August 6, 2008 / 7:03 PM / 10 years ago

Dubai firms buy stake in Cirque du Soleil

TORONTO (Reuters) - Two government-owned investment firms in Dubai have acquired a 20 percent stake in the colorful Canadian acrobatic troupe Cirque du Soleil, furthering the desert city’s plans to expand its tourism appeal and lengthening its list of foreign investments.

A Cirque du Soleil acrobat performs their new show "Zaia" during a media rehearsal at the Venetian Macao Resort Hotel in Macau May 29, 2008. REUTERS/Victor Fraile

Istithmar World, the investment arm of Dubai World, and real estate developer Nakheel said on Wednesday they bought the stake in the Montreal-based circus for an undisclosed sum.

Under the deal, the rest of the business will remain under the ownership of Guy Laliberte, the founder of Cirque du Soleil, which is known for mixing traditional circus acts with dance, music, mime and theater.

Cirque du Soleil plans to open a show production office, ticketing company, and technical equipment and set design rental company in Dubai.

The move comes as Dubai expands its image as a vacation destination, complete with artificial islands and the world’s tallest tower.

In May of last year, Nakheel and Cirque du Soleil formed a 15-year partnership to develop a permanent show on Palm Jumeirah, an artificial island off the coast of Dubai, which will be the group’s first resident show outside of the United States and Asia.

As part of that agreement, the two organizations will design and build a 1,800-seat theater to house the show.

Cirque du Soleil has annual sales of more than $700 million and attracts nearly 10 million visitors a year, making it one of the world’s largest entertainment businesses.

For 2008, it is producing 18 different shows around the world.

It is not the first time that companies based in the United Arab Emirates have expanded their reach to Canadian investments.

Abu Dhabi National Energy Co, better known as Taqa, picked up PrimeWest Energy Trust and Pioneer Natural Resource Co’s Canadian unit last year.

Taqa said in January it wanted to push the value of its Canadian asset base to around $20 billion from what was then $7.5 billion.

Reporting by Leah Schnurr; editing by Rob Wilson

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