Cirque woos Chinese investors in Montreal


    The stars are aligned for the Cirque du Soleil.

    The Cirque, which has made expansion into Asia a priority, welcomed Chinese businessmen to its headquarters in Montreal Monday afternoon. Projects the circus troupe is considering include a theme park and dinner-show concept.

    The first visit of the very exclusive China Entrepreneur Club — often called the “club of billionaires” — offers unique opportunities for businesses here. It comes on the heels of a visit to China by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who seeks to forge links with politicians and businesspeople.

    “It could not have come at a better time for us,” said Daniel Lamarre, president and CEO of the Cirque.

    The Chinese conglomerate Fosun has a 20-per-cent stake in the Cirque and has “brought very concrete benefits” to the business, Lamarre said. Other shareholders include U.S. investor TPG (60 per cent) and the Caisse de dépôt et placement (10 per cent). Cirque founder Guy Laliberté holds a 10-per-cent stake.

    Fosun helped the Cirque open a business office in Shangai, the first step in penetrating a market of more than one billion people, where the middle class has seen fabulous growth.

    Lamarre said seven or eight projects are in “serious” development. He expects to have two shows on tour in China soon, including Toruk, which is inspired by the movie Avatar. Toruk should be up and running by the end of 2017. The Cirque plans to have a permanent show in Hangzhou by 2018. This one, “a meeting between East and West,” was designed specifically for the Chinese public and will premiere there.

    These shows will help raise awareness of the Cirque in China, Lamarre said. The Cirque hopes to have shows in a dozen cities, with five permanent shows in the country in the next five to seven years, he said. 

    Chinese investors have expressed interest in the dinner show Joya, which was designed by the Cirque du Soleil and is running in Mexico. Lamarre said many of the Chinese businessmen saw the show in Mexico, while others went to see shows in Las Vegas.

    “There is a momentum that is being created between China and the Cirque,” he said.

    Lamarre is enthusiastic at the prospect of a theme park and said that although some discussions have already taken place, the meeting in Montreal provided a unique opportunity with so many potential partners and investors in one place. He said he intended to use the forum to pitch different types of projects and performances.

    The Cirque is already involved in a theme park in Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico, that is slated to be ready by the end of 2018. The circus is developing all the content, narrative, and artistic aspects. But with this sort of artistic license, there is little financial risk, and he said a similar approach should be used in China.

    For now, the company does not plan to grow by acquiring other circuses, Lamarre added, but they will continue to seek out partnerships for some projects.

    The Quebec-based circus has been trying for some time to break into China, a country that already has a strong circus tradition and where circuses are too numerous to count. Performances were presented in 2007 in Shanghai, and a permanent show was installed in 2008 in the Chinese territory of Macau, but ended prematurely in 2012, as developers struggled to fill the room.

    “Macau, this is not China,” Lamarre said. It is an isolated place where people go mostly for the casinos, he said. Mainland China is “a true consumer market.”

    The China Entrepreneur Club began an eight-day visit to Canada on Sunday.

    by Stéphanie Marin