Cirque du Soleil is Back in Town and Making History

Launching this month, Bazzar marks a special first for both Cirque and New Orleans.

Illustration by Tony Healey

Kimberley Singletary is the managing editor of Biz New Orleans magazine. A 20-year Southern California veteran, she has been surrounded by the film industry for most of her life.

 

For the first time since the Montreal-based company was formed by 20 artists back in 1984, Cirque du Soleil has chosen a city other than its hometown to debut a big top show to North America — and that city is New Orleans.

From March 25 through May 10, New Orleans’ Shrine on Airline will play host to “Bazzar,” the company’s 43rd original production. It also marks the seventh North American premiere of a Cirque show in New Orleans

One of the largest live entertainment groups in the world, Cirque currently employs more than 4,000 people globally, including 1,500 at its headquarters, in more than 100 types of occupations. In 2015, stilt walker and fire breather-turned Cirque founder, Guy Laliberté, sold the majority interest in the company to private equity firm TPG Capital for a reported $1.5 billion.

Cirque’s relationship with New Orleans began in 2003, when it brought its first big top show to the city. Since 2007, seven arena shows have followed.

According to Finn Taylor, senior vice president of touring shows for Cirque, the company has enjoyed a long and fruitful relationship with not just New Orleans, but multiple cities in Louisiana.

“We love Louisiana,” he said. “The weather here is so great, especially in the winters, and there’s the access to the port, and of course the tax benefits are a great incentive. We do a lot of pre-production here, as well as shows in arenas in Baton Rouge and Shreveport.”

Unlike an arena show, big top performances are designed to be intimate affairs.

“This is not going to be a situation where we have 20,000 seats to fill,” said Taylor. “We only have 1,600 seats for each show, which means no seat is more than about 30 feet from the stage. When you’re that close to these amazing acrobatic feats set to live music — I can tell you I’ve seen the show dozens of times and it still makes me nervous. It’s really incredible.”

A small seating capacity also means there will be plenty of shows — about 45, with tickets starting at $45. For the city, that means almost two months of Cirque du Soleil booking hotel rooms and buying meals for its 80 cast and crew members. The company also plans to employ up to 100 locals during its stay in New Orleans.

While Taylor wasn’t sure of an estimate in terms of expenditures for Bazzar, when another Cirque show, Corteo, made its North American premiere at the Smoothie King Center for just three days in March 2018, the company spent an estimated $2.5 million in the city — and that was with a smaller cast of 51 and employing 50 locals.

Corteo marked the sixth North American premiere in New Orleans. According to a February 2018 article on BizNewOrleans.com, “Cirque du Soleil’s six show launches since 2012 have accounted for more than $20 million in spending in the state and 450 Louisiana resident jobs created, according to [Louisiana Economic Development].”

In addition to being notable for its launch location, Bazzar marks a change for Cirque on the artistic side.

“This show was created as a return to classic Cirque,” said Taylor. “Over the years, we’ve moved to artistic, stage-driven performance, and more modern dance and theatrics, but Bazzaar is true Cirque du Soleil.”

The performance channels the colorful chaos of an Indian or Middle Eastern bazaar.

“The show was built to go to India — to go overseas — and we did that,” said Taylor. Bazzar was the first show to trave; to India when it debuted Nov. 14 2018 in Mumbai. It then traveled to Oman, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt and Dominican Republic.

A fan of Cirque since seeing my first show, Mystere, in Las Vegas not long after it debuted in 1993 — it’s the company’s longest-running show — I bought tickets to Bazzar in January. I’ve taken my daughter to Cirque before, but it was in a giant arena. I can’t pass up a rare chance to be so close to the performers without shelling out the big bucks. After all, it took New Orleans 17 years to get its second big top show. Who knows when the next will be?

For those looking to join me, and the more than 190 million people around the world who have enjoyed the magic of Cirque du Soleil, tickets are available at CirqueduSoleil.com/bazzar.