Cirque Got Back In The Air In China

Many have probably heard about the Broadway productions in South Korea which only experienced a brief shutdown thanks to the swift and fairly comprehensive measures the government and productions put in place to combat Covid-19. Come to find out, there is a Cirque du Soleil production in Hangzhou, China which managed to get back into production in May despite China being an early epicenter of the disease. The China show didn’t start performing again until July, however.  It was one of two Cirque productions performing at the time of the article was written. (I am not sure what the other production is. I see Mystere is running in Vegas, but the other Vegas productions don’t start until October.)

During the shutdown period, many of acrobats cobbled together practice routines to maintain their strength and flexibility since their normal training faculties were unavailable. One of the biggest challenges the production faced was that many of their foreign performers had left the country and couldn’t re-enter in order to rejoin the show.  They ended up having to basically revamp the performances and supporting technology to integrate all the changes into the overarching narrative concept.

Over a manic three-week period, “X” hired over a dozen replacement actors and acrobats from troupes across China, who had to be trained and taught the show in its entirety.

Scenes containing foreign stars were replaced and re-choreographed. A duo of figure-skating Russians was swapped out for a group of Cyr wheel performers, who roll around the stage inside giant metal hoops. The high-flying bungee rope artists were substituted for a “water meteor” juggling act. Local trampoline specialists created a simplified version of the show’s original “trampowall” segment, in which the experienced foreign artists would flip and spin off of a high vertical wall.

Changing or cutting acts is routine during Cirque shows, but making so many changes while remaining faithful to the “X” storyline was a huge challenge, according to Chouinard.


The hardest-working crewmembers were the technical team, who had to adjust the music, graphics, lighting, and animations to fit with the altered show. Each change, meanwhile, had to be discussed and approved by Cirque’s headquarters back in Canada.

What was most surprising to learn was that the Chinese producers, Xintiandi,  were able to continue paying the bills for their idled production even as Cirque du Soleil was filing for bankruptcy protection. Still, despite Xintiandi’s substantial cash reserves, they have been renting out their performance facility to other events in an attempt to offset the reduced income resulting from a mandatory 50% seating capacity and weakened tourism outlook for Hangzhou.

Between February and June, Xintiandi continued to pay staff wages, venue bills, financial payments, and maintenance costs, without earning 1 yuan in income.

The Chinese firm, meanwhile, still has to pay Cirque an annual licensing fee for the show. When Sixth Tone spoke with Xia in July, she said the company was currently negotiating this year’s payment with its Canadian partner, with a slight grimace.

The deep pockets of Xintiandi have enabled the show to absorb these losses, but the current 50% attendance limit means the show can’t run profitably.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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