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What is Cirque du Soleil?

Cirque de Soleil shows can be found in Las Vegas.
Cirque du Soleil was started by street performers.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 20 September 2014
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Cirque du Soleil is a Montreal-based entertainment company which has become world-renowned for the quality of its performances. Several permanent Cirque du Soleil shows can be found in locations like Las Vegas, Tokyo, and Macau, and the company also has several touring performances, offering shows scattered across the corners of the globe. As of 2008, over 700 million people had seen a Cirque du Soleil performance, and the company had one of the most recognizable brand names in the world.

The company was established in 1984 by two street performers who wanted to revolutionize the nature of circus performance. From the start, Cirque du Soleil performances used no animals, had no central ring, and blended a variety of circus arts from all over the world. Performers from a variety of traditions participate in Cirque du Soleil performances, with each performance telling a story through costumes, music, and various staged scenes.

In French, “Cirque du Soleil” means “Circus of the Sun,” and it is widely considered a “Modern” or “New” circus, thanks to the innovative techniques used in Cirque performances. Performers typically handle their own props and stage settings, for example, and curtains are not used to obscure the workings of the circus from the crowd, with scene changes being integrated into the story, rather than hidden. In addition to refusing to use animals for entertainment, the company prides itself on its corporate citizenship, participating in a variety of programs designed to support local communities and improve the environment.

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Complex concepts and reworked myths show up in Cirque du Soleil performances, many of which are actually quite dark, in a marked departure from the sheer entertainment purpose of traditional circus shows. Characters struggle with issues like freedom and slavery and the loss of innocence. The staging is often highly surreal, with a quality which many people describe as “dreamlike,” and most of the performers demonstrate considerable physical talent. Acrobats, tumblers, aerial artists, clowns, and people from a wide variety of other circus traditions can be seen in Cirque du Soleil shows.

This circus has expanded far from its humble roots in Canada, and on any given night, numerous Cirque du Soleil performances are happening all over the world. The circus hits most major cities with its touring schedule, typically advertising extensively in advance, and its permanent installations are considerable tourist attractions. People who are interested in seeing a Cirque du Soleil performance can look up the company's website to see listings of upcoming performances and dates. As of 2008, six shows were in touring rotation: Quidam, Corteo, KOOZA, Alegria, Dralion, and Varekai. The company also has another show in development for 2009.

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