“What Ifs and If Onlys, Part 1 of 7”

“What Ifs and If Onlys, Part 1 of 7”
By: Ricky Russo – Atlanta, Georgia (USA)

Over the years Cirque du Soleil has announced or was rumored to be working on a wide variety of interesting advancements beyond circus shows, their traditional core product. Some of these new opportunities were in the realm of music, some in television, some as new experience concepts, and some in the realm of… say what?!

Back when we were approaching our 100th issue (in 2012, gosh, has it really been eight years?), I thought about all the quotes, blurbs, and past announcements we covered in Fascination of new products, venues, or avenues of adventure the Cirque intended to explore. I wondered which of these came to fruition and which had quietly remained hidden behind the curtain at Cirque HQ in Montreal. I uncovered many examples in my search through our news archives – some that had come readily to mind while others I had completely forgotten about, and couldn’t wait to touch on further – and then organized those findings into a three-part celebratory series leading up to Fascination’s publication milestone.

In Part One of that series, we explored a number of rumors and announcements regarding “permanent” or “resident” shows made through the years that didn’t pan out. In Part Two, we examined announced and/or rumored media potentials from the company – from filmed shows and books to new music CDs – many of which never saw the light of day. And in Part Three, we explored what could have been in regards to projects beyond Cirque du Soleil’s traditional space – entertainment and media – and dove into the realm of other experiences Cirque attempted to provide. It was a satisfying look back at what could have been from Cirque du Soleil, if only…

As we began to approach our 200th issue I began to ponder those “what ifs” and “if onlys” again and wondered: would it be interesting to revisit that original idea and present new findings on old and new topics alike? Turns out… yes! And we’ve organized these findings into a new seven-part series that mixes together announcements of new show concepts and/or places that Cirque wanted to set up residence, to projects for the large and small screen, to experiences and other oddities that were announced but didn’t quite come to fruition. So, without further ado, let’s jump in, rediscover and share what Cirque du Soleil announced but then quietly disappeared over the years.


Cirque du Soleil’s track record in creating variety content specifically for television is mixed at best. The company received numerous accolades for its reality series FIRE WITHIN (2002), detailing the trials and tribulations of creating VAREKAI. But it received an equal amount of animosity for its follow-up series SOLSTROM (2003) for being too childish and not up to the level of quality seen from other Cirque projects. Disgruntled, Cirque focused its efforts elsewhere. A decade later Cirque du Soleil would attempt to re-embrace television in a mighty big way with equally mixed results (LUNA PETUNIA and BIG TOP ACADEMY), but first let’s set the stage because the Fire Within and Solstrom specials definitely weren’t the company’s first attempts in making productions specifically for television.

In the good old days, Cirque du Soleil filmed its shows for television consumption, usually for HBO and/or CBC specials, eventually releasing the production to the home-video market. Through Télémagik, Cirque du Soleil’s visual media subsidiary, fans of the Cirque were able to enjoy “Le Cirque Réinventé” and “Nouvelle Expèrience”, not to mention a number of unique and interesting documentaries about those shows (“Quel Cirque”, “Saltimbanco’s Diary”, “The Truth of Illusion” and “Full Circle”) and the company itself (“Baroque Odyssey”) from the comfort of their living rooms. “Saltimbanco”, filmed during its 1993 stopover in Atlanta, would become the last show produced for television and Télémagik would fall into relative obscurity. The hiatus was self-imposed, however, as Cirque du Soleil decreed that as long as a show was still performing live they would never film it and/or release it. However, the story of Cirque du Soleil on television does not begin or end with Télémagik.

Two earlier recordings were made for television broadcast by Le Club des Talons Hauts, Inc., the company producing Cirque du Soleil at the time. The first, a video of the 1985 Tour (called “Cirque du Soleil-Tournée 1985”), was originally distributed by the Multimedia Group of Canada in collaboration with Téléfilm Canada, Les Productions Fildefer, and with participation of La Société Radio-Canada (better known in the English-speaking world as the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the CBC). The second, a recording of the 1986 Tour (“La Magie Continue”), was originally released as a 90-minute special on VHS and Betamax on July 1, 1987 via mail order from Les Entreprises Radio-Canada (the CBC, again) or was available at the exit of the Le Cirque Réinventé big top. Both have retroactively come under the Télémagik banner, though only “Le Magie Continue” has ever been re-released (but that’s a story for another time.)

