CDS launching its first original show since the pandemic

The Cirque du Soleil unveiled its first original show since before the pandemic at a press conference Tuesday morning at the Palais des congrès. But Echo isn’t completely new. It’s a radical revamp of a Cirque show that was supposed to have its world première under the Big Top in April 2020.

That show, titled Under the Same Sky, never opened, shut down like every other Cirque du Soleil production around the globe by the COVID-19 pandemic. There were issues with the show even before the pandemic scuttled it. A preview for Cirque executives early in 2020 didn’t go well and the original writer/director/production designer Es Devlin had already been shifted aside, with her role described only as “conceptual support.”

The Cirque brought in new director Mukhtar Omar Sharif Mukhtar in the first months of 2020 and he has been reinventing the show ever since. The original creation remains Devlin’s work and she is also responsible for the set design.

“Unfortunately we went through this very tough period of time, but it allowed us to step back and rethink the creative intent of the show,” Cirque du Soleil CEO Stéphane Lefebvre said. “We brought some new blood into the creative team and I think we’ve landed something very powerful as a new show.”

Echo will première under the Big Top at the Old Port beginning April 20, with tickets going on sale Oct. 17. This will be the Cirque’s 20th Big Top show.

Chantal Tremblay, creation director for Echo, said this is a very different show from Under the Same Sky.

“Visually it’s the same,” Tremblay said. “So we have the same set. But with Mukhtar, we’ve changed the rhythm.”

Tremblay noted that they had brought Mukhtar in before the pandemic to collaborate with Devlin, a well-known British multimedia artist and stage designer, and Tremblay underlined that it is not unusual for the Cirque creative team to rework shows in the weeks leading up to the première.

“Es has great ideas, but to put it together on stage we needed support and that’s what we did,” Tremblay said.

Mukhtar, who lives in Las Vegas, appeared at the press conference via video conference. He said one of the big changes to the show in the past two years was to focus on today’s youth, a demographic represented by the lead character, a woman named Future, played by Montreal-based French circus performer Louana Seclet.

“A lot has happened in the last three or four years,” Mukhtar said. “The way we think right now is different to what it was pre-pandemic. We look at life differently. We exchange with each other differently. So this was another big inspiration for me … the last inspiration is the youth of today, the creativity that youth have, their drive. Lastly, the awareness that youth have of what’s going on in the world.”

One of the central elements in the show is a giant two-storey-high cube, which will have acrobats performing in it and on top of it as it moves around the stage.

Lefebvre said the Cirque has managed to rebound after a disastrous period in which all of its shows were shuttered. The resulting loss of almost all its revenue forced the company to seek bankruptcy protection. Now the Montreal-based circus has new owners — a creditors group led by Toronto-based investment firm Catalyst Capital Group — and has 15 shows running around the world.

In Las Vegas, the Cirque has seven shows, the same number it had before the pandemic started, and it has eight touring productions. That is still a lot fewer than it had pre-COVID, when 44 shows were being performed internationally.

The first show in Montreal since the pandemic was a revival of their 2007 hit Kooza and it was the circus’s biggest success in Montreal, with 270,000 tickets sold following its première in the Big Top in the Old Port this past May.

“We are so pleased with the way things have panned out,” Lefebvre said. “All of our employees put so much effort into relaunching the shows. It was a huge challenge, frankly, so people have worked so hard to make it work. A couple of big surprises we’ve had is that performers wanted to come back to work with us and they were actually fit, which helped the whole relaunch plan. And the response from our fan base was phenomenal. We broke a record for ticket sales in Montreal and we had the same thing in many other markets around the world.”

{ SOURCE: Brendan Kelly, Montreal Gazette }