Cirque du Soleil celebrates 20 years in Las Vegas

Twenty years after opening “Mystère” at Treasure Island, Cirque du Soleil continues to thrill audiences with gravity-defying acrobatics, amusing and risqué clowns and gymnasts with superhuman strength.

Cirque’s first show in Las Vegas, though, was not on a stage, but in a tent set up in Treasure Island’s parking lot. A true traveling circus, “Nouvelle Expérience” began its tour from Cirque’s hometown of Montreal, and along the way performed in San Francisco, on the Santa Monica Pier and in Chicago, before opening in Las Vegas in November 1992.

Today, Cirque has eight resident productions on the Las Vegas Strip: “Mystère,” “O,” “Zumanity,” “KA,” “LOVE,” “Criss Angel Believe,” “Zarkana” and “Michael Jackson ONE.” Another production, “Viva Elvis,” opened in 2010 at Aria, but closed after 2.5 years.

Cirque has been an “evolutional” success with its more than 31,000 performances in Las Vegas, said Jerry Nadal, senior vice president for resident shows in Las Vegas.

“The eight permanent productions on the Las Vegas Strip have shaped our brand into an entertainment powerhouse,” Nadal said. “We can now reflect on the great moments from our stages, and thank our loyal fans who have supported Cirque over the years.”

“Mystère” clown Brian Dewhurst has been with Cirque since “Nouvelle Experience” toured the U.S. and Canada, having performed as the Ringmaster in the Las Vegas parking lot.

Cirque du Soleil celebrates its 20th year in Las Vegas on Dec. 25, 2013.

Starting as a tightrope walker earlier in his career, Dewhurst, 81, performs as the anachronistic clown “Brian Le Petit” in “Mystère.”

“I don’t want to steal ‘The Greatest Show on Earth,’” Dewhurst said in reference to the Barnum & Bailey slogan, “but perhaps (Cirque) would be ‘The Greatest Shows on Earth.’”

“There’s an excitement of people coming to a show, and once they’ve seen a show, they want to see all the shows. We have amazing followers, people who have seen Mystère dozens and dozens of times.”

He said he has developed a friendship with a Cirque fan who comes to Las Vegas several times a year to watch a couple shows, including “Mystère.” He estimates the fan has seen the show a couple dozen times at least.

“People come back and come back and come back to see the shows,” he said. “There’s so much to see. You can’t take it all in in one sitting. You have to keep coming and seeing the shows.”

Cirque started nearly 30 years ago in 1984 as street performance in a small Quebec town. Today, Cirque can be watched on six continents. What started with 73 people has grown to 5,000 employees around the globe, including more than 1,300 performing artists.

Worldwide, Cirque has performed to more than 100 million people; in Las Vegas, more than 45 million tickets have been sold collectively from its eight resident shows.

Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas

Explore the history of Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas in this interactive timeline. Click here to see a fullscreen version of the timeline.