Circus in the sand

The Cirque du Soleil will be housed at the Palm Mall on The Palm Jumeirah


In 2011 Dubai will open a permanent Cirque du Soleil acrobatic show in the heart of The Palm Jumeirah and those involved say the city could have five or more such shows in the future.

The creation of this permanent Cirque du Soleil event will see the UAE take a giant leap forward in terms of world-class attractions and firmly place it on the world's entertainment stage.

And, with Dubai's tourism industry set to grow by eight per cent in 2008 – according to the research organisation Globalysis – plans are also in place to create a number of theme parks in Dubailand to the west of the airport.

All this, experts say, is what will keep the tourism drive on course and give the projected 15 million visitors to the emirate by 2015 plenty of attractions to visit.

Eyad Ali Abdul Rahman, Dubai Tourism and Commerce Marketing's executive director media relations division and acting director of business development, says these developments will transform the city. "We are one of the most exposed cities in the world and we are currently booming," he says.

"We have to promote Dubai accordingly and promote the new things. With Cirque du Soleil and Dubailand we are providing the visitor with some very amazing attractions." A total of 6.9 million visitors checked into hotels in Dubai in 2007, up from 6.4 million the previous year, which accounted for a revenue of $3 billion (Dh11bn).

As part of the Cirque du Soleil project, a 1,800-seat theatre will be built on the Palm Mall complex at the tip of Nakheel's manmade island, which will host 400 of the world-famous performances each year. This could see a potential 720,000 visitors per year if all the shows were to sell out. Last year, the first Cirque du Soleil touring show was staged in Dubai with organisers recording visitor figures of 100,000.

The Quidam show saw acrobats perform almost impossible feats of balancing, juggling and mid-air manoeuvres from swings all under the grand chapiteau or big top. This six-week show subsequently led to a 15-year deal with Nakheel for a permanent attraction.

"When we came to Dubai four years ago we had heard about The Palm Jumeirah. We asked whether we could have a permanent show and [Nakheel] said maybe," says Mario D'Amico, senior vice-president of marketing, Cirque du Soleil.

"We then tested the market with a touring show last year, which was a tremendous success and three months later we had agreed a deal. Things move quickly in Dubai." Cirque du Soleil – which means circus in the sun – was set up in 1984 and has wowed 60 million spectators in more than 100 countries around the world.

The company has 3,500 employees from more than 40 countries with 15 shows around the world with an estimated annual revenue exceeding $600 million.

A team of 90 performers and 150 technical staff will eventually become Dubai residents and keep the 24-year-old tradition of Cirque du Soleil moving forward and officials from the Canada-based show are not counting out more permanent shows in the future.

"We have five in Las Vegas and are about to open another two, so why not have more in Dubai," says D'Amico. "There is a need in Dubai for these kind of attractions and we are fulfiling this need with a high-end international event." As well as the Las Vegas shows there is a permanent show in Orlando, Florida, with two more opening at the end of the year in Asia's Macau and Tokyo.

However, all these performances are held in hotel chains or exhibition centres, whereas the Subai show will be in a specially built venue.

Before the permanent show opens residents and visitors to Dubai will get the chance to see another touring show that was announced at this month's Arabian Travel Market. Algeria, one of Cirque du Soleil's longest-running act, will have its final performances in Dubai over a four-week period beginning in March next year.

 The show takes its name from the Spanish word for joy and jubilation and is a baroque and operatic production. Richard Lee, executive director of investment projects at Nakheel, says to have Cirque du Soleil on board the Palm was in line with the company's commitment to bring world-class attractions to Dubai.

"Dubai is a major tourism hub and it's great for us to be able to encourage people to stay longer in the city when they visit. "People will plan their holidays around the Cirque du Soleil show and we have made it easy for them to obtain tickets," he adds. "They can buy tickets online anywhere in the world and choose their seats."

As for the permanent show, piling has already started on The Palm Jumeirah and organisers in Canada are now brainstorming to come up with a unique theme for the show.

 "We are already in the process of casting, which is all part of the 36-month process from the day we decided we were going move to Dubai to the show's opening day," adds D'Amico. "This is a great opportunity for all of us. The Palm is a fantastic destination and it is what attracted us to Dubai and our location on the Palm is tremendous."

The Palm Mall will have one million square foot of retail, dining and entertainment space with Cirque du Soleil as its main attraction.


The numbers

5: The number of permanent Cirque du Soleil shows that Dubai could have

400: Expected shows per year at the region's first permanent Cirque du Soleil in Dubai

1,800: Seats at the new purpose-built theatre currently under construction at The Palm Jumeirah

720,000: Visitors per year if all shows are sold out at the Palm Mall theatre