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Street culture roots keep Cirque du Soleil alive for 33 years says CEO Daniel Lamarre

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Daniel Lamarre is just a “ticket seller”.

At least that’s how the president and chief executive of Cirque du Soleil describes himself.

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Only he’s selling more than 13 million tickets to consumers around the world every year, and Cirque du Soleil is raking in more than $US1 billion ($1.25 billion) in revenue annually.

“We are in full growing mode right now,” says Lamarre, a former journalist and PR man who joined the business in 2001, and is now leading the company’s move into China in a bid to double ticket sales.

President and CEO of Cirque du Soleil, Daniel Lamarre, says the company is raking in more than $US1 billion in revenue ... President and CEO of Cirque du Soleil, Daniel Lamarre, says the company is raking in more than $US1 billion in revenue annually. Photo: Supplied

Street culture

Cirque, which started with a small group of street performers in a town near Québec, Canada, 33 years ago, now has almost 5000 employees, including some of the world’s best artists and acrobats, and has entertained more than 180 million spectators in 450 cities around the world.

Its international headquarters are now in Montreal where its theatrical productions are developed, costumes are custom-made, and much of its R&D, including that behind its latest James Cameron-co created Avatar-inspired show, Toruk — The First Flight, takes place. The company also routinely partners with universities like MIT and companies such as Microsoft.

The reason Cirque’s succeeded for so long, Lamarre says, is that it’s grown out of a street culture that still resonates with audiences. Its very first show in Las Vegas, Mystère, is still running after 24 years, and is one of six resident shows in Vegas, the others being O, Kà, Zumanity, The Beatles Love, and Michael Jackson: One. The shows aim to hit some of the almost 45 million tourists who flock to Vegas each year.

“I like to see myself like a street guy,” Lamarre says. “I go into the street and try to understand what the consumers want; how they perceive us. What are the acts that they love. What kind of music do they love.”

Cirque du Soleil, which started with a small group of street performers in a town near Québec, Canada, 33 years ago, has ... Cirque du Soleil, which started with a small group of street performers in a town near Québec, Canada, 33 years ago, has since entertained more than 180 million spectators in 450 cities around the world. Photo: Charles William Pelletier / Impact de Montreal

C2 Melbourne

While Cirque du Soleil remains true to its core business of entertaining, under its new owners, it has a number of projects on the go. In April 2015, Cirque’s founder Guy Laliberté sold the company (except for a 10 per cent stake he retains) for $US1.5 billion to a consortium led by $73 billion private equity firm TPG Capital.

One of its new projects is C2, which turns the traditional conference format on its head, instead offering activities such as networking over cake baking or brainstorming while being elevated 3 metres up in the air. After six years in Montreal, C2 is heading to Melbourne on November 30.

The sky meetings at the C2 Montreal business conference, which is coming to Melbourne later this year. The sky meetings at the C2 Montreal business conference, which is coming to Melbourne later this year.  Photo: Supplied

“It started like many many projects start –two guys drinking a coffee and just chit chatting,” Lamarre says.

“I was saying to Jean-François Bouchard [Cirque’s director of creation] that I was tired of attending business conferences, that they were all looking the same. There was not enough creativity.  Two weeks later he came to me and proposed C2 … and it’s been growing every year.”

The [Chinese] market is so big that it can change the face of Cirque du Soliel

Daniel Lamarre, Cirque du Soleil CEO

Entertainment experiences

Cirque’s other major projects include  the interactive theme park in Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico, which it is building in conjunction with resort and tourism developer Grupo Vidanta.

Although construction has barely started – Lamarre says the theme park is unlikely to open until 2020. “It’s a huge investment and it will take a lot of time to put this one to bed – there is already interest from Asia to develop a similar park in their cities.”

'We are in full growing mode right now,' says President and CEO of Cirque du Soleil, Daniel Lamarre. ‘We are in full growing mode right now,’ says President and CEO of Cirque du Soleil, Daniel Lamarre. Photo: Supplied

Cirque is also widening its audience pool with new acquisitions. In July it took on New-York-based Blue Man Productions, best known for the Blue Man Group show. It’s also moving into new forms of entertainment. In May it launched its first ice show, Cirque du Soleil Crystal, which starts touring globally next month.

In November it will launch its NFL Experience in Times Square, which allows NFL football fans a chance to step into the shoes of an NFL player using a 4D cinematic experience and augmented reality.

In July the company took on New-York-based Blue Man Productions, best known for the Blue Man Group show. In July the company took on New-York-based Blue Man Productions, best known for the Blue Man Group show. Photo: James Morgan

China push

But for all the new projects on the go, Cirque’s biggest bet is on China. The push came under its new consortium owners that include Fosun Capital Group, one of China’s largest private conglomerates.

“The [Chinese] market is so big that it can change the face of Cirque du Soleil,” Lamarre says. He’s visited China at least 10 times in the past 18 months to better understand its people and customs. “We think that China can help probably represent, if I am optimistic here, 20 to 25 per cent of our company.”

President and CEO of Cirque du Soleil, Daniel Lamarre (right) with Avatar creator James Cameron (middle). China will be ... President and CEO of Cirque du Soleil, Daniel Lamarre (right) with Avatar creator James Cameron (middle). China will be the first market outside North America to host Cirque’s Avatar-inspired show. Photo: Supplied

China will be the first market outside North America to host the Avatar show. Cirque will start touring the country in October and launch its first permanent show in China late next year, which Lamarre says could potentially double ticket sales.

“The show we are going to open in Hangzhou is going to be the size of our Las Vegas show [KA], which we think will be our first statement in China,” Lamarre says.

Cirque du Soleil contortionists perform in Kooza. Cirque du Soleil contortionists perform in Kooza. 

He points out that a small city in China has 10 million residents, and if Cirque were to capture China’s growing middle class, which is already at 400 million, “then we’re in good shape”.

Daniel Lamarre will be a speaker at C2 Melbourne, November 30 – December 1, for tickets click here

Fairfax Media is media partner of C2 Melbourne.

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