Cirque du Soleil swings to $1bn revenue as it mulls shows at O2

Avant-garde acrobatics company in search of permanent London home anticipates record profits

Cirque du Soleil, the surreal circus company currently playing at the Royal Albert Hall in London, is expecting record profits of $250m (£156m) on revenue of $1bn this year, according to its founder, Guy Laliberté.

The 51-year-old is in talks about hosting a permanent performance at the O2 arena in the east of the city, but has to juggle Cirque's rarity value with the huge demand for its shows.

Mr Laliberté said: "We are working hard trying to find a place in London. We have been looking all over for 10 years. Eventually, we will be at the right place at the right moment with the right real-estate developer. We have looked at the O2. It has been part of the discussion." David Campbell, the chief executive of AEG Europe, which owns the O2, confirmed the talks: "We have looked at it and it's just a question of getting the right business model. It's not imminent but it's not been dismissed."

The move would give a further boost to Cirque's fortunes, which have ballooned as it cornered a niche in avant-garde acrobatics. "In 2010, revenues were $850m, and this year we could ring the bell of a billion dollars," said Mr Laliberté in London last week.

Cirque has now performed to more than 100 million spectators in more than 300 cities, and is still growing. "Last year we sold a little over 11 million tickets, [up] one and a half million on 2009," he said. "Over the past two years, except for three or four weeks, our Vegas shows were over 97 per cent occupancy." The shows bring in around 60 per cent of revenue.

Mr Laliberté has 10 touring shows and 10 others based in permanent theatres in Las Vegas, Macau, Orlando and Tokyo. Istithmar World Capital, a Dubai-based private equity investor, and Nakheel, a real-estate developer, own 20 per cent of the business. Mr Laliberté owns the rest.

Cirque is to launch a new tour mixing acrobatics with the music of Michael Jackson; Mr Laliberté hopes for $40m in advance sales, saying: "This has the potential to be one of the biggest deals we have done."

In O, a Cirque extravaganza, synchronised swimmers rise from a 1.5 million-gallon pool of water which turns into a solid stage floor. "O has grossed over a billion dollars since it opened in 1998," said Mr Laliberté. Two other shows open this year: one in New York's Radio City music hall, the other in the Kodak Theatre, Los Angeles, which is home to the Oscars.

The productions have been financed with a $50m fund raised by private investors from the US and Canada. "We could extend this type of fund to real estate," said Mr Laliberté. "If successful it will give us great credibility in the market without having to go public."

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