“What Ifs and If Onlys, Part 2 of 7”

“What Ifs and If Onlys, Part 2 of 7”
By: Ricky Russo – Atlanta, Georgia (USA)

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we had four or five shows in Macau within five to seven years.”

Remember this quote? It’s been quite a number of years since Daniel Lamarre made that statement in regards to Macau and Cirque’s prospects there. At the time ZAIA had just been unleashed to the community at large and it looked as if the company would have another success on its hands. Little did he know just how wrong he would be. ZAIA would close after performing just three and a half years of a ten-year contract. What went wrong? While there were many other factors involved, most tend to agree that Macau was just not ready to be an international destination for arts and entertainment; most who visit were there strictly to gamble. So, the other four to five show concepts on the table? Shelved. Laliberté said the company believed it could still make a return. “It doesn’t mean we are writing off Macau. It was a special adventure because we were the first to set up a resident show down there. That’s life!” he said.

It was a risk that Cirque and its partners in Macau were willing to take. Unlike the following idea that the Montreal Gazette eluded to on September 29, 2003 – a Cirque-themed Casino:

MGM Mirage vice-president of public affairs Alan Feldman says his casino company is anxious to build new properties just so they can launch more Cirque shows. But the next deal – which Laliberté hastens to say is only in the talking, as opposed to signing stage – could top everything that has gone before. The proposed 4,000-room hotel/casino would be co-owned by the Cirque and MGM Mirage. It would be located on 55 empty acres already owned by MGM Mirage situated between the Monte Carlo and Bellagio resorts. According to Feldman, one idea being discussed is making this a completely Cirque-themed resort. At present, the Cirque shows just have their own specially designed theatres and boutiques within casinos designed according to other themes. This one could be all Cirque, all over, all the time. Think Cirque du Soleil wallpaper (it already exists), Cirque sheets, Cirque clowns handing out free Cirque drinks (Zumanity already has its own martini) at Cirque slot machines, Cirque Muzak everywhere. The mind boggles. The most optimistic opening date would be 2007, Feldman says.

Ultimately this became the CityCenter project, but couldn’t you just imagine? Or, how about…


When Cirque du Soleil announced NYSA, a brand-new resident show for Berlin to be staged at the Potsdamer Platz, all I could think about it was finally. Finally, after a couple of decades of trying and failing for one reason or another, Cirque du Soleil would have its first resident show in Europe. Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group President and CEO, Daniel Lamarre, said of the announcement, “For Cirque du Soleil, this is a beautiful way of celebrating a 25-year relationship with the city. This new and exciting production is most certainly the best way to highlight the privileged bond we have with Berlin.” Sure, Saltimbanco had first played Berlin in 1995, and Cirque followed that up with fourteen more of its shows over time. But many fans don’t realize just how special the relationship with Berlin really is. Did you know that Cirque du Soleil attempted to reside in Berlin twenty years prior?
On March 26, 1996, Cirque du Soleil published via its new website that it was pleased to announce it would be presenting a permanent show in Berlin:

An agreement in principle with developer Dr. Peter and Isolde Kottmair will provide a theatre for Cirque du Soleil in a large real estate complex that will be constructed on Leipziger Platz, in the heart of Berlin. The hall will seat an audience of 1,600 and will be built in consultation with Cirque du Soleil at a cost of DM70 million. The architect will be Aldo Rossi, winner of the 1990 Pritzker prize. The show is scheduled to premiere in the year 2000, and this project will enable Cirque to ensure its Berlin activities until the year 2015.

Although London might have been the first choice for a second resident show (it was, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves), Cirque du Soleil looked to Berlin in 1996. Why Berlin? Easy: they were approached and Cirque du Soleil liked what they were pitched. There are just two mentions of the potential Berlin outpost in Cirque du Soleil materials of the period – first, in the Alegría in Hong Kong Programme Book and in the aforementioned announcement on its website. Neither declarations suggested what the show might be about or who might be part of production’s creative coven (although at that time there was just one creative team), only that the opportunity was on the horizon. Alas the project never happened, and it’s just one of a number of these types that have been announced over the years that never came to fruition for one reason or another. So, what happened to Berlin 2000?

On July 18, 1997, just a little over a year after the initial blurb hit the press, The Globe and Mail published a piece that shed some light on the issue. It said the project was in peril because of a nasty dispute over a century-old subway tunnel in at the development site.

The Montreal-based entertainment concern announced in March, 1996, that it would be the anchor tenant of a 1.2- billion-mark ($917-million) development in the heart of eastern Berlin that is to include a 1,600-seat theatre for the circus along with a hotel, offices, shops, restaurants and apartments. But the start of construction has been delayed because of a clash involving the developers, a German government agency and Berlin’s transit authority over who should pay the costs of rebuilding a subway tunnel that bisects the site.

