How it all began – the history of the Cirque du Soleil

“People might think that we set out to reinvent the circus, and then just did it. But things did not happened that way. We were a bunch of crazy people who wanted to do things, and little by little we came to a vision of what the modern circus could be.”
René Dupéré, music composer for 10 Cirque du Soleil shows


Embryonic beginnings

In the early 1980s, a troupe of performers founded by Gilles Ste-Croix took to the streets of Baie-Saint-Paul, a charming village on the shores of the St. Lawrence River near Quebec City. Les Échassiers de Baie-Saint-Paul (The Stiltwalkers of Baie-Saint-Paul) – including one Guy Laliberté – juggled, danced, breathed fire and played music, to the delight of locals and visitors. 

Born in a celebration

Guy Laliberté saw Quebec’s celebration of the 450th anniversary of Jacques Cartier’s discovery of Canada as an opportunity to take the troupe on an official province-wide tour in 1984. The show was a striking, dramatic mix of circus arts (without animals) and street performance that featured wild, outrageous costumes, magical lighting, and original music. He dubbed it Cirque du Soleil because, in his own words, “The sun symbolizes youth, energy, and strength.”

The turning point

Cirque du Soleil visited the US for the first time in 1987. We Reinvent the Circus wowed Los Angeles Festival audiences and media alike with its unique combination of set design, theater-in-the-round, and audience involvement – both physically and imaginatively – and marked the refinement of the creative process that still drives the creation of every new Cirque du Soleil show. It not only played to astonished sell-out crowds in San Diego and Santa Monica, but also spearheaded Cirque du Soleil’s initial 1990 foray into Europe with performances in London and Paris.

A milestone in the desert

1993’s Mystère became the first permanent Cirque du Soleil show, performed in a Las Vegas theater built to its specifications. Over two decades later, Mystère is still going strong, and led the way for a huge variety of other permanent Las Vegas shows. Cirque du Soleil was here to stay, and in the following years conquered Asia, Europe, and South America with a series of new creations that tour the world in large arenas or under the big top.

Still so much more to imagine

Now in its fourth decade, Cirque du Soleil has expanded in a wide range of creative endeavors ranging from movies to apparel and from boutiques to nightclubs. But the essence of what we do has stayed constant: we invoke the imagination, provoke the senses and evoke the emotions of people around the world.

Creative Process

Behind the scenes – how a Cirque du Soleil show is created

“The message behind every show is what makes Cirque du Soleil different. It’s not just entertainment, it’s about life and what can make life more just. The humanity behind Cirque du Soleil is what makes the difference.”

Franco Dragone, director of 10 Cirque du Soleil shows

Dreaming the unimaginable, creating the unexpected

For Cirque du Soleil, dreaming is an integral part of our philosophy: To take the adventure further, push our dreams further, and, above all, believe that our people are the engine of our enterprise. At Cirque du Soleil, we offer our artists and creators the freedom they need to imagine their most incredible dreams and bring them to life. 

The Cirque du Soleil International Headquarters in Montreal are filled with nearly 400 craftspeople and specialists in all kinds of fields who bring to life more than 25,000 elements for our shows around the world. Each show begins with inspiration and ideas from a core creative team composed of a creative director, writer-director, choreographer, and designers of the costumes, lighting, and sets.

Creative process video

Performers and artists

At the core of the creative energy of Cirque du Soleil shows are athletes, acrobats and artists at the pinnacle of their art. These women and men are driven by a passion to continually surpass themselves. Each artist is an integral part of the originality of Cirque du Soleil productions, and everyone’s contribution is essential to the success of the cast.

  • More than1,300 artists, hailing from some 55 different countries.
  • 50 to 100 artists are included in each show.
  • 35% of them come from sports disciplines such as artistic, rhythmic and acrobatic gymnastics, as well as trampoline, tumbling, diving and synchronized swimming, and urban acrobatic disciplines.
  • 34% come from circus arts disciplines.
  • 31% come from various artistic fields including dance, music (instrumentalists and singers), physical theatre and street arts.

Textiles and technology

Each year, our costume workshop uses more than 65 kilometers of fabric from around the world. 80% of this fabric is treated and dyed in-house by the textile design team using various techniques such as bath-dyeing, silk-screening, and direct hand-painting. We are constantly on the lookout for new ways to give texture to a costume or create a special effect. We research technologies that may have originated in water sports, plumbing, aviation or even dentistry, and devices such as batteries, adhesives, and miniature lights to see how they can be incorporated into a costume and the effect they will have on its weight and maintenance.

Music and singing

The music created for each Cirque du Soleil show reflect its theme and help set the tone. A score is written by a composer for shows that feature original music, as opposed to pre-recorded soundtracks by major artists like The Beatles and Michael Jackson. Musicians and singers perform the score live and must be ready to adjust the tempo or improvise to follow the pace of the artists on stage.

Set creation

The sets and stage equipment are an integral part of conveying the theme and atmosphere of a Cirque du Soleil show. They are designed according to esthetic principles and to meet safety criteria. Sets are usually computer-designed, then built – often using proprietary materials developed in-house – to maximize flexibility and strength. Over the years, the set design team has created many pieces of equipment from scratch, and all of them are tested and retested at our research and development facility to ensure that they are as safe as possible.

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