Amphitheater of Fire - Cirque du Soleil

The Circus

Circuses like these were the forerunners of Cirque du' Soleil (public domain).
Circuses like these were the forerunners of Cirque du' Soleil (public domain).

Fire and Ice

In Black Elk Speaks, Native American mystic Black Elk stated: Everything an Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the power of the world always works in circles, and everything tries to be round. In the old days when we were a strong and happy people, all our power came to us from the sacred hoop of the nation, and so long as the hoop was unbroken the people flourished…

Cirque du Soleil or Circus of the Sun can also be translated as Amphitheater of Fire. A cirque is a valley that has been carved by erosion into the shape of an amphitheatre (roughly a circle) at the head of a glacier (source: OSU Geology Department).

The idea of the amphitheater was first found by archaeology in 53BC, formed by semicircular wooden seating stands in Rome. These were replaced by stone structures in 29 BC. The amphitheater was likely the first theater in the round, the later-named Roman Colosseum being used to stage chariot races and battles between men and wild animals (Christians vs. the Lions, etc.).

The Roman amphitheater was a microcosm of the current society, with the various classes seated in specific sections. In modern arenas and the Cirque du Soleil round tents, the tradition carries on through price gradations in seating sections, cheaper seats being farther away from the action. However, the highest seats in the Colosseum (term dervied from a colossal statue of Nero there) were wooden instead of stone and protected by an awning or colonnade and this is where the legislator's wives and charioteers sat, out of the sun.

Many of the Cirque du Soleil productions are similar to amphiteater events and theater in the round in which spectators sit in full circle or 3/4 circle around the performance area(s). No matter what venue, the company's productions radiate the intense energy of the burning sun and audiences are caught in their magnetic grip, like planets and moons orbiting a star, unable to leave.

A geological cirque.
A geological cirque.
Elephants performing.
Elephants performing.
Fire eater.
Fire eater.
Fire dancers (public domain)
Fire dancers (public domain)

The Circus

By the 1960s, the Americans circus had begun to decline to such an extent that dwindling circus organizations began to merge. Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus is an example. Later, they took over a third circus.

Ray Bradbury writes about the circus in the early 20th century in many of his stories and the novel Something Wicked This Way Comes. The circus was a major event of many small towns on the rail circuit. Before railroads, the show packed up in wagon trains for cross country tours. Youth met the trains or wagons bearing human and animal performers and worked with the setup crews to earn free entrance into the Big Top. In far flung western locations, townspeople crowded around the back end of a single wagon for a Medicine Show that was a microcosm of the circus Big Top. This small troupe often included a ringmaster/doctor, a woman, and an American Indian. I know all this because my father was one of those youth who worked with the circus when it came to town.

Lest you think that I am 200 years old, I must say that he was a senior citizen when I was born. He made sure to take me to two circus shows before the decline of the concept in the 1970s. I saw one Circus under a Bog Top tent and can still smell the sawdust and peanuts, and one at a baseball stadium. Both shows were breathtaking - at least to a 6-year-old. I remember the lady acrobats in sequined butterfly costimes twirling high in the air on ropes at night under the spotlights, their sparking, spinning wings making rainbows in the air.

The old time circus was honored on stage and screen with the musical Carnival, the television series Circus Boy, and a film featuring Burt Reynolds as a trapeze acrobat. Additional films and TV appearances have featured circuses, but in the 21st century, some people now ask, “What's a circus?”

As circuses began to disappear from smaller and then larger cities in America, the Shrine Circus and circuses sponsored by other civic groups filled some of the gap, although at higher ticket prices and hawking expensive souvenirs from the center ring between each act. This drove children to beg adults for toys until they gave in and made the purchases. It became expensive to visit the circus.

A Chinese state circus began to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show and the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, as did the Russian National Circus. These were both high quality productions that overshadowed American efforts. People could watch Red Skelton on TV and get a dose of clown in Freddie the Freeloader, without standing in line at a circus or worrying about tent fires. But they missed out on the aroma of roasting peanuts and the tickle of an elephant's trunk when he took them from your hand.