The dispute has tried the patience of the Cirque’s European managing director, Danny Pelchat, who says the deal, which calls for the Cirque to present exclusive productions at the Berlin venue until 2015, may be dead if construction doesn’t start soon. “I have to have a date by the end of the year,” Mr. Pelchat said in an interview. “Originally, [the Berlin venue] was supposed to be ready by the end of 2000. We agreed to postpone [our show] until the spring of 2001 and now they’re saying [the site] may be [ready by] the end of 2001,” he said, adding that the Cirque has offers from several other European cities interested in providing a permanent site.

Mr. Pelchat said the company was attracted to Berlin because of its artistic traditions. Cirque also felt the city would become a world center when the German capital was moved there in 1999. And that the site for the theater was a prime location on Leipziger Platz, a stone’s throw from where the Berlin Wall used to cut the city in two.

The developers were Isolde and Peter Kottmair, a husband and wife team from Munich. Ms. Kottmair said she and her husband first saw the Cirque’s Mystère show in Las Vegas when they were scouting for entertainment ideas to bring back to Munich. “It was so fascinating. There was such an excitement in the audience,” Ms. Kottmair recalled. “It was amazing. This was in my eyes the best show we saw.” After, the Kottmairs met the Cirque’s co-founder, Guy Laliberté, and discussed the possibility of building a venue for the circus in Germany. The Kottmairs then bid on the 27,000-square-metre site in central Berlin, which was being sold by the Treuhand, the German government agency tasked with selling off state-owned property of the former East Germany. The government insisted on an entertainment aspect to the project, so the Cirque fit in perfectly. Mr. Rossi was asked to design the development and in late 1995, the Kottmairs’ bid of 320 million marks for the land was accepted.

Mrs. Kottmair said that the price was reduced by 10 million marks because of the old subway tunnel that, but she maintains that the full extent of the problem only became evident later. Now it will cost between 40 million and 50 million marks to rebuild the tunnel so that it is strong enough to withstand the weight of the structure to be built above. “They didn’t tell anybody about this fact,” Mrs.
Kottmair said. “We are not the owners of the tube [subway] and we are not responsible for the tube,” she insisted.

At the Treuhand, a spokeswoman said Mr. Kottmair had ordered an expert report on the land before he agreed to buy it. “He knew in advance that it would be hard to build on the part above the tunnel.” Duben Kropp, a member of the board of directors of the BVG, Berlin’s transit authority, said that the Kottmairs knew about the situation and that the agency won’t pay a cent to rebuild the tunnel, which he insists can last at least another 30 years.

The press suggested that Cirque didn’t appear to be all that worried as negotiations dragged on. Its investment in the Berlin project had so far been minimal, involving some work by lawyers and such (“agreement in principle”), but there were other possibilities afoot that Mr. Pelchat was keen to explore and he – and Cirque du Soleil at large – would only wait so long.
It would only take another year for Cirque to lose its patience. Via the Globe and Mail on April 28, 1998, the Cirque said it wouldn’t do any more somersaults to get its first permanent venue in Europe built now that the project’s developer had run into financial problems.

Twenty-four months after the Berlin announcement, the site is still nothing more than a 27,000-square-metre sand pit. Now, the Treuhand, the German government agency responsible for selling off the assets of the former Communist state, wants the land back. The agency says the Kottmairs have failed to make the initial payment of 35 million marks on a total purchase price of a whopping 310 million marks, apparently after being unable to come with the needed financing. Both sides agree that because of sinking real estate values, the land isn’t worth as much as it was when the deal was originally done in 1995. The Treuhand says the Kottmairs are welcome to walk away from the deal provided they pony up the 100-million mark difference between today’s market value for the land and the original deal. The Kottmairs says there’s no way they’ll pay and complain that they’ve already spent 33 million marks in planning and other expenses.

Pelchat was sick of the whole business, and he was not shy in sharing those opinions: “We’ve been discussing this project for so long, with so many delays and postponements, that we’re not getting excited anymore.” With no contract signed, the Cirque isn’t committed to the Berlin site and is involved in discussions for a site at the disused Battersea power plant in central London. Back in Berlin, a local real estate analyst believes the Cirque project still has a good chance of going ahead but in the hands of another developer. “The question is who will finance it.”

Turns out LIVE NATION would… just 20 years later.


Here’s another interesting one… In an interview with Billboard Magazine, Argentine singer-songwriter Gustavo Santaolalla discussed releasing a revamped version of his 1982 hit “Compañeros del Sendero.” He then went on to tell the magazine about the current state of his projects: “The Arrabal show spent a month playing in Boston, always packed and to great reviews, so we’ve been working to take it to New York in 2018. I’ve finished working on the music of the Cirque du Soleil show based on Pan’s Labyrinth, and we are currently searching for a director.” UM… WHAT?! Now I liked Pan’s Labyrinth as much as the next person, but a Cirque du Soleil show based on the movie? No, not the right creative mix. Naturally we never heard anything more about this, but would it surprise you to learn that Guillermo del Toro has been trying to develop the title into a Broadway musical since 2012? And it appears that they’re still trying! In February 2018, when this blub was released, it was indeed true that Gustavo Santaolalla had finished working on the music for the musical, and they were looking for a director for the show… but the only connection to Cirque du Soleil was made in that one-and-only Billboard article, so… yeah.

