Cirque du Soleil

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Cirque du Soleil (French for "Circus of the Sun") is a Montreal-based company. Initially mostly made up of street performers and/or acrobats, and organized by Guy Laliberté and Gilles Ste-Croix, its first troupe toured in 1984 (as part of the 450th anniversary celebrations of the discovery of Canada by the French). It was successful enough that a second tour ran in 1986, and a third, Le Cirque Réinventé ("Circus Reinvented") the year after that.

That particular troupe made a make-or-break visit to an arts festival in Los Angeles in '87 and immediately became a sensation with its one-ring, animal-less format and a style more akin to European circuses than the Ringling Bros-dominated format familiar to Americans. In essence, the Cirque aesthetic combines the theatrical, theme-driven concepts and characters of European shows with the focus on acrobatic skill of Asian circuses.

More tours followed with increasingly ambitious themes, visual concepts, acts, and music (most of the shows have original scores) as more performers joined from other countries. 1992's "Saltimbanco" is generally regarded as the first "modern" Cirque show. The following year, casino mogul Steve Wynn had a theatre custom-built at his new Treasure Island hotel-casino in Las Vegas for Cirque, which became home to the troupe "Mystere". They and the vast majority of productions that followed are still performing, either as tours or resident shows, to this day. Each show changes acts and performers over time but sticks to its individual thematic/artistic core.

Cirque is usually credited for reviving interest in circus entertainment, and from the Turn of the Millennium onward have also experimented in crossing the form over with other genres (Jukebox Musical, magic/illusion, concert, etc.).

The touring troupes visit major cities worldwide for visits of a few weeks to a few months each, usually under a custom-built big top, Le Grand Chapiteau (usually in Cirque's signature colors of blue and yellow). With the sheer number of shows now touring, the older performances have been adapted for arenas, expanding the company's reach to mid-sized cities.

Cirque has made a variety of film and TV productions. Most are filmed performances of the touring shows, but there have been original efforts derived from the shows and many behind-the-scenes documentaries. There's been a concert tour adapting the music of the shows and several books including the 20th anniversary marker 20 Years Under the Sun, which helped flesh out this entry.

In June 2020, Cirque du Soleil filed for bankruptcy protection after the COVID-19 pandemic forced it to cancel performances worldwide and lay off hundreds of performers.

If you want to know about a specific show and its tropes, look to the List of Cirque du Soleil productions.

