“What Ifs and If Onlys, Part 7 of 7”

“What Ifs and If Onlys, Part 7 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, here’s the final set of items that announced but then quietly disappeared over the years.


Most of us know that Cirque du Soleil produced “World’s Away 3D” in 2012 for the big screen. Many know that the company also produced “Journey of Man” in 2000 for the IMAX screen. Fewer still remember 1999’s art-film “Alegria: Le Film” by Franco Dragone. But did you know that there was a much earlier attempt at bringing Cirque du Soleil to the big screen?

The first inkling that a deal with Hollywood producers to bring Cirque du Soleil’s magic to the big screen occurred on March 15, 1988; the Ottawa Citizen published a small passage confirming “after weeks of negotiations and fielding offers, offbeat Quebec circus Le Cirque du Soleil has sold film rights to Columbia Pictures.” There was no word on how the drama and art of the aerialists, clowns, jugglers, and cyclists would be translated to the screen, but a Columbia representative said, “The movie will not be presented as a concert picture.” A few days later, on March 26th, the Montreal Gazette helped fill in some more details.
Normand Latourelle, the Cirque’s vice-president and general manager, said the Coca-Cola subsidiary made an offer it could not refuse – to produce a movie as unique as the Cirque itself. “It will be part performance, part high tech,” he said, “but with a love story as well.”

The film is a personal project of Dawn Steel, president of Columbia Pictures, who has seen the troupe perform many times. Steel was so enthralled with Cirque she bought out both of the troupe’s shows [on March 27th] and plans to share the magic with thousands of Columbia employees, their families and her friends. Steel says she doesn’t want to make just another concert-type film about the Montreal group, but a romantic thriller set under the big top. She doesn’t have to look any further. From the moment the performance begins in dense fog, the audience is transported into a web of magic complete with rainbow-colored costumes and electronic space age music.

Capturing the daredevil showmanship of Cirque on film will be a feat in itself, Latourelle said. “We want our film to do what Flashdance did for dance – dazzle the people.” There are rumors Steven Spielberg will direct the movie, although a Columbia spokesman said no one is officially attached to the project. And although spokesmen refused to divulge figures for the deal, the average cost of making a Hollywood movie today is $17 million. According to Latourelle, profits from the movie deal will be used to improve the show – bring in new acts, buy new equipment and get back on the road. But the troupe won’t see that money for quite a while. The movie needs to be written before the cameras can roll, and the strike by the Writers Guild needs to end before than can happen.

Unfortunately, nothing happened. On September 11, 1989, The Ottawa Citizen announced that the movie was not going to happen. Not only was development of the script delayed due to the 1988 Writer’s Strike, “We couldn’t go along with Columbia on questions of merchandising and control of the feature story,” circus spokesman Jean Heon reported. But the Cirque movie idea lives on, Heon added. “There is definitely interest elsewhere.” Hélène Dufresne, president of Cirque du Soleil’s sister production company, Télémagik, said that plans now call for in-house development of the film story — and a future partnership with another production company. “We want to keep as artistically involved as possible,” she said. “After all, this is our life.” But, as we know, a tell-all film about the life-and-times of Cirque du Soleil did not happen. Cirque du Soleil has gone on record in the past stating this deal had given Columbia Pictures too much influence, in attempting to secure all rights to the production itself. Laliberté and Gauthier pulled out before it could be concluded, keeping Cirque du Soleil independent. (Consequently, Guy Laliberté has expressed that experience stands out as a key reason why Cirque remained independent and privately owned for 30 years.)

And yet that hasn’t stopped Cirque du Soleil from exploring projects for the big screen. On May 21, 2019, Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group announced a partnership with Rideback (producer of premium film and television content) to develop feature length movies inspired by the Cirque du Soleil creative catalogue. “This partnership aims to both leverage Rideback’s successful track record of transforming premium IP to the movie screen and, via continued diversification of content offering, increase the opportunities for a global audience to enjoy the Cirque du Soleil universe,” the release stated.

“Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group is synonymous with high quality entertainment, regardless of the brand or product category. For us, the movie business is a logical progression for ongoing portfolio expansion, and Rideback is the perfect partner to embark on this journey,” said Daniel Lamarre, president and CEO of Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group. “Rideback is known for its ability to penetrate the movie industry with quality content. I look forward to the endless creative opportunities that will emerge by providing access to the immense Cirque du Soleil library of characters and storylines.”

