Boris Verkhovsky spoke at SAP about the Cirque du Soleil design process and why, without intense collaboration, there would be no show.

Watching a Cirque du Soleil® performance, even a short clip on a smartphone screen, is simply magical. How do they “wow” viewers over and over again? Speaking in Walldorf, Germany at the latest SAP Design Talk, Boris Verkhovsky, Director of Design and Performance Development, maintained that, “At Cirque du Soleil ‘wow’ is the benchmark for every decision about the customer experience.”

With over 4,000 employees, Cirque du Soleil is the largest theatrical producer in the world and widely credited with reinventing the circus industry. The company is a creative force that has set a new benchmark for circus performances.

From vision to reality – designing a new Cirque du Soleil show

What are the design opportunities and challenges in creating such a performance? Sound, set design, props, music, chorography, costumes, make-up, lighting, projection and multimedia are all aspects of an iterative and intense creation process that at times sounds a bit like the design thinking process we preach at SAP.

Once a new story has been validated and approved by the creative guide, specialists (choreographers, composers, and designers representing each of the areas of expertise) are brought together to ideate on the details that will support that vision. This multidisciplinary team co-designs what’s called the “acrobatic skeleton” to help tell the story. (Think of it a little bit like a storyboard in the software development process.)

After the vision has been co-created, the co-development begins. In his talk, Boris emphasized the “co” in the process, “All of the components have to be developed together because if one is done without consideration for the rest, the potential for conflict is very high.” A fabulous cricket costume with six legs has implications for the choreography; the paint used on a prop could look perfect or horrible depending on the lighting; a dazzling new acrobatic move on the “wheel of death” requires intensive cooperation with the equipment team to ensure the performers’ safety. As in software design, the network-like interdependence of all of the parts means that intensive collaboration is needed to clarify, prioritize and plan decisions. In the last stage of the process, the creative guide evaluates and calibrates the final result.
Impressions from Boris Verkhovsky’s SAP Design Talk on October 25, 2016 in Walldorf, Germany

Everyone contributes to the experience

Cirque du Soleil has been a success largely because of their unparalleled attention to detail and to the end-to-end customer experience. And it is very clear to everyone at Cirque du Soleil that each individual plays an essential, if different, role in creating that experience. Imagine the potential for the software industry if we had that level of collaboration with each other and dedication to the details of our customers’ experience.


The SAP Design Talks regularly bring leaders from the international design scene to SAP. The sessions are held on a large stage for an internal audience of employees at various SAP locations around the globe.


SAP’s software implementations have helped Cirque du Soleil become a best run business since 2001.

  • SAP is the Official Cloud Business Management Software Supplier for Cirque du Soleil
  • SAP’s software, including Ariba, SuccessFactors, Concur and Business Intelligence help Cirque du Soleil run their finance, procurement, sales, distribution, logistics, inventory management and production systems
  • SAP HANA is used to create an interactive spectator experience for the new Cirque du Soleil show TORUK – The First Flight, based on James Cameron’s movie, AVATAR

Click here to learn more about the SAP and Cirque du Soleil partnership.

© Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. TORUK THE FIRST FLIGHT and JAMES CAMERON’S AVATAR are trademarks of Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved. Cirque du Soleil is a trademark owned by Cirque du Soleil and used under license.

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