Formed in 1987 under the direction of Hélène Dufresne, Télémagik’s purpose was to promote Cirque du Soleil and, eventually, involve itself in television and film projects whether or not they were connected with the Cirque. Although Télémagik executed the first part of its mission (the promotion of the Cirque) quite well, it hungered to expand on the second – independent filmmaking. Jean David, the troupe’s marketing and communications vice-president, even confirmed this desire to the Canadian press on more than one occasion. But nothing seemed forthcoming until May 13, 1994, when CINAR (a Montreal-based studio that was heavily involved in children’s entertainment) announced that it had committed to the creation of two new large-scale projects, both designed for the international market.

But only one of those projects is of interest to us, as CINAR said it had signed an agreement with Cirque du Soleil to create and produce a primetime series, years before Fire Within or Solstrom were even thought of. “This production will highlight the world of the circus: its fascinating universe, its success, its acts, life behind the scenes, etc.,” the announcement said; “We’ve been pursuing Cirque for a year,” says Cinar’s Micheline Charest. “I’m convinced we have a gem here.”

Although the format was still sketchy, professional actors would hired to play circus performers. Dramatic episodes would focus on the “aspirations and disappointments” of people testing themselves against the tremendous physical demands of circus life, says Charest. Also, because Cirque personnel come from all around the world, “there will be cross- cultural characters” and possible story focus on the loneliness of creating a life on the road far from one’s homeland.

Actual Cirque performers would also play dramatic roles, says Charest. “We’d like to do the series for Access or Prime Time (in the United States),” she adds. But marketing the show internationally will not mean watering down its Montreal origins, she adds. “I like that the Cirque is Montreal, and that it won’t be a show about just any circus, but about our Cirque du Soleil. A little touch of nationalism, but don’t quote me on that.” Intriguing stuff to be sure, but the public heard no more until a June 9, 1995 article highlighted not one, but three projects Télémagik was working on:

• Airlines around the world next year might get Cirque du Soleil “In the Skies” to show passengers: 20 segments of 15 minutes each of Cirque acts. Four episodes have been filmed. The rest would wait for sales to enough airlines to make it commercially viable.

• Zealously guarding their valuable franchise, Cirque officials are slowly developing a fictional TV series with Montreal’s CINAR Films and rejecting what Jean David calls “lots of movie offers we have on the table.” The projected TV series about a circus on tour initially was planned for Radio-Canada, CBC’s French network. “We had written several episodes, but that was expensive and difficult to finance,” says Dufresne. “We’ve started over again in English with CINAR to interest broadcasters (not only in Canada).”

• A plan for Cirque to leap onto the world’s biggest movie screens, via a mooted co-production between Imax Corp. and Japan’s Fuji-TV (Cirque’s co-sponsor in Japan), foundered over what Dufresne calls the lack of private financing promised by a third party in Canada. But, she says, “We’re having discussions.”

By October 1995, the CINAR drama had a name and a broadcaster, which were highlighted in this very brief blurb: “Baton Broadcasting Inc. of Toronto has reached an agreement with Telemagik and Cinar Films Inc. to develop a 60-minute episodic dramatic television series based on the circus Cirque du Soleil. The drama, to be entitled simply ‘Cirque’, will portray people involved in a travelling circus.” But that’s where the trail goes cold… other than a few more mentions of something being “in development” (“I don’t like to talk about things in development,” Charest says. “What matters is what gets produced. We’re working on a series based on Cirque du Soleil. But who knows? It might take me four years to put it together.”), nothing further is ever said about “Cirque” by either CINAR or Baton Broadcasting. Cirque du Soleil did obviously continue discussing the IMAX film idea but “In the Skies” also dropped off the radar – no pun intended.


Make no mistake, Cirque du Soleil today is a hot commodity. Everyone wants the Cirque to help anchor a project, or to make their exposition a unique happening. That’s the whole reason why the Special Events team was created in the first place! A number of items we’ll talk about in this series were definitely within the realm of possibility, as Cirque du Soleil themselves had press releases about them, or the rumors themselves were so credible there was no question that Cirque had the concept in development. But before we get into those, let me whet your appetite with a couple that are a little more off-the-wall than your average rumor, and certainly raised a lot of eyebrows here at Fascination!

For instance… take this little blurb we published in June 2017: Robin Leach, an entertainment reporter and writer out of Las Vegas (though he’s best known for hosting the television series “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” from 1984 to 1995), had heard a couple of “rock related” whispers… “Are Cirque du Soleil execs taking a hard look at staging a new Las Vegas show centered on the antics and adventures of the legendary heavy metal group Mötley Crüe?” he asked. SAY WHAT?! Robin was usually on top of things with regards to Vegas entertainment, but this one… if it was true at one time just never went anywhere nor was mentioned again.

