That particular troupe made a make-or-break visit to an arts festival in Los Angeles in 1987 and immediately became a sensation with its one-ring, animal-less format and a style more akin to European circuses than the Ringling Bros.-dominated format familiar to Americans. In essence, the Cirque aesthetic combines the theatrical, theme-driven concepts and characters of European shows with the focus on acrobatic skill of Asian circuses.
More tours followed with increasingly ambitious themes, visual concepts, acts, and music (most of the shows have original scores) as more performers joined from other countries. 1992's Saltimbanco is generally regarded as the first "modern" Cirque show. The following year, casino mogul Steve Wynn had a theatre custom-built at his new Treasure Island hotel-casino in Las Vegas for Cirque, which became home to the troupe Mystère. The company's growth and development progressed to the point that, in The New '10s, the number of troupes performing somewhere in the world at any given time was in the double digits. Each one is unique, changing acts and performers over time but sticking to an individual thematic/artistic core.
Cirque is usually credited for reviving interest in circus entertainment in The '90s, and from the Turn of the Millennium onward have also experimented in crossing the form over with other genres (Jukebox Musical, magic/illusion, concert, etc.).
Touring troupes visit major cities worldwide for visits of a few weeks to a few months each, usually under a custom-built big top, Le Grand Chapiteau (usually in Cirque's signature colors of royal blue and sunshine yellow). With the sheer number of shows now touring, many older shows have been adapted for arenas, expanding the company's reach to mid-sized cities and shorter engagements.
Cirque has made a variety of film and TV productions. Most are filmed performances of the touring shows, but original efforts derived from the shows and behind-the-scenes documentaries have become more common in The New '10s. Several behind-the-scenes books have also been published, such as the 20th anniversary marker 20 Years Under the Sun, which helped flesh out this entry.
In 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent social distancing, Cirque launched CirqueConnect, a weekly online program showcasing their past performances. Content can be viewed on their website here, or their YouTube channel here. This has not, however, been enough to keep them from filing for bankruptcy in June of that infamous year.
If you want to know about a specific show and its tropes, look to the Cirque du Soleil Index.
Common tropes in this company's work include:
- All There in the Manual: The themes, plots, and significance of various characters of many of the shows are not openly spelled out in the shows, but in souvenir programs and at the official website.
- Ambiguous Gender: Many of the costumes and makeup evoke this on purpose to make the performers/characters seem more androgynous.
- Audience Participation: Most of the shows have this to some extent.
- Awards Show
- In 2002, cast members from various troupes performed at the Academy Awards to introduce (naturally) the Best Visual Effects category.
- In 2008, the cast of The Beatles LOVE teamed up with the cast of Across the Universe for the Grammys' tribute to The Beatles and/or John Lennon.
- The cast of IRIS, Cirque's show about the history of cinema, performed at the 84th Academy Awards in 2012. (This was easy to do, since the show's home base was the Dolby Theatre, where the Oscars are held; the show was commissioned to occupy the theater the rest of the year.)
- Cash Cow Franchise: As an example, Saltimbanco was retired from the lineup after the initial tour ended in 1997, but revived the following year and performed until 2012. Guy Laliberté made enough money from this enterprise that he paid the Russians to let him go into space in 2009.
- Clock Punk: KURIOS.
- Commedia dell'Arte/ Pantomime: The legacy of the Commedia (and the related Harlequinade) essentially form the beating heart of their entire ethos. You don't have to scratch their stories, scenarios or characters too hard to find a very familiar set of patterns and themes.
- Costume Porn: The book brought out to mark the company's 25th anniversary was about the costumes of all the shows over the years, which should tell you how much this trope applies to them.
- Cut Song: When old acts/transitions go, so do their songs, so many a soundtrack (usually recorded within a year or two of the opening) has a fair amount of material that's no longer in the show.
- The Danza: Most clowns and sometimes serious characters, though the latter are less likely to retain the name after their original performer/namesake leaves.
- Disney Owns This Trope: The company tried suing a Follow the Leader rival for using the word cirque, which is just the French word for circus. It didn't work.
- Downer Ending: While the shows typically have happy endings, only occasionally presenting bittersweet ones, the TV series Solstrom has a few episodes that end with downers. "Wind of Freedom" is an example: the convict who's the viewpoint character is the only one who doesn't escape the prison and thus he never sees his sweetheart again.
- The Everyman: If the show has a central character, there's a good chance (s)he will be this.
- Better yet: In French, Quidam means more or less "everyman", and the protagonist eventually concludes he is really "every man", "any man".
- Everything's Better with Sparkles: The Firefly Boy in KA is a particularly obvious example, but to quote a comment from the trope itself, "27.84% of every Cirque show is glitter."
- Follow the Leader: Imitations of this company's style exist, such as the output of the U.S.-based Cirque Productions (unsuccessfully sued for using "Cirque" in its name). Can qualify as The Mockbuster when one considers that these shows usually travel to places that don't usually, if ever, get actual Cirque tours...
- Hotter and Sexier: Zumanity, the adults-only show.
- Impractically Fancy Outfit: Averted. No matter how elaborate a costume is, it is designed for maximum functionality and safety for its wearer's act. Cirque is a pioneer in Practically Fancy Outfits.
- Jukebox Musical: LOVE, Viva Elvis, and the two Michael Jackson projects are all variants on this genre: the original recordings of the performer(s) in question are used and visually interpreted by the troupe through acrobatics and dance.
- Let There Be Snow: Wintuk revolved around a boy's quest to invoke this trope when winter arrives in his city but without the usual snow.
- Lighter and Softer: Wintuk, to the point that it was accused of being dumbed down for families.
- Loads and Loads of Characters: Quite a few shows are just bursting with odd folks; many are not even named in the program and may appear just as colorful extras.