And then two months later, in April 2018, we published a little blurb that we found in the Grimsby Telegraph, a newspaper for a large coastal English seaport and administrative centre in North East Lincolnshire, on the South Bank of the Humber Estuary, close to where it reaches the North Sea. It read “Darren Michael Charles has been named creative artistic director and choreographer for a breathtaking new Cirque du Soleil spectacular that will being touring in six months’ time.” Now, nothing about that statement seems off until you get to the follow up: “Darren’s vast experience will stand in good stead as he will be directing large acrobatic and gymnastic acts, contortionists, clowns, aerial flying acts, dancing and juggling, and… horses!”

HORSES?! IN A CIRQUE DU SOLEIL SHOW?! That’s what was being reported, and at the time I said we’d have to wait and see how things panned out. The article went on to say that Darren was gifted with horses, having gained experience with many other prestigious dance and touring companies, going on to direct and choreograph the hugely successful Cavalia’s Odysseo North American Tour. That being said, we couldn’t believe Cirque du Soleil might go back on decades of precedent to create a show that included animals… but news was news. So what happened? Well… Cirque du Soleil didn’t produce a show with horses. Obviously. While I can’t say for certain that horses were never considered for a new show concept, Darren Michael Charles did go on to announce that he had joined the creative team of BAZZAR, which did indeed go on to tour six to eight months after the article was published.


In May 1997, as Cirque du Soleil was gearing up to make “Alegria: The Film” (under Les Films Lampo Di Vita Inc.), Peter Wagg (“Max Headroom”) is brought on board to re-launch Télémagik as Cirque du Soleil Images (or CDSi for short) — the company’s new film division. It’s mandate: to create original and innovative television, video, film, and music products reflecting the image and spirit of Cirque du Soleil shows. And they hit the ground running. In addition to producing the IMAX film “Journey of Man” for the big screen, Cirque du Soleil Images was about to break the drought of filmed productions for the small screen; Quidam was filmed live – in Amsterdam – for a new television special. On May 26, 1999, TVN Entertainment Corporation, a leading digital programming and distribution network at the time, announced that, on August 1, 1999, the network would premiere “Cirque du Soleil: Quidam”, the first pay-per-view telecast of a Cirque du Soleil show.

This premiere airing will be preceded by a half-hour pre-show featuring behind-the-scenes footage, a countdown to the “Quidam” PPV debut airing, and interviews with Cirque du Soleil performers, choreographer Debra Brown, and artistic director Franco Dragone. The 90-minute PPV special will replay several additional times during the month of August. This “Cirque du Soleil: Quidam” PPV special is being produced specifically for television, utilizing state-of-the-art digital technology, under the direction of David Mallet.

The special was later re-broadcast on BRAVO, an arts and film channel available in the United States, where it became an instant hit.

Shortly thereafter, Cirque du Soleil put Dralion under the lens whilst staked in San Francisco (engaged 2/3/2000 – 3/26/2000), prompting even greater success. “Cirque du Soleil Presents Dralion” was nominated for and won three Daytime Emmy awards: Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Special; Outstanding Directing for a Variety Series or Musical; and Outstanding Costumes for a Variety or Music Program. This achievement prompted the filming of Alegría in Sydney (engaged 5/29/2001 – 8/5/2001); “Fire Within”, the company’s first “reality TV” series about the creation of Varekai; and Varekai in Toronto (engaged 8/1/2002 – 9/8/2002). And with the successes of “Alegria”, “Fire Within”, “Varekai”, and a few documentaries thereof, Cirque du Soleil, in association with BRAVO, announced that, as the official network of Cirque du Soleil and the owner of the broadcast rights to the Cirque’s repertoire of shows (in the United States), it would film – for future airing – the troupe’s oldest currently touring show…


The filming was rumored to take place at the formidable Royal Albert Hall in London, where Saltimbanco was scheduled to be engaged from January 10th through February 9th, 2003. And, it was suggested, the filming might cover Saltimbanco’s final moments, as London was rumored to be the final stop of Saltimbanco’s second big top tour (the “final” curtain previously fell there in 1997 before the show was resurrected for an Asia-Pacific tour that began in 1998). Although the filming of Quidam, Dralion, Alegria, and Varekai were not perfect, those that were filmed during the Télémagik era had often been criticized as being badly cut, missing plenty of the action.