To be fair, Cirque du Soleil did once attempt to get into the Rock’n’Roll business by acquiring a 20% equity-stake in Rock in Rio USA, a music festival held for two weekends in May 2015 where more than 100 acts representing the best music of America, Britain, and Brazil would entertain hundreds of thousands of fans. This concept, modeled on the legendary music festival celebrations in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and Lisbon, Portugal would occupy at a 37-acre plot on MGM Resorts land from Circus Circus to the edge of Sahara Avenue opposite SLS Las Vegas called the City of Rock. Unlike other music festivals, the creators wanted “Rock Streets” where audience and artists could interact in a 500-foot area featuring 20 “homes” filled with shops, restaurants and a stage.

Rock Street USA used the imagery of New Orleans, its culture and music as its backdrop with a diner, parked Cadillac, street-side cafes, jam sessions, the blues and dozens of street-dance styles with an official crew. Rock Street U.K. featured the heritage of music from Great Britain and Ireland on a street created to resemble London’s Camden Town and Ireland’s Grafton Street with houses inspired by traditional Irish and English pubs and shops. And Rock Street Brazil captured the warm and colorful culture of Brazil featuring some of the country’s most charismatic. Had it been successful, Rock in Rio USA would be held again in 2017, and again in 2019, but it was not meant to be. The inaugural Rock in Rio USA was not successful, so the convention in 2017 did not occur and there have been no further plans for future gatherings.


Cirque du Soleil did not start out as a company that was comfortable staying in one place for long. As self-proclaimed “Merchants of Happiness”, it was harder to “follow the sun” and bring joy to the masses if you’re standing still waiting for them to come to you. And the nascent Cirque was not one to stand still. After conquering English-speaking Canada (which they accomplished following Expo ’86 in Vancouver) and later the United States in 1987 (at The Los Angeles Festival), an offer to reside permanently in Las Vegas was just a pipe dream. But by 1992, Cirque du Soleil was performing five days a week there with Nouvelle Experience at Steve Wynn’s Mirage Resort and Casino. The contrast between the Cirque’s high-concept circus art and the glitzy artlessness of the desert city is obvious. But officials say it’s a natural union. “There is no contradiction,” Guy Laliberte said. “I believe in marriages of money and art. People say you have to be in pain and suffering for art but I don’t believe that.”

The decision by the Cirque to set up a permanent base in the United States was a major step forward and highlighted its profound evolution from a group of street performers almost wholly dependent on government grants to a profitable worldwide concern with hundreds of employees. “It’s a very simple deal,” explained Jean David.
Negotiations with Caesar’s had been under way for several years, but fell through at point of signing. When the word got around Vegas that the Cirque was no longer under the yoke of the Roman Empire, the phones began to ring. David said the Mirage won out because, “They offered the best deal and they were the quickest.”

It’s been both a profitable and lucrative partnership ever since.

Because of the exposure and success in both Las Vegas and later Orlando, Cirque du Soleil is frequently used as a “cultural bonus” for real estate projects world-wide, even if the company hasn’t entered a formal agreement with the developer or is even aware of the venture. The company also receives a constant stream of proposals from developers eager to lure the Cirque to their towns or resorts. “The conversation generally stops cold when we explain that it costs $100 million to build a theater and $40 million to develop a new show,” Lamarre muses. Only the hardy, deep-pocketed few then persist. Like Casino moguls…

In March 1994, Cirque du Soleil was a venerable three-ring circus wonder. In addition to prepping Alegría for premiere in Montreal, there was Mystère, just permanently anchored in Las Vegas, and Saltimbanco opening in Tokyo, following Fascination’s fantastic introductory run. But there was more on the horizon. On March 9th, the Montreal Gazette reported that Mirage Resorts Inc., headed by Steve Wynn, had just won a bid to build a casino in Vancouver. And part of the deal was a permanently installed Cirque du Soleil-produced show. The casino proposal began when the federal Vancouver port authority, which paid for half the $300-million Canada Place convention center, realized the burgeoning cruise-ship business had outgrown its single terminal. Unwilling to spend more public money on an expansion, yet more unwilling to lose the cruise ships to Seattle, it called for private-sector tenders for redevelopment. Four proposals were short-listed and all contained a casino.

Wynn got involved after Canadian construction magnate Jack Poole introduced himself while in Las Vegas attending a rodeo. The result of the meeting was a joint venture in which Mirage would finance and manage the Vancouver resort complex, while holding 49 per-cent of the equity. The rest would be held by B.C. businesses, public and labor, and the casino would be owned and regulated by the provincial government. (The development included two cruise-ship terminals, a 1,000-room hotel and a convention center; the controversial casino represented only 5 per-cent of the proposed building area. Two theatres would be constructed, including one devoted exclusively to Cirque du Soleil.) The proposal did not expose the taxpayer to any risk, would create 15,000 permanent jobs, and would generate some $256-million in annual tax revenues to all levels of government. But there was a catch: the B.C. government was still debating whether or not to legalize for-profit casinos in the province.

