In joining the acrobatic troupe Cirque du Soleil, for a 3D film project, the director James Cameron has tapped into a theatrical phenomenon.
James Cameron links with Cirque du Soleil
James Cameron, the maker of monster box-office hits such as Titanic and, of course, Avatar, has joined creative forces with the acrobatic troupe Cirque du Soleil for a series of what the director claims will be mesmerising 3D films.
Although Cameron has been rather secretive about the as-yet-unnamed first movie (on which production has already started) it is clear that this is big news for the dance troupe, both financially (whatever you might think about Cameron's work, there's no denying he knows how to bring in a crowd) and in terms of cementing its place in pop culture.
Because despite Cirque du Soleil's (which translates as Circus of the Sun) undoubted popularity - almost 100 million people have been to a show since the troupe began performing in 1984 - it still carries an aura of mystery, something that has undoubtedly added to its appeal.
Cirque du Soleil made its name with its wildly imaginative and colourful blockbuster performances, but its beginnings were rather more humble. Its founder, Guy Laliberté, began his performing career by founding a small troupe based in a Quebec village. Thanks to his determination, Les Échassiers de Baie-Saint-Paul (The Stiltwalkers of Baie-Saint-Paul), would eventually evolve into the phenomenon that is Soleil. In 1984, during the celebrations of the 450th anniversary of the landing of Jacques Cartier at Gaspé, Quebec - the "birth" of Canada - Laliberté persuaded organisers to allow Les Échassiers to perform throughout the entire province as a means of including as many Quebecois as possible in the festivities - and the rest, as they say, is history.
It wasn't until the early 1990s, however, that Soleil would truly go global, with the critically well-received show Saltimbanco (from the Italian for a tumbler). Housed in a large, climate-controlled tent (which could seat more than 2,500 spectators), Saltimbanco originally ran from 1992 to 2006, making it Soleil's longest-running show. A jazzed-up version was brought back less than a year later and is still shown sporadically.
The acrobatic troupe has so far produced 23 original shows that have, between them, played in 250 cities across the world.
In addition to bringing its magic to all corners of the world, Soleil has five permanent bases - in Las Vegas, New York, Orlando, Tokyo, and Macau - which play 12 of their most popular shows. Las Vegas, in particular, has seven shows on rotation, including The Beatles LOVE, Mystère, and Viva ELVIS.
Perhaps the show that will draw Soleil the most attention, though, will be its Michael Jackson-inspired production - snappily titled Michael Jackson THE IMMORTAL World Tour by Cirque du Soleil - which is due to begin touring this year. Afterwards, the show is expected to set up base permanently in Soleil's Las Vegas arena. In the works for several years, the show was initially put on ice after Jackson's death in 2009, before being brought back to life after being sanctioned by the Jackson estate. The sure-fire hit will be directed by the acclaimed Jamie King.
When Cirque came to fruition 26 years ago, the team was made up of 73 people. That has since expanded to include a staff of approximately 4,000 worldwide - more than 1,000 of whom are the performers. In addition, reports put Soleil's annual profits in the hundreds of millions of dollars each year - not bad for what is essentially some flexible people in fancy make-up. And with Cirque du Soleil showing no signs of slowing down - if its plans to add a permanent base in Dubai, at the Atlantis resort, by 2012 are anything to go by - one can only begin to imagine how much bigger the troupe could become another 26 years down the line.
Come to think of it, perhaps it is James Cameron who could do with the publicity from his association with Cirque du Soleil.
* Zaineb Al Hassani