Cirque du Soleil is an entertainment empire based in Montreal, Quebec, Canada located in Saint-Michel, and founded in Baie-Saint-Paul in 1984 by two former street performers, Guy Laliberté and Daniel Gauthier.
Initially named Les Échassiers they toured Quebec in 1980 as a performing troupe and encountered financial hardship that was relieved by a government grant in 1983 as part of 450th celebrations of Jacques Cartier's discovery of Canada. Le Grand Tour du Cirque du Soleil was a success in 1984 and after securing a second year of funding Laliberté hired Guy Caron from the National Circus School to recreate it as a "proper circus". No ring and no animals helped make Cirque du Soleil the modern circus ("Cirque Nouveau" / New Circus) that it is today. Each show is a synthesis of circus styles from around the world and has its own central theme and storyline which brings the audience into the performance by having no curtains, continuous live music and performers change the props. After critical and financial successes (Los Angeles Arts Festival) and failures in the late 1980s, Nouvelle Expérience was created with the direction of Franco Dragone that not only made Cirque profitable by 1990 but allowed it to create new shows.
Throughout the 1990s and 2000s Cirque expanded rapidly and went from one show with 73 employees in 1984 to currently 3,500 employees from over 40 countries doing fifteen shows touring every continent and has an estimated annual revenue exceeding US$600 million. The multiple permanent Las Vegas shows alone play to more than 9,000 people a night - 5% of the city's visitors - adding to the 70+ million people who have experienced Cirque. In 2000, Laliberté bought out Gauthier and with 95% ownership has continued to expand the brand.
Several more shows are in development around the world, along with a television deal, women's clothing line and perhaps in other mediums such as spas, restaurants and nightclubs. Cirque du Soleil also produces a small number of private and corporate events each year (past clients have been the royal family of Dubai and the 2007 Super Bowl).
Cirque's creations have been awarded numerous prizes and distinctions, including Bambi, Rose d'Or, three Gemini Awards and four Primetime Emmy Awards. In 2004, Interbrand's poll of brand names with the highest global impact ranked Cirque du Soleil as number 22.