After shuttering dozens of shows and shedding most of its work force, the vaunted Canadian circus faces an uphill struggle to bounce back.
Confinement has posed a particular challenge for the Québécois aerialist Guillaume Paquin. Practicing signature moves, like twisting his way up a 20-foot rope before spinning downward like a helicopter propeller, is a bit tricky from his cramped living room.
Now, however, the former Cirque du Soleil performer may soon be able to trade in his Montreal apartment for the big top: The famed circus is returning to the stage after the pandemic forced it to shutter 44 shows, from Melbourne to Hangzhou.
With vaccinations accelerating across the world, the Cirque announced late last month that its two longest-running Las Vegas shows, “O” and “Mystère,” will return this summer. “Luzia,” a crowd-pleaser featuring acrobats jumping to and from a pair of huge swings, will open at Royal Albert Hall in London next January. And talks are underway to reopen in China, Japan, South Korea and Spain.
At a time when the pandemic is still raging and uncertainty remains about people’s willingness to return to large theater venues, the attempted comeback by the former behemoth is a litmus test of sorts for the live entertainment industry.
Can the badly battered Montreal-based circus, already struggling with creative exhaustion before the pandemic, rise again?
“It’s been more than a year that we are all stuck at home,” said Mr. Paquin, 26, who previously starred as the extraterrestrial humanoid Entu in “Toruk,” the elaborately staged Cirque show inspired by James Cameron’s film “Avatar.” He is not part of the Las Vegas shows soon to commence but is eager to get back onstage.
“Audiences are hungry for live entertainment,” he said.
The reopening of Cirque du Soleil comes as the global performing arts are cautiously re-emerging.
In New York, the actor Nathan Lane and the dancer Savion Glover recently performed, briefly and one at a time, in front of a masked audience of 150 people, presaging what theater producers hope will be the resumption of Broadway performances in the fall.
In an early peek at what a vaccinated future may look like, Israelis with two shots can get a “Green Pass” that allows access to indoor and outdoor cultural and sporting events.
And this month Rotterdam plans to host the Eurovision Song Contest in front of a limited live audience.
But before Cirque shows can restart, it must put back together a company that was all but dismantled at the start of the pandemic.
During its 400-day hiatus, Cirque’s revenues plummeted to zero, and it shed nearly 4,700 people, or 95 percent of its work force, leaving many of the world’s best trapeze artists and acrobats confined at home, unable to practice.
Mr. Paquin said the long pause had undermined his confidence, since he couldn’t rehearse his airborne routines. When he recently started retraining, he said, he discovered that he had lost his “muscle memory” and felt afraid to be in the air. “It was really painful for me to go back,” he said.
With touring on the horizon, the circus also faces the logistical challenge of navigating different health and safety rules across the globe. “It’s going to take a very long time for the Cirque to come back to what it was before the pandemic — if ever,” said Mitch Garber, who stepped down last year as Cirque’s chairman.
Yasmine Khalil, who recently stepped down as Cirque’s executive producer after 25 years at the company, said the group retained a sparkling global brand, while the pandemic offered the radically scaled-down organization the opportunity to reinvent itself…
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