June 30 (Bloomberg) -- At the world premiere of Cirque du Soleil’s new show, “Zarkana,” a man climbed a ladder with a woman standing on his shoulders. Another did flips off a moving contraption that looked a lot like a hamster wheel.
“I’m glad I can touch my toes,” said former Senator Bill Bradley during intermission at Radio City Music Hall.
Also in the opening-night crowd: violinist Joshua Bell (who worked with the show’s director, Francois Girard, on his film “The Red Violin”); fashion commentator Robert Verdi; and John and Lizzie Tisch.
“I loved the tightrope,” said Gerry Pasciucco, the chief executive officer of financial products at American International Group. “They must have tiny feet.”
While the show offered many human feats, offstage the man who founded Cirque du Soleil, Guy Laliberte, wanted to talk about a feat of nature: water.
Three and half years ago, Laliberte pledged $100 million over 25 years to the nongovernmental organization One Drop, which he founded and serves as chairman.
“Water is a source of life and a creative source of development,” Laliberte said at the after-party held at Roseland Ballroom.
He was standing in a roped-off area for One Drop benefactors with Russell Martin, the catcher for the New York Yankees who is a One Drop ambassador. Across the room was Cirque du Soleil board member Andre Desmarais, co-chief executive officer of Power Corp. of Canada, and his wife, France Chretien Desmarais, who is One Drop’s vice chairman, overseeing philanthropy. (She is also the daughter of former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien.)
A cello player and a midget roamed. Stands offered caramel popcorn and hotdogs. Guests played ring toss while waiting in line for macaroni and cheese.
Banners offered statistics on water use per person per day. Boston was at the top of the chart, at 177 gallons. New York went through 125.8 gallons; Mozambique, 2.6.
One Drop’s executive director, Lili-Anna Peresa, tucked into a quiet corner as a cigarette girl offering carrot sticks passed by.
“Guy’s message is to think out of the box and that’s what we do at One Drop,” Peresa said. “We take an integrated, holistic approach.”
One Drop brings safe water to developing countries along with community education programs using local troupes, puppetry and circus arts. Locals can also apply for microfinancing. One woman was able to expand her garden. With the proceeds from sales of vegetables, she bought a refrigerator. “Now she’s the 7-Eleven of her village,” Peresa said.
The organization is growing rapidly. This year’s budget is $12 million, a 50% increase over last year’s. Next year the budget will be $20 million, Peresa said.
That’s keeping Laliberte busy fundraising. This month Assouline published a book of photographs he took during private space travel, with proceeds marked for One Drop. Next year he is participating in a poker tournament with 11.1% of the $1 million buy-in to be donated to One Drop.
The New York benefit party, one of many tacked onto Cirque du Soleil performances, raised $400,000. Other “La Soiree” events are planned in Toronto on Sept. 7, Montreal on Oct. 2, Los Angeles on November 10, Paris on Nov. 23, and Las Vegas on Dec. 3.
(Amanda Gordon is a writer and photographer for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Any opinions expressed are her own.)
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