Americans in the 1960s began to enjoy amusement parks several times a year and leave circuses behind. Disneyland, Sea World, the Six Flags empire, Kings Dominion and those parks mesmerized the public away from the circus tent. State and County Fairs began to feature small circuses with 45-minute performances. The Soul Circus enjoyed a resurgence of audience interest for circuses in the latter half of the 20th century, with an emphases on African American performers. However, by the early 1980s, the institution of the circus was a hollow shade of former success. The entire experience of Circus Day was lost to several generations of children that would never meet an elephant at the end of the railroad line or have lunch with the clowns.

Street performers are the norm of entertainment on many Canadian streets in an urban world so different from America's that it is hard to describe.. We host street performers in yearly festivals and in some areas of NYC, but such cities as Montreal, Quebec, and Victoria see them regularly. Mime, fire eating, flaming hoops, magic, living statues, juggling, singing, instrumental music, comedy. We don't have that in our regular experience. Our urban areas have been too crime ridden to support such entertainment and revitalization has brought more night clubs and fewer opportunities for street performance, other than the yearly local festival. In order to have something approaching the full circus experience, one must now attend an amusement park, a state fair, a comedy club, a rodeo, a zoo, and a pow wow in close order at a cost of $10 – 40 each.

Rome - Circus Maximus, site of The Big Show

(public domain)
(public domain)

Enter Cirque

In 1982, street performers in Quebec Province (French-influenced) had an idea. They had called themselves the High Heels Club (Club des Talons Hauts). Their idea was to form a yearly entertainment and performance arts festival named Fête Foraine de Baie-Saint-Paul or FunFair for the neighborhood of Baie-St. Paul.

In 1984, Guy Laliberté led newly named Cirque du Soleil to encompass the fete, aided by Quebec governmental support for the 450th anniversary of the arrival of the explorer Jacques Cartier in Canada. No animals were used at all, but circus and street performance art were combined, people taking part costumed as animals when needed.The first shows were held int he town of Gaspé, the very first blue-and-yellow tent seating 800 sepctators. In 1985, the show's tours expanded from sevral sites in Quebec into Ontario Province, including Toronto. 1986 saw the tour across Canada, including children's festivals, the World's Fair and enternment competitions. The Big Top needed to be doubled in size.

in 1987, America could enjoy this different type of circus, full of light shows and suspense, of people appearing as animals, of provocative overlays of ideas. The Cirque show was We Reinvent the Circus, hostedin California. Success spread acros the USA for Cirque and by 1990, the Big Top needed 2500 seats. Cirque sent a troup to Europe as well.

In 1992, a troup performed in the home of Kabuki and Noh Theater - Japan. This was a success as the Cirque show expresses some similarities to these Japanese styles. Other parts of the world enjoyed the show as well. The company began adding new, differetnly themed shows with a traveling troupe for each. By 1995, Amsterdam was needed as a European HQ in addition to Montreal, Quebec at home (a new HQ was built in 1997 and named The Studio, where all shows are designed).

In 2000, Cirque du Soleil, after having traveled around the world witjh several different shows, presented an IMAX theater presentation around the globe. This show was named Passages or Journey of Man in America. In 2001, a structural addition of over 161,000 sqaure feet was needed in Montreal. By 2002, a Multimedial Division was added and a TV Series was aired in Canada and USA (with a new series beginning in 2003). The company continued to grow as audiences continued to flock to the various shows around the world.

Adults-only shows became resident in Las Vegas in 2003 -- Zumanity plays only at New York-New Yorko Hotel and includes explicit sexual themes.

The book 20 Years Under the Sun was published in 2004, outlining the entire history of Cirque du Soleil and it is fascinating. Additional shows were wrrtien this year to be performed in only certain locations. Thsi boosted the Travel and Toruism industry in those cities, becuase people went there to see these shows they felt the could not miss - and still do so today. Shows were booked on Cruiselines for the first time in 2005 and Cirque began to perform shows for the opeing ceremonies of large athletic events. By 2006, the shows were solid at Disney venues, with additional shows touring to present tribues to The Beatles and Elvis Presley. 2007 saw an explosion of licensed Cirque products as well as shows at all sorts of events.

2008 - More expansion and additional new shows, including permant shows in far flung places. Dubai World both a 20% interest in the company overall and Cirque du Soleil Rus began for Russia. High quality Russian circuses now have a brother and a little competition.

2009 - 25th anniversary! A special anniversary show was held in Montreal during April, 2009.

