MONTREAL (AFP) — Cirque du Soleil sold a 20-percent stake in its entertainment dynasty Wednesday to two Dubai firms to fuel its worldwide explosion, starting with a new permanent show in the Middle East.
Istithmar World, the investment arm of Dubai World, and real estate developer Nakheel paid an undisclosed sum for a 10 percent share each in the circus company, they announced.
Under the terms of the agreement, former street performer Guy Laliberte, 48, will retain control of the circus troupe he founded in 1984 and hold onto its creative reigns.
"Cirque is not sold, and I'm still the captain of the boat," he told a press conference, dispelling rumors he had jumped ship.
Nakheel and Cirque du Soleil will jointly design and build a 1,800-seat theatre on Dubai's Palm Jumeirah island to stage the first Cirque resident show outside of the United States and the Far East.
"Cirque du Soleil marks Istithmar World's first foray into the live entertainment space, which is a key to our media focus," Istithmar chief executive David Jackson said in a statement.
"Besides being a global tourist hub, Dubai is home to one of the fastest growing entertainment and media markets in the world, presenting a huge opportunity for such world-class cultural and entertainment facilities to add to the emirate's rich tourism and leisure offerings."
Cirque's touring show "Quidam" performed in Dubai last year and was said to be "one of the most successful single entertainment projects ever to be staged in the region" with more than 100,000 people attending its month-long run at Nakheel's Ibn Battuta Mall.
A new touring show "Alegria" is scheduled next year as a prelude to the permanent show which is due to open on Palm Jumeirah island in mid-2011.
Meanwhile, Cirque said it will open a show production office, a ticketing company and a set design rental company in Dubai in the coming weeks.
"We have found the right partners in our long-term growth in the form of Dubai World and this marks a watershed moment in our evolution," said Laliberte.
"This partnership is the best of both worlds for me and my management team; we can keep control of our creative challenges and operations while accelerating our growth doing projects all over the world."
Eminent for blending traditional circus acts with dance, music, mime and vivid theatricality, Cirque du Soleil is currently producing 18 shows around the world for 2008, including permanent shows in Macau, Tokyo and Las Vegas.
Its performances attract nearly 10 million spectators each year and rake in ticket and merchandise sales in excess of 700 million US dollars.
The company is estimated to be worth two billion to three billion US dollars, said Laliberte.
Istithmar World has assets under management of six billion dollars, and Nakheel's projects are estimated at a value of 80 billion dollars, according to reports.
Both are controlled by the United Arab Emirates's sovereign wealth fund, which has investments in ports, real estate, financial services and other sectors.
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