“Cirque du Soleil has enchanted millions of people around the globe through soul-stirring artistry and journeys of the imagination that are Cirque du Soleil hallmarks. Their expansion into movies creates a one-of-a-kind, frontier opportunity to develop entirely new narrative features driven by the awe-inspiring worlds they have created,” said Dan Lin, founder and CEO of Rideback. Lin continued, “We’re thrilled to partner with Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group, as we feel uniquely positioned to share in their mission. We built Rideback on an ethos of empowering storytellers, opening doors for a broader mix of voices, and helping creators feel free to take risks and explore new ideas. We think our unique development environment will help Cirque du Soleil unlock exciting new stories waiting to be told on the big screen.”

Of course, the COVID-19 Pandemic has put the brakes on everything at Cirque du Soleil, but we’d be surprised if anything ever comes from this deal.


Cities like London, Paris, New York City, Beijing, Singapore, Moscow, and Berlin are oft mentioned as ideal markets for Cirque du Soleil to launch a resident show in, and for a time there might be plans and an announcement to do just that (like the 2015/2016 discussions about cloning shows, like LOVE in London, ZUMANITY in Berlin, “O” in Shanghai, or the cloning of Michael Jackson ONE and KA in other markets), or the realization that JOYA created “many, many requests” from developers to host similar version of the dinner-show concept in places like Hawaii, Brazil, and elsewhere, only for those plans never to be spoken of again. Toronto isn’t usually a city mentioned in that list of potential Cirque residences. But back in 1994, when Steve Wynn and Mirage Resorts came to Vancouver to pitch an elegant but “value-added” Las Vegas-style resort for the city, he also half-pitched an idea for a similar development in Toronto, though it was not taken too seriously. Two decades later, a September 2012 blurb from the Toronto Star changed everything.

The Toronto Star reports that MGM Resorts International has pledged to include the Montreal-based troupe in its casino, provided it gets the go-ahead from Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. There are still two big barriers to cross. OLG has not yet decided which company will get its Toronto contract, and the Toronto City Council has not yet voted to allow a casino in the city. “Our colleagues at Cirque would love to have a permanent home in Toronto. They see, as we do, this incredible cosmopolitan global destination, one that would work very well for them,” says Alan Feldman, MGM’s senior vice president of public affairs. He says the casino could include a circus theatre and/or a Cirque-themed nightclub.

Cirque du Soleil public relations director Renée Claude-Ménard even confirmed the story with the Montreal Gazette. “If MGM obtains something in Toronto,” she said, “we have confirmed that we would be their entertainment content provider. What it will be will be determined at a later date, but yes, we have of course confirmed our interest to our partner MGM.” And that’s all we heard of the project until the plans were made public – to mixed reviews – the following March:

MGM Resorts International and its partner Cadillac Fairview is proposing to build a casino complex, complete with a shopping mall, a 1,200-room hotel, and a permanent home for Cirque du Soleil on the grounds of Exhibition Place at a cost of up to $4 billion. The proposal is one of several received by the city in the last few months in advance of an April council vote on the controversial issue of allowing a casino to be built within the city.

At the unveiling of the most recent plan, the senior vice-president of public affairs at MGM Resorts touted economic benefits of the company’s proposal. A model was presented at the unveiling, though journalists were not allowed to photograph it. The massive three-million-square-foot complex would bring 10,000 new, unionized jobs with an average salary of $60,000 — plus 5,000 construction jobs during an estimated three years of development — and millions of dollars in city revenue, said Alan Feldman.

Other features include a 10,000-spot underground parking lot, an enhancement to the Molson Amphitheatre that would create a Canadian Music Hall of Fame at Ontario Place and 10 restaurants overlooking Lake Ontario. The Canadian National Exhibition would be moved closer to the water, Feldman said. “We’re looking for a way to take the variety of the wonderful assets that are on Exhibition Place and Ontario Place, and weave them together into a whole that can help to energize this space year-round,” he said.

MGM Resorts International even stepped up its public-relations campaign, launching a website to convince Torontonians of the supposed benefits of a casino development in their city. The website, MGM Toronto, showed the gates of Exhibition Place underneath a detailed description of the MGM’s “vision” for an “integrated resort destination.” However one observer in the theatre sector is not convinced the Cirque du Soleil proposal would actually come off.

