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Daniel Lamarre, President & CEO of Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group, centre, was in Toronto on Nov. 8 to announce Kurios – Cabinet of Curiosities, the first touring show to re-open in Canada beginning April 14, 2022 at Ontario Place.Laura Rossi/Cirque du Soleil

A rebuilding Cirque du Soleil wants to make its big-top shows a “tourist destination” in Toronto each spring, the Quebec-based circus company’s president and CEO Daniel Lamarre said on Monday.

Mr. Lamarre was on hand to announce that Kurios: Cabinet of Curiosities, a popular steampunk-inspired touring show that previously visited Toronto in 2014, will be the first Cirque spectacle to be performed in the Ontario capital since the pandemic began.

It will rehearse in town, rather than in Montreal, and then run from mid-April through to June on the grounds of Ontario Place.

At a news conference, Mr. Lamarre revealed that the intention is for Kurios to kick off an annual Cirque tradition in Toronto that visitors and locals alike will be able to put in their calendar well in advance. “We aspire to be in Toronto every year at the same period of time,” he said.

Cirque du Soleil already has a long-established tradition of touring to Toronto, of course; in fact, it was the first city the company toured to outside of Quebec back in 1985.

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But the entertainment giant’s visits to Canada’s largest city have not always been predictable – and, over the past decade, the company might have alternated between bringing one of its top-tier big-top shows one year or one of its less-intimate arena shows another.

Now Cirque du Soleil will position itself in Toronto more like it does in London, England – where there has been a decade-long tradition established of bringing a show to the Royal Albert Hall each January.

The market for its circus content in Toronto has generally been strong: Alegria, Cirque’s last show to play at Ontario Place in the fall of 2019, sold 209,000 tickets in a little more than two months, according to Mr. Lamarre.

Over the years, there has occasionally been talk about whether Cirque du Soleil might open a permanent show in Toronto like the ones it has in Las Vegas. But, while Mr. Lamarre doesn’t fully close the door to that possibility, he makes it clear it’s unlikely in the near future. (The company stumbled with stand-alone shows in major North American cities such as Los Angeles about a decade ago – and does not seem likely to try that experiment any time soon.)

Cirque du Soleil has been slowly ramping up production since the summer. Five of its most popular resident spectacles are running in Las Vegas now; Mr. Lamarre says attendance at those Cirque shows is back “almost at the same level that we were in 2019.” Ticket sales for ‘Twas the Night Before, a new Christmas-themed show that starts later this month in Chicago, then moves to New York, have been a “good surprise,” he says.

“I don’t take anything for granted and it’s so encouraging now to see that the business is really coming back,” he says.

While Cirque du Soleil continues to have its headquarters in Montreal, Toronto has begun to play a more central role in the company behind the scenes.

When COVID-19 started to spread around the world, Cirque had to shut down 44 shows worldwide – and shortly thereafter filed for bankruptcy protection. Eventually a consortium led by Toronto’s Catalyst Capital became the new owner – and it has invested hundreds of millions of dollars into getting the billion-dollar circus company ready for a live-performance rebound.

Mr. Lamarre calls Catalyst the company’s “main shareholder” and shouted out its Torontonian managing director Gabriel de Alba at his news conference.

In the recent past, Cirque big-top shows visited Toronto mainly in the fall – but Mr. Lamarre says the Toronto International Film Festival takes up too much attention at that time and that the spring is better positioning for a family “summery” show that could kick off the tourist season.

Spring has been a successful slot for Cirque performances in Montreal – and, indeed, the coming one will see a touring show called Kooza playing there in the Old Port at the same time Kurios is in Toronto; Mr. Lamarre says he has no concerns the two Canadian cities are in competition for tourists.

A fly in the ointment in Cirque cementing itself as a Toronto tradition in a particular location, however, is that there are high-profile plans under way by the province to revitalize Ontario Place that might eventually eliminate the space needed to set up its big top – and the other site that the company has used in the past, in the city’s Port Lands, is also under redevelopment.

But Mr. Lamarre hopes to keep Cirque at Ontario Place well into the future, not just for the next two years. “I don’t want to give up on this site,” he says. “I think this is the perfect site and I will start the conversation as of today about how we can make it happen.”

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