Cirque du Soleil provides examples of the following tropes:
  • All There in the Manual - The aforementioned themes, plots, and significance of various characters of many of the above shows are not openly spelled out in the shows themselves, but in the souvenir programs and at the official website. See True Art Is Incomprehensible below.
  • Ambiguous Gender - Many of the costumes and makeup evoke this on purpose to make the performers/characters seem more androgynous.
  • Audience Participation - Most of the shows have this to some extent.
  • Awards Show: In 2002 the troupe performed at the Academy Awards to introduce (naturally) the Best Visual Effects category. In 2008 the troup from The Beatles LOVE teamed up with the cast of Across the Universe for the Grammys' tribute to The Beatles and/or John Lennon.
  • Bilingual Bonus - While many of the songs with lyrics are in made-up languages, there are others that use real ones, so if you can speak Italian, Spanish, etc. you may get this.
  • Cash Cow Franchise - As an example, Saltimbanco was retired from the lineup after the initial tour ended in 1997, but revived the following year and is still performing as an arena show.
    • Guy Laliberté made enough money from this enterprise that he paid the Russians to let him go into space in 2009.
  • Costume Porn - The book brought out to mark the company's 25th anniversary was about the costumes of all the shows over the years, which should tell you how much this trope applies to them.
  • Cut Song - When old acts/transitions go, so do their songs, so many a soundtrack (usually recorded within a year or two of the opening) has a fair amount of material that's no longer in the show.
  • The Danza - Most clowns and sometimes serious characters, though the latter are less likely to retain the name after their original performer/namesake leaves.
  • Disney Owns This Trope - As noted below, the company tried suing a Follow the Leader rival for using the word cirque, which is just the French word for circus. It didn't work.
  • Disney Theme Parks - La Nouba and ZED. The theaters aren't in the parks themselves and charge a separate admission.
  • Downer Ending - While the shows typically have happy (and sometimes bittersweet endings), Solstrom, the TV series, has a few episodes that end with downers. "Wind of Freedom" being an example.
  • Dream Land - Delirium is explicitly set in a guy's dream (and becomes a joke: "It's a good thing this is a dream, because this is really weird..."), as was most of Criss Angel Believe before a retool.
  • Epic Song - "Alegria", "Kamande" (Dralion), and "Pageant" (KA). Just because the latter two are in Simlish doesn't mean they lack epic sweep.
  • The Everyman - If the show has a central character, there's a good chance (s)he will be this.
    • Better yet: In french, Quidam means more or less "everyman", and the protagonist eventually concludes he is really "every man", "any man".
  • Everything's Better with Sparkles - The Firefly Boy in KA is a particularly obvious example, but to quote a comment from the trope itself, "27.84% of every Cirque show is glitter."
  • Everything's Better with Spinning - As seen in such acts as:
    • Aerial hoop (Quidam, "O")
    • (Hula-style) Hoops and/or manipulation (Alegria, Zumanity, Wintuk)
    • Chandeliers (Corteo)
    • German wheel (Quidam, La Nouba)
    • Cyr wheel (Corteo, Zumanity, Alegria)
  • Far East: KA.
  • Hotter and Sexier - Zumanity, the adults-only show.
  • Impractically Fancy Outfit - Averted. No matter how elaborate a costume is, it is designed for maximum functionality and safety for its wearer's act. Cirque is a pioneer in Practically Fancy Outfits.
  • Jukebox Musical - LOVE, Viva Elvis, and the two Michael Jackson projects are all variants on this genre: the original recordings of the performer(s) in question are used and visually interpreted by the troupe through acrobatics and dance.
  • Let There Be Snow - Wintuk revolves around a boy's quest to bring snow to his city.
  • Lighter and Softer - Wintuk, to the point that it was accused of being dumbed down for families.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters - Quite a few shows are just bursting with odd folks; many are not even named in the program and may appear just as colorful extras.
  • Long Runners - Mystere, Quidam, "O", La Nouba, Dralion, and Varekai have passed the 10-year mark; Saltimbanco turns 20 in 2012.
  • Magical Land - Most of the shows take place in a version of this. La Nouba is closer to an outright Dream Land.
  • Monster Clown - Villainous/enigmatic characters can invoke the visuals and behavior associated with this trope (i.e. Fleur in Alegria).
  • Nice Hat—Nice hats show up a lot in Cirque. Some are even magical.
  • No Fourth Wall - Most of the shows have this; usually key to the clown acts.
  • Non-Ironic Clown - This company is one of the great employers of true clowns. Their contributions are especially important in Mystere, La Nouba, Corteo, KOOZA, and Banana Shpeel.
  • Opening Ballet - Many shows open this way to introduce the major and minor characters, as well as the setting.
  • Reality TV - The development of Varekai was the basis for the documentary series Fire Within.
  • Retool - As noted above, acts and performers change with time, but some shows have been more severely revamped: Mystere dropped three of its original acts and several characters over 1995-96; Zumanity made tons of alterations over its first five years, largely to keep mass audiences from becoming too uncomfortable with its content; Wintuk downplayed its storyline in favor of focusing on acrobatics in response to complaints from first-year audiences and critics. Also, whenever a clown role changes performers, the new one will probably give the role a different interpretation even if the original segments aren't changed. If they are or are replaced, it's even more of a retool. Criss Angel Believe also dropped most of the overt Cirque elements over its first two years (i.e., dancers, a Dream Land story, etc.).
  • The Rival - In the U.S., the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, especially now that Cirque has shows on the arena tour circuit. Ringling Bros., which almost always performs in arenas, is the epitome of traditional circus and uses animals, something Cirque eschews with the exception of doves in Believe. Ringling presents three different tours that are each revamped with a new "edition" every one-to-two years, as opposed to each Cirque show being a unique, stand-alone production that can run indefinitely.
  • Scenery Porn - The resident shows are crazy about this; the tours are pretty too in smaller-scale ways.
  • Set-Switch Song - Often used for transitions from one act to another, especially when equipment has to be set up and/or taken down.
  • The Show Must Go On - Despite horrible critical reception, shows such as Criss Angel Believe and Banana Shpeel continued to perform—the latter, after being burnt by the press in its Chicago tryout, went through its second retool to go on to New York as planned and after that was unsuccessful, attempted a North American tour. Only its poor reception in Toronto, its first stop, brought the show to an end. As for Believe, it had a substantial Retool that dropped most of the Cirque-based elements and is still running.
    • On the other hand, from day to day this trope is averted—despite the general consensus that the circus will go on stage no matter what the circumstances, Cirque stops its shows if there is an accident involving technology or their personnel.
  • Signature Song - "Alegria".
  • Silence Is Golden - Many of the shows keep to this tenet.
  • Singing Simlish - The majority of original Cirque songs use this if they're not going for Bilingual Bonus.
  • Slapstick - Whenever the clowns appear, this is bound to be part of their schtick (of course, this is in the great traditions of both circus and clowning).
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism - At worst, Cirque shows take place in worlds where you can and must Earn Your Happy Ending (Alegria, Quidam, KA). At best, life is incredibly hopeful and beautiful (Saltimbanco, Dralion).
  • Sliding Scale of Visuals Versus Dialogue - Firmly on the visual side.
  • Small Reference Pools - Not everyone in the company is French-Canadian or French, but you'd never know it from the jokes and spoofs tossed around, which also overlap with Shallow Parody and Parody Failure in that very, very few mockeries acknowledge that the shows have a sense of humor, instead presenting them as strictly parades of pretentiousness.
  • Something Completely Different - The Vegas shows since Mystere each put a significant twist on the usual formula in staging and/or thematic focus.
    • O may qualify for its extensive use of water.
    • Zumanity is an adults-only show about love and sex.
    • KA is a story-driven action fantasy.
    • LOVE and Viva Elvis are Jukebox Musical variants.
    • Criss Angel Believe is a magic show.
  • Speaking Simlish - "Cirquish", the fans call it. Also appears in songs.
  • The Stinger: The TV series Solstrom has one of these at the end of every episode, followed by the scientist looking into the camera and saying "You want some more?".
  • Tarot Motifs - ZED is based around these.
  • Trickster Archetype - Most of the shows have at least one variety of this as a character (possibly one of the clowns), to the point that a key character in KOOZA is named Trickster.
  • Under the Sea - "O" is a pun on the French word for water, eau, but to truly see (or sea) this trope in action, there's the "Deep" sequence in KA, the "Octopus's Garden" number in LOVE, and "Bridge of Sorrow" in Delirium.
  • Variety Show - Zumanity and Banana Shpeel are presented in this style (as deliberate throwbacks to cabaret and vaudeville, respectively).
  • Walking Shirtless Scene - A good number of the male performers, though it's hardly surprising considering their physiques.
  • What Do You Mean It Wasn't Made on Drugs? - A perfect example of this trope.
  • Widget Series - The concept applies to the company's output as a whole, and even more so to Solstrom.
  • World of Ham - As circuses tend to be...