finally with LSS Productions (“The Producers”).

EDGAR ZENDEJAS – Choreographer

Edgar spent 18 years as a dancer in Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal, where he evolved as a choreographer. Internationally recognised for his expertise and his eye for innovation, he has collaborated with Starlight, Franco Dragone and the National Circus School. For Cirque du Soleil, Edgar was an artistic consultant on “TOTEM” and worked with the C: LAB. Furthermore, he’s actively working on Project Lorca, a hybrid dance company that combines contemporary dance and circus arts.

ERIC BOUCHARD – Technical Director – Theatre

Eric made his debut at Cirque du Soleil in 2001 with the production of “Varekai.” Then, for nearly 10 years, he occupied the role of senior lighting consultant to support various shows. In 2010, ready to take on new challenges, he turned to the role of automation project manager on “Amaluna” and “Kurios.” In 2014, he rejoined Cirque du Soleil at Sea as the technical director responsible for supervising the creation of the Carousel Lounge and the overall production of the show.

RICHARD PIQUET – Technical Director – Production

Richard is an experienced technical director. He began his career in the world of motion theatre as a technical and touring director with DynamO theater. He continued his career with the touring show “Rain” (Cirque Éloize). Technical director of La Tohu for 12 years, he’s worked with multiple circus companies across various events. Within this realm, he collaborated on several occasions with Cirque du Soleil.