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Cirque du Soleil's shows delight longtime fans, evolve for a modern Vegas

Cirque du Soleil's shows delight longtime fans, evolve for a modern Vegas
'Zarkana's' twins thrill. (Isaac Brekken)

In the early 1990s, Las Vegas hardly seemed like fertile ground for a Canadian circus specializing in hauntingly beautiful acrobatics and artistry. Kitschy shows and Vaudeville-style acts ruled the day. But Vegas has a way of bringing out the gambler in just about everyone. So the performance troupe called Cirque du Soleil bet on a long shot: a deeply moving mix of art and athleticism they called "Mystère."

How times have changed. Now a household name, Cirque has eight ever-evolving productions in the city -- enough distinct show concepts to appeal to every Las Vegas visitor. The shows change and grow with new talents and technologies so audiences can enjoy their favorite Cirque spectacular again and again.


"We constantly pay serious attention to the evolution of our shows," said Pierre Parisien, Senior Director of Show Quality at Cirque du Soleil. "The main objective is to keep the shows current, fresh and alive."

When "Mystère" opened at Treasure Island Hotel and Casino in 1993, it became the company's first show to have a permanent theater, rather than touring in a big top. It featured modern and lavish sets, exotic imagery and worldbeat music, along with street theater-style comedy. Last year, "Mystère" celebrated its 10,000th performance in Las Vegas.


Cirque du Soleil also stages "KÀ" at the MGM Grand, "O" at the Bellagio, "Zumanity" at New York-New York, "The Beatles LOVE" at the Mirage, "CRISS ANGEL Believe" at Luxor, "Zarkana" at Aria and "Michael Jackson ONE" at Mandalay Bay.

"The artistic culture and identity of Cirque du Soleil is to take calculated artistic and creative risks," Parisien explained. "Recently, some of our shows underwent more significant changes in order to upgrade the guests' experience. Whatever changes are made, we are always respectful and true to the shows' DNA."

For example, a trapeze, an aerial tissue act and script changes were integrated into "Mystère," and the famously epic "KÀ" recently reintegrated its pivotal vertical battlefield scene, in which performers display astonishing perpendicular acrobatics on an enormous vertical stage.

Newer Las Vegas Cirque shows like "Zarkana," which opened in late 2012 after a triumphant run at New York City's Radio City Music Hall, have also been upgraded.


"The main areas of that were modified were the music (by composer Nick Littlemore of Empire of the Sun) and the addition of a stunning aerial strap act performed by identical twin brothers," said Kathleen Renaud, another Senior Director of Show Quality. "Since those major changes were incorporated in the show, we continue to evolve to make it the best and as successful as it can be."

Even the most recent addition to Cirque du Soleil's Las Vegas productions, "Michael Jackson ONE," has been enhanced by adding some talented performers from the company's "Michael Jackson THE IMMORTAL" world tour.

The cabaret-style "Zumanity" -- Cirque's intimate adult-themed show centering on erotic song, dance and acrobatics -- features a stunning new aerial chains act and an aerial hoop duo.

"We revisited the spirit of some of the original acts," said Parisien."We enlisted the services of Yanis Marshall to create new choreography to have more dynamic and contemporary performances. We changed and modified some of the costumes, integrated new music and projections, and updated the lighting completely."

Even more changes are on the horizon, as Cirque du Soleil continues its dynamic relationship with Las Vegas audiences. Renaud offered a little hint of what's in store: "We are excited to begin working on 'The Beatles LOVE' in anticipation of the 10-year anniversary in June 2016."

-Paul Rogers, Tribune Content Solutions