Marketing Hall of Legends 2005 - Guy Laliberté, Visionary

An Anniversary Show Clip

Information About Tickets and Jobs

For a list of shows and ticket purchases around the world - permanent, touring, and new shows, see the Cirque du Soleil website at Cirque du Soleil Official Website. Videos on the website are astounding. Not only is the tradition of the circus intact, but upgraded, with no harm to animals.

Applications for performing jobs can be placed online at the website as well. Job candidates may need photos of themselves and/or a video presentation, depending on the job. An appropriate hard-hitting resume is always a plus. Cirque states that candidates should tell about themselves fully, even if no job seems available in a specific interest category, because new jobs are being created constantly. With characters performing ballet to tumbling to marital arts and trapeze acts, one never knows when one may be called because they have a unique talent.

Technical and management positions are also advertised online. Literally multiple dozens of job categories exist.

I hope to have the opportunity to sit in the amphitheater of fire and feel the compelling nature of Cirque du Soleil.

Cirque du soleil Quidam, Caroussel

Verakai - Water Meteors

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Comments 8 comments

Hub Love profile image

Hub Love 7 years ago from United States

Great information on the history of Cirque Du Soleil.I have seen "La Nuba" in Orlando and "Ka" in Las Vegas. Ka was truly amazing! The entire stage is on hydrolics and goes vertical.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 7 years ago from North America Author

Thanks for the comments. They are certainly innovative and different. A refreshing change, but I don't know about Zumanity.


Hub Love profile image

Hub Love 7 years ago from United States

Funny that you mention Zumanity...lol. When I was in Vegas they had posters for it all over. I thought the posters were interesting from a marketing point of view. I dont know if you have seen them but they have two pics side by side and one has a header, "Reality" and the other "Zumanity".


KCC Big Country profile image

KCC Big Country 7 years ago from Central Texas

Patty, thanks so much for a superb hub on Cirque du Soleil and for answering my hub request.  I have been in love with Cirque du Soleil since the late 1990s.  "Dralion" was touring Texas at the time and I was not able to go.  One New Year's eve I was channel hopping on the TV and ran across "Dralion" being televised on a satellite channel.  I sat there mesmerized and swore I would do anything to get to see a production like that live.  In early 2003, "Alegria" was touring Texas and I bought tickets for 8 people (my family of 4 and our best friends and their 2 kids).   It was incredible!  The music is fabulous as well.  I own the soundtrack to "Alegria" as well.  I have since bought several DVDs of their productions.  I will certainly go to more events whenever I have the chance.  It is unlike anything else I had ever seen.   Thank you again, Patty, for going above and beyond with this hub!


Benson Yeung profile image

Benson Yeung 7 years ago from Hong Kong

absolutely stunning performance, and hub too.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 7 years ago from North America Author

Reality and Zumanity - - Hub Love, I've no seen that poster, but a clip from the show was rather overwhelming. I have seen the TV Series and have a few of the videos. Mesmerizing.

KCC -- Cirque is a singulary contribution to the entertainment industry, Bringing back the circus. I miss the real elephants and tigers, but the human counterparts are fantastic. "Alegria" may be the most popular show - clips from it have the higest views on YouTube. The mime and living statues type of acts from all the shows are my favorite, as they were in circuses past. A man from church began acting in seasonal productions there and advanced to his own company to do living statues. Amazing.

Benson - Thanks for the kind words. Cirque is indeed stunning.


Christoph Reilly profile image

Christoph Reilly 7 years ago from St. Louis

I love the circus history you have included. In Manhattan, I was always impressed by the Circus' (Ringling Bros. & B&B) march through the streets to Madison Square Garden with the elephants leading the way. As did your father, I once worked a day in Brooklyn helping the Big Apple Circus (a smallish, private affair) set up their tent for a meager fee and free admission. I have a fondness for the smaller circus', and we have our own here called Circus Flora, centered around their only elephant, Flora, a local celebrity. (It doesn't hurt that my wife volunteers as the Cotton Candy lady.)

Thanks for a well-rounded and thorough article! (P.S. Your father was "da man!" And such progeny!)


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 7 years ago from North America Author

Thanks for reading!! Circuses are great -- I've seen ads for Big Apple Circus and I bet there are many small circuses I've never heard of at all.

Lucky you for getting to help out at the circus! Maybe if I run away to Clown College in Florida... Maybe B.T. has a circus or is a scary clown at night.

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