De­spite spat with Riyadh, show goes on for Cirque

Calgary Herald - - CANADA -

Saudi Ara­bia’s spat with Canada may have af­fected the cur­rency, maple syrup im­ports and thou­sands of Saudi stu­dents abroad, but there’s at least one Cana­dian busi­ness un­touched: Cirque du Soleil.

The Mon­treal-based troupe will per­form a cus­tom­ized show for Saudi Ara­bia’s Na­tional Day on Sept. 23 in Riyadh, Cirque du Soleil said in a state­ment. The hour-long show will fea­ture more than 80 artists — men and women — wear­ing 250 cos­tumes on a 300-foot stage, “mak­ing it one of the largest pro­duc­tions ever cre­ated for a sin­gle per­for­mance by Cirque du Soleil,” the com­pany said.

It will be the first time Cirque du Soleil per­forms in Saudi Ara­bia. Un­der Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man, the con­ser­va­tive Is­lamic king­dom has been loos­en­ing so­cial re­stric­tions and ex­pand­ing its once-ane­mic en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try — all part of his eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion plan called “Vi­sion 2030.” At the same time, the prince has led a po­lit­i­cal crack­down on do­mes­tic crit­ics and a more ag­gres­sive and un­pre­dictable for­eign pol­icy, in­clud­ing the king­dom’s split with Canada last month.

The re­la­tion­ship de­te­ri­o­rated af­ter a tweet from Canada’s for­eign min­istry called for the “im­me­di­ate re­lease” of de­tained ac­tivists in Saudi Ara­bia. The gov­ern­ment in Riyadh re­acted swiftly to what it per­ceived as in­ter­fer­ence in its in­ter­nal af­fairs, re­call­ing its am­bas­sador, ban­ning the Cana­dian am­bas­sador to Riyadh, freez­ing new busi­ness deals and sus­pend­ing flights to Toronto.

Saudi Ara­bia also or­dered the sale of Cana­dian as­sets and the re­turn of Saudi stu­dents who were on schol­ar­ships at Cana­dian uni­ver­si­ties. So far, the spat has not been known to af­fect Cana­dian com­pa­nies with ex­ist­ing busi­ness in Saudi Ara­bia.

The agree­ment for Cirque du Soleil to per­form for Saudi Na­tional Day was an­nounced in April, when Prince Mo­hammed was tour­ing the U.S. to pro­mote in­vest­ment in the king­dom. The per­for­mance will be held at King Fahd In­ter­na­tional Sta­dium in front of a mixed gen­der au­di­ence, and will also be tele­vised, Cirque du Soleil said. Cos­tumes have been spe­cially de­signed to main­tain re­spect for lo­cal tra­di­tions, so that they “meet both the ex­pec­ta­tions of Saudis and our own artis­tic stan­dards,” the com­pany said.

ULISES RUIZ / AFP

An artist with Cirque du Soleil per­forms as part of the LUZIA show. The troupe is head­ing to Riyadh Sept. 23.

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