Wayne Leung, Managing Editor of the Toronto-based Mooney on Theatre website, said: “The second part of Feldman’s statement that the project could be a nightclub “or something”, has some precedent. Cirque has moonlighted in creating upscale ‘ultra-lounge’ nightclubs. However, if you’re making grandiose statements about bringing Cirque du Soleil to the table as a partner for a casino-resort project anything short of a full-fledge resident show would be an utter disappointment. There’s a key difference between MGM’s Vegas property and any potential Toronto casino. MGM owns its Vegas properties and reaps all the revenue generated whereas they would only be a “private operator” contracted to run the facility in Toronto and paid a set fee for doing so by the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation. MGM would be less likely to incur the financial risk of running a money-losing show as a loss-leader if they don’t directly benefit from the increase in gaming revenue.

“This isn’t the first time Cirque du Soleil has been down the path for a downtown waterfront casino proposal in a Canadian city,” Mr. Leung added. “ In 2005, Cirque was part of a partnership to build a new resort facility for the Casino de Montréal in that city’s Peel Street Basin. Cirque pulled out of the project after the negative publicity from the fierce public outcry against that project. This Toronto project could be history repeating itself.”

Alas, that April vote came and it did not go in MGM’s favor. Therefore, Cirque du Soleil’s plans for Toronto were shelved and the details thereof placed firmly into their ever-growing archives of unrealized concepts. This would not be the last time MGM Resorts International would leverage their partnership with Cirque du Soleil in this way.

In addition to Toronto’s 2013 bid, MGM also wrapped Cirque du Soleil into a concept for a casino-hotel project in Massachusetts.

Local Mayor Domenic Sarno has selected MGM Resorts International as its preferred bidder for the Western Massachusetts casino license axing a rival development from Penn National Gaming in the process. The MGM proposal must now be supported by voters in a referendum before being able to compete with proposals by Mohegan Sun in Palmer and Hard Rock International for West Springfield. The state gambling commission has the final say over which company will get the state license with a decision expected by February [2014].

In 2011 in introduced legislation allowing for three resort casino-licenses, one in each of three regions of the state, and a license for one slot hall, which can be developed anywhere. MGM’s US$800m ‘major entertainment complex’ in Springfield would include world-class dining, retail and entertainment district on about 10 acres of land heavily damaged by the June 2011 tornado in Downtown Springfield. It would include a 25-story 250-room hotel with world-class amenities including a spa, pool and roof deck; 89,000 square feet of gaming space; about 70,000 sq. ft. of retail and restaurant space that would accommodate 15 shops and restaurants; and a multi-level parking garage. The casino would house at least 3,000 slot ­machines and 75 game tables.

Alongside the competition in Western Massachusetts, three companies are in the race to land a license in Boston casino and four are competing for the slot license. MGM president Bill Hornbuckle said: “MGM Resorts is very grateful to Mayor Sarno and his team for the confidence they have placed in MGM and for providing a respectful, rigorous and responsible process that led us to this day. We are happy to celebrate this milestone today, but we remain keenly aware that there is more work to do. We look forward to the continued dialogue and engagement with city officials and residents.” Mayor Sarno offered, “We have negotiated an agreement in which the citizens of Springfield are the winners. This has been a long and thorough process. MGM rolled up its sleeves and is ready to provide the city with a great opportunity for a brighter and stronger future. I urge the City Council to consider and ratify this encompassing agreement.”

He added that the MGM project offered the best package of economic development and jobs to the city. If it won, MGM had said it would definitely complete the project within 33 months, though Mr. Hornbuckle said the development time could be quicker. If the license was awarded in early 2014, MGM said it could open by 2016.
Mayor Sarno added: “The competition to win this coveted license is not happening inside Springfield. It is happening throughout Western Massachusetts. MGM Springfield has the unique characteristics to satisfy the criteria set forth by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission. A City of Springfield and MGM Resorts partnership creates the strongest competitive edge for Springfield to win.” Mr. Hornbuckle added:”The Western Massachusetts license presents an extraordinary opportunity for MGM, Springfield and the entire region. MGM Springfield looks forward to presenting its vision to a larger audience, and in the not too distant future, to calling Springfield home.”

