Cirque du Soleil CEO Talks 'Avatar'-Inspired Show and China Expansion

'Toruk,' the Quebec-based circus troupe's first show based on a movie, is headed straight to China after a North American bow.

Fresh from selling Cirque du Soleil to American and Chinese investors, Daniel Lamarre says his Canadian-based circus troupe is set for a major expansion in China and other Asian markets.

"We have a global brand and we now have the partners to get us to the next level," Lamarre, Cirque president and CEO, told The Hollywood Reporter in Montreal while attending the C2MTL Commerce and Creativity Conference.

Lamarre last month unveiled a $1.5 billion deal to sell a controlling stake in Cirque to U.S. private equity firm TPG Capital, with Shanghai-based Fosun Capital Group taking a minority stake. Despite a failed earlier Asian expansion  Zed at Tokyo Disney and Zaia in Macau   the Cirque boss said he now has a local Chinese partner in Fosun to guide his latest push.

"Now I have a partner (Fosun) with a huge network in China and an amazing springboard," he added. "They're just waiting for us to bring the best artistic creators, the best choreographers and the best music composers to work with their acrobatic capabilities," Lamarre said of the coming Chinese-Canadian creative collaboration.

The first Cirque offering for China will be Toruk - The First Flight, a live arena show inspired by James Cameron's Avatar movie franchise, and with the Hollywood director on board as a creative consultant. Normally, Cirque tours its arena shows in North America, Europe and Latin America before they land in Asia.

But given the hunger among Asian audiences for the Avatar franchise, Lamarre said Toruk will bow in North America before going straight to China. "It's a door opener," he insisted.

Cirque wasn't alone at the C2 conference this week, setting Quebec's creative agenda on the world stage. Carolle Brabant, Canada's premier film financier as executive director of Telefilm Canada, has seen Quebec directors like Jean-Marc Vallee (Dallas Buyers Club) and Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners) surmount every Hollywood hurdle, while Montreal auteurs like Xavier Dolan and Denys Arcand have become perennial Cannes favorites.

"It's no secret that Quebec has a policy to stimulate and sustain its culture. Money is part of the answer, as filmmakers need to make their first film, make mistakes and make a second and third film," Brabant said.

She adds that Montreal, backed by generous film tax credits and other incentives, has developed an infrastructure of technical crews, casts and soundstages to back emerging directors. French-speaking Montreal also spawned Vice Media, a global digital brand launched by Shane Smith as a local magazine 20 years ago, and the Just For Laughs comedy festival, a mecca for Los Angeles and New York City talent scouts and execs needing talent for film and TV projects,

"There are groups of (Montreal) companies and people who have said, I can establish my base in my hometown, speak my mother tongue (French), but I'm a citizen of the world, I play on the world stage," Just For Laughs co-founder Andy Nulman explained.

Jean-François Bouchard, creator of Montreal's C2 conference and president of Sid Lee, added that creativity and commerce in Quebec isn't mutually exclusive. He points to the city's thriving video game and visual effects sectors, which includes local studios run by Ubisoft, Framestore, MPC and Cinesite.

"That represents well what Montreal is about: a mix of artistry and technology to create a major post-production center," Bouchard said. He added foreign producers, including from Los Angeles, appreciate Montreal's cultural bridge between the U.S. and European cultures.

"The city is a mix of European and American thinking," Bouchard said.

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