None was criticized more so than Saltimbanco for completely removing the beginning of the show. But one has to realize that the television specials, as they were known then, were not originally meant to be full representations of the shows, rather they were seen more as advertisements – teasers if you will – of the product you’d see live. Therefore, for Saltimbanco to get a more modern treatment certainly appealed to every fan.

The euphoria was short lived, however.

“In our July 2002 issue we reported that in conjunction with Bravo Cirque would re-film Saltimbanco during its January 2003 run at the Royal Albert Hall in London”, I wrote at the time. “Fascination has heard that contrary to previous rumors, Saltimbanco is not slated to be re-filmed after all. This is certainly disappointing news for fans of Saltimbanco who dislike the current filmed version. However, with Saltimbanco currently scheduled to continue its European tour with a possible return to U.S. soil, the show may yet find itself under the camera.”
And with a statement like that you’d think the story would’ve ended there. However, in the month that followed, BRAVO changed its announcement from filming Saltimbanco for later re-airing to actually broadcasting it live!

“In past issues we’ve discussed rumors that Saltimbanco was going to be re-filmed, either in London or elsewhere, on its second European Tour. Last issue we shot down those rumors, suggesting that Saltimbanco was not to be re-filmed. But as the nature of rumors go, word now comes from Bravo that Saltimbanco WILL indeed be re-filmed. WHAT? Sometime in 2003, Bravo will present a special version of Saltimbanco to US audiences through its first-ever live broadcast. Bravo will present Cirque’s ‘other-worldly feats of aero-athleticism’ on tape delay. A location, time and date have not yet been released.”

For a brief moment our elation was restored, but little more was heard after that announcement and the project quietly disappeared. Saltimbanco, of course, did not fold again in London. It went on to tour Europe throughout the next two years before transferring to Mexico (in 2005) and later South America (in 2006), where the big top version of the show did have its final curtain call, but as we know that wasn’t the end of Saltimbanco’s story. Either way, Cirque du Soleil Images would go on to film La Nouba in Orlando (2003), Corteo in Toronto (engaged from 8/4/2005 – 9/11/2005) and Koozå in Toronto (engaged 8/9/2007 – 10/21/2007) before the division ceased filming full shows again for a time (but that’s a topic for another time.)


Communist Vietnam is not a location oft mentioned as being ripe for a Cirque du Soleil resident show, but on May 23, 2008, the Globe and Mail in Toronto reported that a Canadian developer was actually planning a $4.5 billion USD Las Vegas-style casino-resort there. And who would fill the entertainment bill? Why Cirque du Soleil, of course!

The project, called Ho Tram, will be the biggest foreign investment to date in Vietnam, said Michael Aymong, chairman of Toronto-based Asian Coast Development Ltd., the project’s lead investor, with a 30-per-cent stake. Its main partner in the project is New York hedge fund Harbinger Capital LLC, which has a 25-per-cent share.

The initial phase will cost $1.3-billion and consist of two five-star hotels with a combined 2,300 rooms and a casino with approximately 90 gambling tables, 500 slot machines and an area for VIP customers. When completed in 2015, the resort will comprise five hotels with 9,000 rooms and a second casino, Mr. Aymong said. Ho Tram also will target vacationing families, with features including an 18-hole golf course designed by Greg Norman, a Cirque du Soleil theatre, and a site for guests to swim with dolphins. “It’s a needed project in Vietnam” that, in spite of the country’s poor infrastructure, will be able to “effectively compete” with integrated resorts in neighboring China, Malaysia and Singapore, Mr. Aymong said.

Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party has historically been suspicious of U.S.-style casinos, and many Vietnamese consider gambling a social evil on par with drug abuse. Although a few small, tightly controlled casinos have operated in the country for several years, Ho Tram would be several times larger and represent a big, symbolic step for Vietnam into the capitalist mainstream. Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said his government “will create favorable conditions” for Canadian investors, but Ho Tram’s casinos would be off-limits to Vietnamese, as were the country’s existing casinos, even though Vietnam hoped that a luxurious mega-resort offering high-stakes gambling would boost tourism and create jobs.

The casino business was booming in Asia at the time, led by China’s glitzy enclave of Macau. Singapore was building its own casino-resort complex, and industry players expected Japan and Thailand to follow. But we know how that ended… a down-turn in the global economy put the kybosh on a lot of these types of projects. Even so, Ho Tram went forward, occupying more than 200 hectares on a three kilometer stretch of beach in Xuyen Moc Commune in Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province, a 90-minute drive southeast of Ho Chi Minh City. Alas, without Cirque du Soleil…

We should mention that in 1998, Cirque du Soleil was quite happy with its partner Mirage Resorts, later MGM Mirage, and finally MGM International. To partner with another casino operator during this era would be unthinkable. It would also probably be untenable, considering the contract Cirque had with Mirage/MGM at the time.

To be Continued…