Today there is an MGM Springfield resort, but there is no Cirque du Soleil. Notice that Cirque du Soleil itself was not specifically mentioned in the amenities list; however, it was included in the materials and renderings used to pitch the project.


Most of us know the story of Cirque du Soleil visiting the United States for the first time, how the company took the biggest risk in its history up to that point by agreeing to perform at the Los Angeles Festival without the funds necessary for a return trip home. We know the gamble paid off and Cirque du Soleil generated the buzz that made them the must-see act of the 1987 Los Angeles Festival, or otherwise we wouldn’t be here today talking about them. But that’s not what this story is about. This is the story about a December 2014 announcement that Cirque du Soleil would establish a permanent theater for Las Vegas-style shows at the American Dream project in the Meadowlands.

So, wait, Cirque du Soleil at a mall… in New Jersey? Yep.

American Dream is a retail and entertainment project amidst the Meadowlands Sports Complex in East Rutherford, New Jersey, that has had a long, sordid history of development. The project was first proposed in 2003 by the Mills Corporation as the Meadowlands Xanadu, with construction beginning in 2004. After the Mills Corporation’s bankruptcy in 2007, the project was taken over by Colony Capital. In May 2009, construction stalled due to the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers. Triple Five Group announced intent to take over the mall in May 2011, and on July 31, 2013, officially gained control of the mall and the surrounding site. Their version of it was supposed to open in 2014, but after a series financing issues, construction delays, and legal challenges, construction stopped again in December 2016. In late June 2017, construction resumed after new financing had been secured, but would still suffer a series of “chronically delayed” opening dates, until finally opening its first phase on October 25, 2019.

But what does Cirque du Soleil have to do with all this? Triple Five, the current developer of the project, was telling prospective tenants in 2013 and 2014 that more than 50 major retailers had already committed to renting space at American Dream. More than a dozen restaurants and a permanent live-performance theater for Cirque du Soleil were also being built, all according to a 67-page leasing brochure they were passing around. But had Cirque du Soleil really committed to this project?

A confirmation of sorts came from NYTIX in November 2015.

“Cirque du Soleil has signed on to perform up to 10 shows a week in The American Dream’s 1,500-seat theater,” NYTIX reported, “but it remains to be seen if CDS will be able to attract the 15,000 ticket sales per week in a shopping mall location somewhat far off the beaten track of Broadway in order to sustain such a show in the black.” The article went on to say that…

Although the final name for the Cirque du Soleil show in development for the American Dream Mall has not yet been announced, Cirque du Soleil has toyed with keeping the original name of the mall site, namely Xanadu. This could be problematic, however, because of the Broadway musical that shares that name. Furthermore, Cirque du Soleil executives may find that it is a big stretch to get the notoriously picky Manhattan-ites to take the train out to Secaucus Junction to see this show. This leaves just the residents of New Jersey who own cars as the potential audience for this show, all 8.9 million of them. It remains unclear if that will be enough tickets sold to sustain Cirque du Soleil, let alone the whole mall. If the mall falters, Cirque du Soleil could ultimately fail, because it is not clear who will want to go and see a show in a “ghost mall” in the depths of New Jersey. Triple Five is building out a dedicated theatre space for Cirque du Soleil’s show, so expect to see a mix of entertaining land and water based acts, taking in the very best of the Vegas shows and rolling them into one. It has also been mentioned that they may opt to change the show every 18 months with one of their traveling shows, keeping the content fresh and innovative.

And then we heard nothing as construction for the mall was delayed again and again and again, except that the show might be themed around fashion in some way shape or form. We’d even heard that the show could be musical in nature (think The Beatles LOVE, Viva Elvis, and MJ Immortal), and themed around Madonna, David Bowie, or even Elton John. By the time things were really starting to come together for the complex, Cirque du Soleil bailed. And whatever the idea for the show was got filed away.

But it doesn’t really stop there.

