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The end of Cirque du Soleil in Macau

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Until three days ago cabs driving around Macau were covered with advertisements for ZAIA, Cirque du Soleil’s Macau show. Now, the show is over; its last performance took place in the ZAIA theater in The Venetian last Sunday. After three and a half years of presence in Macau, the Las Vegas Sands Corp. decided to close the show, ending the 10-year contract between the Sands China-owned casino resort and the Quebec-based Canadian entertainment company far earlier than expected. Poor ticket sales and limited attraction for the Chinese audience were sighted as the reasons for canceling the spectacle. The cancellation follows a revamp of the show in the third quarter of last year, where several acts were changed and refined. Despite the changes, in a situation so contrary to that experienced in the USA gambling paradise Las Vegas, where Cirque du Soleil’s permanent shows continue to be very popular, Macau’s offering did not survive. Whatever may have caused the sudden closing, Sunday’s last performance was met with high approval by a very responsive audience, and ZAIA artists played to an almost capacity crowd. As soon as the two clowns, main characters in the show, appeared, the spectators started laughing and clapping. The crowd – a mix of Chinese and non-Chinese people – cheered for the clowns, who, in turn, amused the audience by making jokes and including several audience members in the performance. The awareness of a “last time” was felt as a special vibration among both the spectators and the artists and the show ended with a standing ovation.
The presence of Cirque du Soleil artists in Macau gave the city a very special charm. Being a small space with a straightforward community of foreigners, the artists could be met at parties, as for example one regular happening salsa party in Taipa, or in the streets of Macau. Thus unlike in bigger cities where life usually goes on in a more anonymous way, Macau people had the chance to see the artists not only as spectators of a show but to meet them personally and therefore get to know a very special kind of life, the artists’ way of life.
The news about the closing of their show came very unexpectedly to the artists, two weeks before the last performance and suddenly, one would find e-mails and face book messages circulating with lists of belongings, the artists where trying to sell as soon as possible. Bound by contract to the conditions of their blue card, they are obliged to leave Macau within ten days of the end of their contract; that is, after the last show. Hence, within around 34 days –still performing once or twice per day- they had to struggle with getting rid of sometimes newly purchased furniture, end housing contracts, find means to transport beloved pets and last but not least, search for a new place to stay, as well as a new job.
Though used to a rather turbulent lifestyle and even to frequent changes of locations, having to leave Macau so suddenly and losing their job, confronted ZAIA artists with a range of organizational and emotional difficulties. Talking to some of the performers, all of them stress that they liked living in Macau a lot and most of them would have liked to stay longer.

A dancing couple who came together to Macau four years ago both worked on the show. They enjoyed being the job because it seemed to be very stable and eventually they decided to have a baby. The baby is now a couple of months old and the couple said they were very happy living in Macau because “it is very safe”. Provided with a good salary from Cirque du Soleil, they had been able to build a better standard of living than they had previously enjoyed. Struggling in the beginning with the then unfamiliar Chinese patterns of life, they recently realised that they are not strangers anymore in Macau, but that they are being recognised by many of the sellers from the market and other places that the couple frequents and that they are treated with a certain familiarity by these sellers.
Still on maternity leave, the woman was going to resume work in June, however, they will now be forced to move back to Montreal, where they lived before, but they are yet to find a new job. Having lived four years abroad, they are facing the problem of having lost all the business contacts they had before. Therefore, they don’t know how whether or not they will find it difficult to find a new job. They also regret that the sudden announcement has not left them with enough time to do many things they would have liked to do in Macau before leaving.
Many of the artists agree that in spite of the unfortunate ending, their experience at Cirque du Soleil has been very good. They point out that the company’s effort to take care of the artists surpasses every other workplace they have had before. Lance, who has been singer in ZAIA for the last four months, is still amazed: “Even if you travel and need somebody to take care of your pet, they help you.” All the artists have to attend regular health exams and even with the end of the contracts, it is made sure that the artists leave the company in the same state of health as they entered. For Lance, who lived six years in Las Vegas, working as a singer in the US Venetian, coming to Macau and joining Cirque du Soleil, meant fulfilling one of his dreams. In the company, he received “the first opportunity to grow as a performer” as he got the chance to try many new things, like singing Sanskrit language or flying while singing. Though staying only four months, his experience encouraged him to try fulfilling another dream: singing at Broadway. “In Cirque du Soleil everybody is really good in what he does and artists and managers inspire you,” he explains the passion he developed in the last months. Outside the show he enjoyed to possibility to learn Capoeira in Macau, where he met Chinese and Portuguese people “who became like a family” for him.

