Istithmar leaps into entertainment with Cirque du Soleil stake

The Dubai private equity group has teamed with Dubai-backed real estate developer Nakheel to purchase a 20 percent stake in Cirque du Soleil. Famous for unusual live performances, the entertainment company will develop a permanent show on Dubai’s Palm Jumeirah island.

Istithmar World Capital, the private equity division of Dubai-government backed Dubai World, and Dubai-backed real estate development company Nakheel have paid an undisclosed amount for a 20 percent stake in Cirque du Soleil.

The Canada-based live entertainment company, whose offerings include permanent and traveling performance theatre blending acrobatics with music, dance and miming, has annual sales exceeding $700 million (€457 million) and attracts nearly 10 million visitors per year, according to a statement.

Under the terms of the deal, Cirque du Soleil's Founder, Guy Laliberté, and his team will continue to own the business.

Though an active private equity investor, the deal marks Istithmar World’s first foray into the live entertainment space and compliments its media focus, David Jackson, the division’s chief executive, said in a statement.

In May, Nakheel and Cirque du Soleil announced a 15-year partnership to develop a permanent show on Palm Jumeirah, Dubai’s palm tree-shaped island which was developed by Nahkeel and bills itself as the “eighth wonder of the world”.

Cirque du Soleil currently has permanent shows at a number of Las Vegas hotels, as well as in Florida, Macao and Tokyo, but the show due to open in summer 2011 on Palm Jumeirah will be its first in the Middle East. Its “Algeria” show will play in summer 2009 at the 1,800-seat theatre being for Palm Jumeirah’s permanent show.

“Besides being a global tourist hub, Dubai is home to one of the fastest growing entertainment and media markets in the world, presenting a huge opportunity for such world-class cultural and entertainment facilities to add to the emirate's rich tourism and leisure offerings,” Jackson said. “This partnership comes in line with Istithmar World's strategy of realising the true growth and expansion potential of portfolio companies, as it continues to diversify and strengthen its private equity initiatives.”

Istithmar World’s media-related portfolio includes Time Warner and Houghton Mifflin. Its hospitality-linked holdings include Kerzner International, a Bahamas-based operator of hotels, casinos and resorts, which it took private in 2006 in a $3.6 billion deal with Whitehall Street Global Real Estate, Colony Capital, The Related Companies and Providence Equity Partners.

As part of the Cirque du Soleil deal, Nakheel has agreed to invest one percent of its revenues in social programs. The Dubai region will also see the launch of a ONE DROP project. ONE DROP is a charity Laliberté founded in 2007; it uses circus arts, folklore, popular theatre, music, dance and the visual arts to promote education, community involvement and public awareness of water issues with the goal of clean water access for all.