In November 2017, the developers of the American Dream Meadowlands proposed a $4 billion American Dream center in… Miami, Florida (Northwest Miami-Dade to be exact. In addition to a projected 450 retailers, restaurants and services, entertainment options announced at the time included the world’s tallest indoor ski park, a skating rink, indoor water park, aquarium, submarine ride, gardens, a multi-screen luxury theater complex, an arts center for live performances and, you guessed it, a permanent Cirque du Soleil installation. In August 2019, a Cirque du Soleil spokesperson, somewhat cryptically, called the reports “rumor and speculation.” Though at one time these announcements were more than just rumor, we can now just add them to an ever-growing list of announced-but-never-happened shows.


According to a December 2017 CBC News article, Cirque du Soleil spokesperson Marie-Hélène Lagacé confirmed it was interested in having a “creative project on the site of Royalmount.” But what was Royalmount?

Royalmount Centre was a massive new shopping and entertainment complex proposal slated for the Town of Mount-Royal’s industrial sector, not far from the Da la Savane Metro station in Montreal. CarbonLeo, the company that built Quartier Dix30, a shopping centre and entertainment complex on Montreal’s South Shore, was undertaking the $1.7-billion project nestled at the junction of Highways 15 and 40, earning it the nickname Quinze40. The 232,257-square-metre complex was to feature a performing arts space with seating for 3,000 people, a water park, an indoor cinema complex and an outdoor cinema on the green roof. The mall would also house restaurants, terraces, two hotels, an outdoor skating rink and office space. The project was controversial as opponents suggested the new center would multiply traffic and pollution in the area, and that it would centralize business, hurting the local economy and mom-and-pop shops, and discourage people from working and living in the city core. Proponents looked at the opportunity to redevelop a section of the city generally overlooked. In either case, the fact that Cirque du Soleil was “interested” in having a creative project of some kind on the site was newsworthy to us, alas, after that announcement we… you guessed it… hadn’t heard anything further. So what happened? Delay. Looks like by December 2019 the project was approved, but there was no mention of Cirque.


Last, but certainly not least, is this headline. Yes, a water park. At IAAPA Expo 2018 in Orlando, WhiteWater (a world leader in designing and manufacturing complete water parks) announced it was partnering with Cirque du Soleil to create a unique new water entertainment concept:

Cirque du Soleil has created a unique water park entertainment concept, consisting of 15-minute evening shows that take place at the same attractions guests enjoyed during the day. The productions will feature Cirque du Soleil performers and run a few times every night, allowing guests to pick and choose which ones they’d like to enjoy and in what order. “The result is a water park that entertains visitors both in the day time and after sun down,” says Su Ann Quah of WhiteWater. “In the day, visitors enjoy a range of thrilling and innovative water rides and slides, while at night, they’ll have the chance to experience a completely transformed environment. The water park morphs into a festive venue with music, specialty food and drinks, and picturesque illuminated trails which intertwine the main features of the evening program.” She says that Cirque and WhiteWater have crafted a concept that encourages repeat visitors, and the lengthened operating hours increases revenue while using the same infrastructure. “In essence, this entertainment concept is the ideal anchor for premium global destinations as it seamlessly complements hospitality, retail and resort venues, which welcome guests at all hours of the day.”

WhiteWater asserted, the productions would serve as an ideal anchor for waterparks as “it seamlessly compliments hospitality, retail, and resort venues which would welcome guests at all hours of the day.” Martin Boudreau, president and executive producer of Cirque du Soleil’s Parks and Hospitality says “WhiteWater and Cirque due Soleil have always pushed the limits of what we can do.” He added that, working together, the two companies will “redefine the waterpark experience” through the attractions and entertainment added to the venues.

WhiteWater’s chief business and development officer, Paul Chutter noted that the company was already in discussions with two parties looking at the goal of franchising Cirque du Soleil parks at several locations worldwide.

So far… well… you guessed it. Nothing else was said about the concept. Though there is one thing to note… it looks very similar to some of the original concepts for The Celebrate Project / Theme Park Cirque du Soleil was building with Vidanta, but as I said before, that’s a different story for another time.

* * *

And there we have it. Quite an interesting and long list, was it not? Even so, the projects discussed in this series were just the ones we knew about, those that were leaked and/or rumored to be happening, had semi-official announcements made regarding the company’s attention toward pursuing them, or were featured in the press in some form or another. There is no doubt in my mind that there are dozens more concepts and projects we don’t even know about and will probably never have the privilege of knowing about.

Alas… who knows what we’ll uncover in the future?