Cirque Performance a Pitch Not Just for Natal, but Games

In the two years he's been the executive producer for Microsoft's E3 appearance, Aaron Greenberg's brought The Beatles on stage and tonight, Cirque du Soleil. He expects to be asked how he'll outdo that, and he doesn't have an answer.

"I'm eager to not have to try to one-up this next year, that's for sure," Aaron Greenberg told Kotaku yesterday, before Microsoft would stage the Project Natal-themed performance by Cirque du Soleil, that just now concluded in Los Angeles.

Greenberg agreed the back-to-back appearances of global superstar performers might create unreasonably escalating expectations for succeeding years. But he's not worried about trying to outdo this show, and certainly wasn't going to pass on Cirque du Soleil because of that fear.

"For us it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity - when do you get to unveil to the world an experience that, we think, will be as transformative as Natal is? It's something you get once in your career, and this was the time to make sure we don't let this moment go, and really do it right."

Cirque du Soleil was in the discussion almost from the start, Greenberg said. Meetings and discussions inevitably brought up Le Cirque, or a Cirque-like performance in concept. "Don Mattrick [the head of Microsoft's interactive entertainment division] suggested we reach out to them," Greenberg said. "So we invited them and their top creative and technical teams to Seattle about five months ago."

Now, Microsoft is not a chicken-feed brand, but Cirque du Soleil does refuse plenty of corporate gigs, regardless of size, Greenberg noted. "They get approached by thousands of companies and generally say no to all of them," he said. "They told us, ‘We don't play video games, we're a brand about human performance.' We said, ‘Come spend a day with us, we'll show you what this is, we'll have you spend time with our top creators."

Greenberg said le Cirque's representatives "were blown away. They immediately went off into massive brainstorming mode." The circus took Natal technology back to Montreal, put together a concept, and returned to present it to the senior leadership. "In what was a four-month process, they built an event that's just massive in scale." Greenberg said.

Tonight's event was invitation-only and technology-free, so there are no photos or videos of it. There will be an encore production Monday night for the public (limited to 3,000 tickets), and it will air commercial-free Tuesday on MTV (3:30 p.m.) and Nickelodeon (9 p.m., both times U.S. Eastern and Pacific). It'll be up on Xbox Live on Wednesday, Greenberg said.

"The show, in its entirety, will not be seen until it's seen on TV," said Greenberg, who wasn't giving out any details about the show, nor even which celebrities would be making the red carpet appearance on Sunday.

But star power and pizzaz comprise only a small part of the message Microsoft's sending with Cirque du Soleil's Natal performance. The device is obviously meant to appeal to those who have played very few, if any, video games, and make a case for them not just on Microsoft's behalf, but on the industry's as well, Greenberg said.

"It's about getting people who have never played games before into this form of entertainment," he said. "There's never been any learning curve to watch a movie or listen to music or read a book. Everyone at all ages can do that. But gaming has a technology barrier, and if someone grew up knowing how to handle a 16-button controller, great. But our parents and grandparents who didn't, it's intimidating.

"Our form of entertainment, and we're biased, we believe it's the greatest art form in the world, and it's something a lot of people aren't experiencing today," Greenberg said. "We're hopeful this opens their eyes and introduces our industry to them."