Szanto Attila created his own gypsy dance with friends in Romania and this brought him to Cirque du Soleil almost four years ago. Thus, he is one of the final remaining six artists who joined the company from the beginning of in Macau. Even if Attila liked living and working in Macau, he says: “You get tired doing the same thing every day.” He was planning to leave his job here anyway. “You cannot continue all your life like this.” Attila also says, he didn’t really feel the life in Macau because “you have performances every day and just one day off.”
“In Cirque du Soleil you have to be really responsible,” he adds. Before coming to Macau he was traveling around the world with another dance show. He thinks, “Cirque du Soleil is a great company.” He complains about a bad dance choreographer, but says, “They are doing the best shows!” He is not sure why the show wasn’t successful in Macau. Now, after the end, he wants to rest for a while. Asked about his future projects he says, “It’s not going to be easy, you have to be really good to get something.” But he wants to start something by himself. He tries to see the sudden ending in a pragmatic way: “Nobody was expecting this kind of finish, but this is life, we have to go on.” He says he has experience something like this before. “There is always something ending and something new to start.” But when it comes to personal life and the friends he made he says, “it’s always hard to leave people.”  He hopes that the artists will meet somewhere in the world.
Also for Tedros Girma, a juggler with Cirque du Soleil it is going to be hard to leave. He enjoyed living in Macau a lot and for him his job was “fun”. Originally from Ethiopia and having lived many years in England, it was hard in the beginning to be away from the family but in the nearly two years he lived in Macau “the Cirque people” became his new family. He loved the fact that “more than 22 nationalities met and exchanged culture”. Performing in ZAIA was especially thrilling for him because of the big audience. As he says “the more people, the better. The audience is the energy for the people.” Also, Cirque du Soleil gave him a new stability compared to the four-month contracts he used to have. He stresses that “Cirque du Soleil is very well organized and disposes of a person for every possible need an artist may have.” Before coming to Macau, Tedros learned some Mandarin and used his free-time here to acquire new language, dance and musical skills. He would have loved to stay a couple of years longer but is lucky as his old company in England will take him back. The biggest problem for him is having to leave all the friends he made behind. “That’s circus life, you can’t stay too long in one place,” he says. The show must go on.

Dancing Water almost sold-out

The demise of ZAIA, Cirque du Soleil’s first resident show in Asia, doesn’t frighten rival gaming operator Melco Crown Entertainment. The local company stressed that its own show, ‘House of Dancing Water’, remains almost sold-out.
The entertainment centrepiece at Cotai resort City of Dreams “has staged over 560 shows, entertaining over one million guests with occupancy levels above 90 percent on average per show,” Melco told Macau Daily Times.
The director and creator of ‘House of Dancing Water’ was Franco Dragone, a former Cirque du Soleil executive. But Melco has been quick to point out the differences between its show and ZAIA.
“Besides the unique physical attributes of the water-based show and its technical staging, the storyline of ‘The House of Dancing Water’ is very much a creative concept that incorporates and reflects cultural and storytelling traditions from both Asia and the West in an ‘East meets West’ entertainment extravaganza,” the company said.
During its final months, Cirque du Soleil revamped ZAIA introducing Chinese acrobatic acts and the lion dance as company manager David Anthony admitted they were becoming “truly aware that we are not in Las Vegas”.
But last November Sands China president Edward Tracy admitted that the show was still recording losses.
Melco didn’t reveal whether or not ‘House of Dancing Water’ was breaking even. But the company stressed that the show “has generated meaningful positive ripple effects throughout the business, including higher property visitation, hotel occupancy rates, and gaming spend”.


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