Nor is any effort made to update a show, even after a decade on the road. "The culture of this company is not to fix a show to meet market demands," says D'Amico. "We'd rather produce a new show than fix an old one."

LALIBERTÉ'S VISION has produced a personal fortune of $1.1 billion, good enough to earn the publicity-shy, 44-year-old owner and CEO a spot on the latest Forbes annual list of the world's wealthiest people. It's also helped redefine the circus, according to Janet M. Davis, chair of American studies at the University of Texas at Austin and author of the 2002 book, The Circus Age. To Davis, Cirque's primary contribution is the animal-free circus. Performing elephants and bears make other circuses targets for animal-rights protests, so much so that some venues now bar them. "Cirque du Soleil is able to avoid all that," she says. Being animal-free allows Quebecers to claim moral high ground, as well as the attention of well-heeled patrons who can afford tickets, she adds.

For Cirque's strategic ally, MGM Mirage, the question is not whether Cirque has el­ephants, but whether it has a future or whether five touring and five permanent shows is overexposure. "How many is too many?" asks Alan Feldman, senior vice presi-dent of public affairs for the MGM Mirage. "How many musicals of Rodgers & Hammerstein can we handle? How many operas by Puccini? How many paintings of Picasso do we want?" Feldman denies that the anal­ogies are improper. "This company of artists is seeking to explain the human experience," he says. "With each show, the exploration goes to a slightly different place. As long as they continue to be relevant and give us insights that we find appealing and intriguing, and emotionally, as well as intellectually stimulating, then it can keep going."