Saturday, January 31, 2009


After a week of dealing with the necessary evils of production financing, distribution and defining "motivation" for the Harvard MBA in the perfect suit, manicure and hair, who now runs the network -- it's good to be reminded of why you got into show business in the first place.

And that's not as hard to find midst the phony glitz and exotic facades of Las Vegas as you might think. The grounding I needed was at the MGM Grand in Cirque du Soleil's breathtaking production "KA".


Britain can claim Shakespeare and America invented Jazz. But Canada gave birth to an art form that already outdraws and may well outlive them both -- Cirque du Soleil.

Cirque was the brainchild of Montreal street performers Guy Laliberté and Daniel Gauthier. I first became aware of their creation in the early 1970's when they came to Toronto, pitched a tent on a muddy parking lot across the street from the Royal Alex theatre and began promoting a "circus without animals".

The public reaction was tepid disinterest at best. I mean, seriously, how can you have a circus with no lion tamer, no seals balancing balls, no dancing ponies or even an elephant?

Nobody cared and a rainy summer didn't help. Night after night, the first Cirque du Soleil acrobats, wire walkers and jugglers performed to audiences that barely outnumbered them.

But Daniel and Guy refused to give up and every day you'd see one of them (I can't remember which) tooling around town on a bicycle, literally seeking out an audience one ticket buyer at a time. I remember him rolling up to the front of the Toronto Free Theatre in his white suit to engage a gaggle of actors on a coffee break.

To his mind, theatres were the perfect place to find sympathetic fellow artists eager to support a ground-breaking concept.


Most of us didn't get the "no animal" thing either. Jugglers and mimes were also fairly de rigueur at any rock concert of the time. And hell, we were making minimum wage working at a theatre that literally gave its tickets away to find an audience.

The man in the white suit listened and still begged us to come. A few days later a few of us did. We enjoyed the show but I don't think anybody thought it had much of a future. Although, we all did admit, it had -- something...

But the former buskers didn't give up and today the concept they created has annual earnings of over $600 Million with permanent touring companies around the world; not to mention pretty much owning the Las Vegas show scene with six companies performing to more than 9000 people every night.

"KA" isn't a new show. But it's my favorite; blending circus, theatre, dance, martial arts and spectacle into an experience that not only serves all of the senses but renews the spirit as well.


"KA" tells the story of a civilized tribe attacked and almost annihilated by a band of evil warriors bent on creating a weapon of mass destruction. The tribe's surviving royal twins go on separate quests, ultimately finding what they need to defeat evil and reunite their people.

It's a classic Joseph Campbell paradigm fusing stand-alone circus acts into story driven set pieces while transitioning acrobats and trapeze artists into three dimensional dramatic characters. And in the Cirque du Soleil tradition, all of this transpires using language-less babble for dialogue except for a single sentence of introduction.

Surrounding and supporting the production is a brand of showmanship almost lost to the rest of the entertainment industry; a belief in serving the audience by both awing and inpiring them; delivering unforgettable and enriching moments until its the audience and not the performers who are spent.

The next time you're in Las Vegas, save up those nickels that will never win you a jackpot and pull yourself away from the happenings that will have to stay a secret in Vegas once you've left. Instead, use that time and money for "KA", an experience you will treasure forever.

Here's a taste. Enjoy your Sunday.


Anonymous said...

If you're at all a Beatles fan, I have to put in a vote for Love as the best of the Cirque shows...

Brandon Laraby said...

Hey Jim!

I'm heading to Vegas with my fiancée this weekend, it'll be our first time there. Thanks for the show idea - we knew we wanted to see a Cirque show while we're there and weren't really sure which to see.

(holy crap... tickets are expensive!)

Cheers man,