On June 28, 1994, Wynn made his first public appearance in Vancouver, telling 600 business people at a Board of Trade meeting that Vancouver was ripe for a “value-added” resort that took advantage of the city’s natural beauty. Wynn said he was not interested at all in operating a casino in Vancouver if it didn’t complement other entertainment activities. That is why Mirage wanted to build a $25 million theater inside the center to house Cirque du Soleil. But he also acknowledged the project couldn’t go ahead without the revenues a casino would generate.

Wynn, who had been in Vancouver for three days meeting with planners and the media, expressed frustration that people were focusing on the casino to the exclusion of the project’s other beneficial aspects.

“We don’t think of it as a casino. I can’t keep saying that enough times. If this was just a casino, we wouldn’t be here. I don’t trust casinos. They’re not enough. A slot machine or a blackjack table has as much dynamic appeal as a telephone pole.” Wynn devoted much of his luncheon speech to complimenting Vancouver on its scenery and explaining how the Seaport project would enhance the city’s reputation. “I know that if you give anybody any excuse to come here, they will. Make no mistake about it. The reason I want to come to Vancouver is because Vancouver is magnificent. We don’t make Vancouver. Vancouver makes us. But we do give Vancouver an aspect and a facet to its personality that is tested and worthwhile.”

But his words fell on mostly deaf ears. The Globe and Mail, who was covering the developments out of Toronto, suggested their brethren were just a bit xenophobic and suffered from an outbreak of hypocrisy arguing against the project. Why? Gambling was already legal in B.C., where 18 casinos, government lotteries, race tracks, and charity bingos raked in about $1.5-billion a year. Demand for gambling exceeded supply.

“But the plan to develop a casino and cruise-ship terminal on the harbor-front, right next to the five white sails of Canada Place, has tapped the city’s thick vein of bucolic xenophobia,” they said. The prospect of a private-sector casino had thrown churches, charities, hotels, and elected officials into a tizzy, and the newspapers were filled with warnings about Vancouver turning into a Vegas North. “Given that these same churches, charities, and governments relied on their monopoly over gambling for revenues,” the paper continued. “They couldn’t be more convincing if they called for a crackdown on prostitution while selling sex charters to Bangkok.”

“I get up each morning,” says Paul Manning, vice-president of the joint venture, “and pray for this thing to stay alive long enough for the public-hearing process.” The opposition is visceral and seems to revolve around Mr. Wynn, even at the punter level. The company’s own polling shows that three-quarters of B.C. residents surveyed would like the casino if it brought all the promised benefits, but 68 per-cent have reservations if it is to be operated by a Las Vegas croupier.

A month later, Mirage official Alan Feldman said the company was frustrated at how the provincial government had greeted their $750 million project. He said the company hadn’t formally asked if it should pull out, but the time was approaching when it would reconsider its commitment. “If we continue to get stony silence from the government about its willingness to review this proposal, we will have to ask ourselves that question, about whether or not this is a proper place for our shareholders’ money,” he said. “We’re at the point now where we have to make some decisions. I mean, my God, how much money are we going to spend here?” The company has already spent $750,000 on architect’s fees, polling, public information brochures and site planning.”

Furthermore, Feldman said the company was absolutely frustrated that it could not get a hearing with the province or participate in the government’s review of gaming policies. In response, the government said the Mirage project was never supposed to be part of the policy review and that it would have to wait, like others with proposals, until the review was finished. “When we announced the [gambling] review, we said we would not be addressing individual proposals,” said Mike Hughes, communications director for the government services ministry. “We have not entertained applications on a specific basis, but once this review is complete and a policy has been put in place, the government will begin reviewing proposals.”

After six months of abuse and indifference, Wynn and his partners “temporarily suspended” the project, and it was never heard of again. The NDP completed its gambling review in the fall of 1994. It rejected a destination resort and casino, and instead proposed allowing video lottery terminals in the province’s bars instead. Not that it mattered to Wynn much. By November 1994, he announced the launching of his next multimillion-dollar casino in Las Vegas – The Bellagio – with the Cirque as regular headliners. This new show would feature “watery acrobatics and fireworks, presented in a specially designed, 1,500-seat water theatre.” It took a while, but “O” would go on to debut at the Bellagio in October 1998.

To be Continued…