- Long-Runners: Alegria, Quidam, La Nouba, Dralion, Varekai, Zumanity, KA, Corteo, and LOVE passed the 10-year mark, while Saltimbanco performed off-and-on (mostly on) for a little over 20 years. "O" launched in 1998 and is still performing, and Mystere has been running nonstop since 1993.
- Magical Land: Most of the shows take place in a version of this.
- Monster Clown: Villainous/enigmatic characters can invoke the visuals and behavior associated with this trope (i.e. Fleur in Alegria).
- Nice Hat: Nice hats show up a lot in Cirque. Some are even magical.
- No Fourth Wall: Most of the shows have this; usually key to the clown acts.
- Non-Ironic Clown: This company is one of the great employers of true clowns.
- Opening Ballet: Many shows open this way to introduce the major and minor characters, as well as the setting.
- Reality TV: The development of Varekai was the basis for the documentary series Fire Within.
- Retool: As noted above, acts and performers change with time, but some shows have been severely revamped for other reasons: to make them Lighter and Softer, to give the audience more of what they expect going in (Criss Angel Believe dropped its acrobatics in favor of more magic tricks), etc.
- The Rival: In the U.S., the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, especially once Cirque put its older shows on the arena tour circuit. Ringling Bros., which almost always performs in arenas, is the epitome of traditional circus and uses animals, something Cirque eschews with the exception of doves in Believe. Ringling presents three different tours that are each revamped with a new "edition" every one-to-two years, as opposed to Cirque shows being unique, stand-alone productions that can run indefinitely.
- Well, looks like one model won out: Ringling Bros. deciding to wind their whole group up basically means that animal circus performance is officially going the way of dancing bears in the US, at least. It's been on the cards for a while.
- Scenery Porn: The resident shows are crazy about this; the tours are pretty too in smaller-scale ways.
- Set Switch Song: Often used for transitions from one act to another, especially when equipment has to be set up and/or taken down.
- The Show Must Go On:
- Despite horrible critical reception, shows such as Criss Angel Believe and Banana Shpeel continued to perform — the latter, after being burnt by the press in its Chicago tryout, went through its second retool to go on to New York as planned and after that was unsuccessful, attempted a North American tour. Only its poor reception in Toronto, its first stop, brought the show to an end. As for Believe, it had a substantial Retool that dropped most of the Cirque-based elements, eventually being rebranded as Mindfreak Live!, and saw out its ten-year contract with the hotel before closing.
- On the other hand, from day to day this trope is averted — despite the general consensus that the circus will go on stage no matter what the circumstances, Cirque stops its shows if there is an accident involving technology or their personnel. After the fatal fall suffered by a KÀ performer on June 29, 2013, not only was the show stopped, but all performances of it were cancelled for several weeks before reopening with the disastrous act in question excised. The scene was later readded, albeit with all the performers projected on the wall, until the end of 2014 when it was formally restored to its original staging.
- Unfortunately, this trope became averted hard in 2020 with the COVID-19 Pandemic forcing the company to close all of their shows worldwide. They later filed for bankruptcy protection and laid off 3,500 staff members as a result.
- Silence Is Golden: Many of the shows keep to this tenet.
- Singing Simlish: The majority of original Cirque songs use this if they're not going for Bilingual Bonus, although Amaluna's soundtrack album has English versions of the songs "Come Together", "Hope", "Burn Me Up", and "Run".
- Slapstick: Whenever the clowns appear, this is bound to be part of their schtick in the great traditions of both circus and clowning.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: At worst, Cirque shows take place in worlds where you can and must Earn Your Happy Ending. At best, life is incredibly hopeful and beautiful.
- Sliding Scale of Visuals Versus Dialogue: Firmly on the visual side.
- Small Reference Pools: Not everyone in the company is French-Canadian or French, but you'd never know it from the jokes and spoofs tossed around, which also overlap with Shallow Parody and Redundant Parody in that very, very few mockeries acknowledge that the shows have a sense of humor, instead presenting them as strictly parades of pretentiousness.
- Something Completely Different: Most of the Vegas shows since Mystere put a significant twist on the usual formula in staging and/or thematic focus — "O" uses water as a performance medium and setting, Zumanity is adults-only, etc. Zarkana is an exception to this, though it folds in Rock Opera for its score, owing to the fact that it wasn't originally created for Vegas.
- Speaking Simlish: "Cirquish", the fans call it. Also appears in songs.
- Spectacular Spinning: Most shows have at least one act that invokes this trope; common ones include aerial hoop, (hula-style) hoops and/or manipulation, bolas, Chinese meteors, and German wheel.
- The Stinger: The TV series Solstrom has one of these at the end of every episode, followed by the scientist looking into the camera and saying "You want some more?"
- Tarot Motifs: ZED was based around these.
- Trickster Archetype: Most of the shows have at least one variety of this as a character (possibly one of the clowns), to the point that a key character in KOOZA is named Trickster.
- Under the Sea: "O" is a pun on the French word for water, eau, but to truly see (or sea) this trope in action, there's the "Deep" sequence in KA, the "Octopus's Garden" number in LOVE, "Bridge of Sorrow" in Delirium, and the "water bowl" in Zumanity and Amaluna.
- Variety Show: Zumanity and Banana Shpeel are presented in this style (as deliberate throwbacks to cabaret and vaudeville, respectively).
- Walking Shirtless Scene: A good number of the male performers, though it's hardly surprising considering their physiques.
- Widget Series: The concept applies to the company's output as a whole, and even more so to Solstrom.
- World of Ham: As circuses tend to be hammy by design, most Cirque shows take place in one. (Quidam is the most obvious exception to the rule.)