IT is just so hard to overstate the hold that Cirque du Soleil has on the Canadian and global imagination.

Until the coronavirus pandemic hit, the Mongolian contortionist Uranbileg Angarag wowed spectators nightly at Cirque du Soleil shows on a cruise ship, contorting her body into a ball and a balancing on a vertical stick held in her mouth.

For the past 50 days or so, however, the 26-year-old has been stick on an the ship in a cramped cabin off the coast of Italy doing a handstand and splits while conducting WhatsApp video calls and wondering when the circus will perform again.

''Luckily, I'm used to contorting my body into small spaces,'' she said from the ship where she has been grounded since her show shut down in March.

''I can't wait to get back to Cirque, but we have no idea when the world will be ready to go see live shows again.''

On Broadway in sporting arenas and beyond, the pandemic has paralyzed the world of live entertainment, including Cirque du Soleil, the famed Montreal based circus behemoth.

In the space of weeks, it was forced to close 44 SHOWS in dozens of cities, including Las Vegas and Hangzhou, China and it has temporarily laid off nearly 5,000 employees - 95 percent of its work force - and stopped payments to dozen of show creators.

Even before the pandemic, the sprawling company was struggling with bloat and creative fatigue after a consortium lead by an American private equity firm acquired it in 2015 and accelerated a debt - fueled global expansion spree.

Now, with no certainty on the timing of a coronavirus vaccine or when cities will allow large public gatherings again, some are asking whether Cirque du Soleil can survive.

''No one had ever modeled what we would do if we lost 100 percent of our revenue,'' said Mitch Garber, the company's chairman, comparing the pandemic to the Great Depression for the live entertainment industry. ''We can't function without fans.''

The circus originated in the late 1980s when a group of Quebec performers, stilt-walkers and fire breathers, including Cirque de Soleil's accordian-playing co-founder Guy Laliberte, delighted local residents on the shores of St. Lawrence River.

Born in 1984, the animal-free mix  awe-inspiring acrobats, dance, lavish costumes, live music, high technology stagecraft and narrative whimsy created a new vision of what the circus could be.

The Honor and Serving of the latest writings on beautiful subjects, and the state of the world, continues. The World Students Society thanks author Dan Bilefsky.


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