Today, Cirque du Soleil has more than 2,500 employees, including 600 performers, and has entertained 40 million people in 90 cities around the globe. Yet, somehow, in all this growth it has remained true to the founders' original vision of creating a circus that celebrates human potential and never rested in the pursuit of ever-more-startling entertainment.
IT ALL STARTED in Quebec 20 years ago with a group of stilt-walkers called the Le Club des Talons Hauts. One was a 20-year-old native Quebecer and veteran street performer named Guy Laliberté, who also played the accordion and breathed fire, and possessed less obvious talents for organization, fundraising, marketing, and showmanship. Laliberté and others expanded the stilt-walking focus, and in the early 1980s formed another troupe of circus arts performers called La Fête Foraine of Baie-Saint-Paul. A couple of years later, the astute Laliberté convinced the government of Quebec to fund a more ambitious show for the province's 450th anniversary. The French name translated as "Circus of the Sun."
Cirque du Soleil's performance in that 1984 celebration began its tradition of exciting audiences and critics alike. The show contained many traits that would later spur observers to credit it with reinvigorating the business and art of the circus. Most obviously, there were no animals. Rather than three rings of bicycle-riding bears and dancing elephants, the show relied on a single ring hosting human acrobats, tumblers, and trapeze and high-wire artists, all accompanied by original music and wearing close-to-the-edge costumes.