• The Crystal Man

    The Crystal Man is a recurring character in the show TOTEM who represents the life force. His (literally) dazzling costume is entirely covered in small mirrors and crystals to create a ball of energy when he comes down from the sky in a beam of pure white light. (Photo: OSA Images)

This year, Cirque du Soleil debuts a new show in Montreal — Kurios: Cabinet of curiosities. It promises to yet again transport audiences with the dazzling spectacle that made Cirque du Soleil a world phenomenon, this time set against the backdrop of an unbridled, industrialized 19th century. But all the shows are timeless, and any of the 31 productions that came before Kurios could, and still do, elicit the same jaw-drop response. Read on for an abridged history of one of Canada’s greatest arts exports.

1984
For the festivities surrounding the 450th anniversary of French explorer Jacques Cartier’s arrival in Canada, the Quebec government hires Guy Laliberté and Gilles Ste-Croix’s troupe of street performers. They create the Le Grand Tour du Cirque du Soleil, and take the show to 11 towns and cities across the province.

1985
Cirque du Soleil departs Quebec for the first time, playing in Ottawa, Toronto and Niagara Falls.

1986
The company pushes across Canada. Their show, now dubbed La Magie Continue, plays in eight western cities, including Vancouver, where they are featured at the International Children’s Festival and Expo ’86.

1987
Its first foray outside Canada, Cirque travels to Los Angeles, San Diego and Santa Monica. The California crowds are thrilled by We Reinvent the Circus, and overwhelmingly positive media coverage makes the Canadian artists an instant sensation.

1990
Having toured Canada and the United States, We Reinvent the Circus goes to London, England, and Paris, France. Meanwhile, as Nouvelle Expérience is unveiled in Montreal, spectators pack the brand-new 2,500-seat big top, or grand chapiteau.

1992
While Nouvelle Expérience begins a year-long stint in a big top behind Las Vegas’ Mirage Hotel, Fascination, a collection of favourite performances from other shows, plays in Tokyo, Japan. Saltimbanco, a celebratory take on bustling urban life, premiers in Montreal.

1993
After Caesar’s Palace turns down the offer of its own permanent Cirque du Soleil production (on account of the shows being too far-fetched and different from the usual Las Vegas fare), the first official resident production, Mystère, moves into a specially made theatre in the new Treasure Island Hotel.

1994
For the company’s 10th anniversary, Alegria (Spanish for “joy”) opens in Montreal. The show, a loosely baroque-and-Gothic-styled fusion, goes on to play in 250 cities, in front of more than 14 million spectators, retiring in December 2013.

1995
A special show is created for the heads of state gathered for the G7 Summit in Halifax. Having never performed in the region, the company requests that the big top be opened to the public for four or five extra presentations after the G7 performance.

1997
Cirque du Soleil opens its international headquarters in the Saint-Michel district of Montreal. From this point on all shows are designed and produced in this “creative laboratory.” 

1998
The second resident show, O, is installed in Las Vegas’ Bellagio hotel and casino. O also breaks new ground as the company’s first aquatic performance.

2000
The popular film Cirque du Soleil: Journey of Man, an interpretation of the stages of human life from birth to maturity, premieres worldwide. This is the first time Cirque has been staged for the large-format IMAX screen.

2003
In a bit of a naughty departure, resident production Zumanity opens at the New York-New York Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. Touted as “The sensual side of Cirque du Soleil,” it’s an adults-only affair — part burlesque, part cabaret, but still replete with the usual enthralling design and acrobatics.

2004
A book titled 20 Years Under the Sun, outlining Cirque du Soleil’s extraordinary trajectory, is published. That same year, the company sets a Guinness World Record by having 544 stilt-walkers perform in one place.

2009
Guy Laliberté goes into space, using the opportunity to raise awareness of Earth’s water issues and becoming Canada’s first private space explorer. A two-hour live webcast of artistic, acrobatic performances — part of the Moving Stars and Earth for Water theme — is broadcast simultaneously from 14 cities on five continents, as well as from the International Space Station.

2010
Totem begins its tour in Montreal. The show, which relies on a number of creation myths and traces humankind’s evolution from primordial beginnings to the desire to take flight, is the first show designed to adapt to both big tops and arenas. In the same year, Guy Laliberté receives a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

2012
On top of introducing the world to new touring show Amaluna, a mythical love story involving shipwrecks and goddesses, Cirque du Soleil launches a creative production service aimed at helping other artists and organizations who want to take advantage of Cirque’s vast creative experience. (For example, Madonna’s halftime Super Bowl performance used their artistic direction).

2014
The company’s 30th anniversary and world-premiere of Kurios: Cabinet of curiosities.