Cirque du Soleil
; English: "Circus of the Sun"), is a Montreal
-based entertainment company, self-described as a "dramatic
mix of circus arts
and street entertainment." It was founded in Baie-Saint-Paul
in 1984 by two former street performers, Guy Laliberté
and Daniel Gauthier.
Initially named Les Échassiers, they toured Quebec in 1980 as a performing troupe and encountered financial hardship that was relieved by a government grant in 1983 as part of the 450th anniversary celebrations of Jacques Cartier's discovery of Canada. Le Grand Tour du Cirque du Soleil was a success in 1984, and after securing a second year of funding, Laliberté hired Guy Caron from the National Circus School to re-create it as a "proper circus". Its theatrical, character-driven approach and the absence of performing animals helped define Cirque du Soleil as the contemporary circus ("nouveau cirque") that it remains today.
Cirque expanded rapidly through the 1990s and 2000s, going from one show to 19 shows in over 271 cities on every continent except Africa (until March 2011, as their arena show Saltimbanco will tour South Africa) and Antarctica. The shows employ approximately 4,000 people from over 40 countries and generate an estimated annual revenue exceeding US$810 million. The multiple permanent Las Vegas shows alone play to more than 9,000 people a night, 5% of the city's visitors, adding to the 90 million people who have experienced Cirque worldwide. In 2000, Laliberté bought out Gauthier, and with 95% ownership, has continued to expand the brand. Cirque's creations have been awarded numerous prizes and distinctions, including a Bambi Award in 1997, a Rose d'Or in 1989, Drama Desk Awards in 1991 and 1998, three Gemini Awards and four Primetime Emmy Awards.