Inside Macallan’s £200 anniversary experience with Cirque du Soleil

The Macallan Distillery has collaborated with Cirque du Soleil for an incredible, immersive show to celebrate their 200th anniversary. We went along to check it out…

“Do you think this red is more like an apple or a tomato?” one of the lab technicians asked me, holding up a piece of felt. Together, we decided on apple.

Never before have I been invited to climb parts of a show’s set to mix paints with performers, or walked beneath them as they flipped along the walls, or been handed a cocktail by a man who then mounted a tightrope.

It was my first time at The Macallan Estate but I immediately understood why people referenced the Teletubbies when describing it. But it wasn’t the distillery itself I was there for.

I asked Macallan’s experiential lead, Ruth Wyllie, a question on a lot of people’s minds: How on earth did Macallan come to be working with Cirque du Soleil?


“In initial discussions with Cirque a few years ago, we instantly connected on this belief that nature gives you an immersive experience,” said Ruth.

“We are completely different and do completely different things, but craftsmanship and creativity are so integral to both our worlds. Creating a story with purpose was key to both of us, it wasn’t just about Cirque doing a nice performance here. We wanted to connect with people. They needed to walk away understanding the message.”

Spirit tells the story of Ayla, a colour scientist who has become disconnected from the natural world. She strives to find the perfect red to match the colour in a tartan her father left her. The call of the Highlands pulls her to them and various characters come together to show her the beauty she is missing in nature.

Led by performers dressed as lab technicians, we headed for one of the large warehouses on the estate. Expecting to walk in and see a stage, I was taken aback. More lab technicians busied about on huge tables, conducting experiments we could walk right up to.

What I thought was an area to hold us in soon became the setting for the first part of Spirit. Without ruining the surprises, it is an immersive experience.


I headed on through with Ayla and 150 other guests to the stage. Though, to call it a stage would be an insult. A river with running water flows around a central space, with a huge round light at its centre and mossy boulders dotted around. As I waited for the next part of the show to start, I thought back to my conversation with Cirque du Soleil’s creative director, Marie-Hélène Delage, earlier in the day.

“This is about celebrating the 200 years of Macallan, but also looking forward to the 200 years to come,” she said. “We were going with the message of protecting nature, using the values of craftsmanship, expertise and excellence but also saying that we all have a responsibility moving forward. That gave us the freedom to use elements inspired by Scottish culture and the history of the distillery, weaving them together in the storyline. It brings different worlds together to create something quite whimsical.”

Spirit contains hair suspension, aerial silk, contortion, cyr wheel, juggling, hoop diving and more. The small, intimate space meant you saw the expressions on every performer’s face, felt the whoosh of them flying through the air and heard them breathing.

But how do you find someone who can hang from the roof by their hair? After the show, Laurence Chalifour, from the Cirque team, told me they hold open auditions for anyone from anywhere to come and do, essentially, anything.

As you might expect with Ayla’s journey taking her to the Highlands, there is a fair amount of Scottish flare throughout Spirit. The lilting song of the tin whistle and bagpipes were woven throughout and three cheeky Highland dancing thistles punctuate each performance. Eve Mackenzie from Falkirk is one of them – the only Scot in the 20-strong international cast.

If my senses weren’t already being treated enough, the costumes were like works of art. Costume designer James Lavoie said Spirit was a new challenge with audiences closer to the performers than in huge arena shows. Each piece of fabric was dyed by hand, and tiny details like embossed buttons were essential.

Spirit flows from the past to the future, like Macallan. It draws from and celebrates nature, like Macallan.

It brings people together, like Macallan. It is something truly special and that, surely, is the point of it all.

For Spirit’s closing act, the audience themselves first take to the stage to pluck a dram from the branches of a great golden tree. What happens next is almost enough to take your mind off the glass in your hand. Almost…

{ SOURCE: The Press and Journal }