Cirque du Soleil heads to Saudi despite Riyadh-Ottawa row

Artists of the Canadian entertainment company Cirque du Soleil -- shown here performing in Mexico on August 30, 2018 -- will head to Saudi Arabia later this month

Canada-based Cirque du Soleil will stage a show in Saudi Arabia for the first time later this month, despite an ongoing diplomatic spat between Ottawa and Riyadh, the high-flying acrobatic troupe announced Monday.

The show will take place in the Saudi capital on September 23 to coincide with the country's national day, public relations director Marie-Helene Lagace told AFP.

More than 80 artists will take the stage at the King Fahd International Stadium for the show, which will also be shown on Saudi state television. Cirque says it will be one of its biggest one-off productions ever.

About 250 costumes have been specially made to respect local traditions and conform to "the artistic standards for which we are known," Lagace said.

In early August, the kingdom announced the expulsion of Canada's ambassador, recalled its own envoy and froze trade ties over Ottawa's vigorous calls for the release of jailed Saudi rights activists.

The announcement of Cirque du Soleil's appearance in Saudi Arabia was first made in Los Angeles in April, Lagace noted. But it was unclear whether the show would go on given the diplomatic tensions.

At the behest of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia has reopened movie theaters and allowed women and men to attend some concerts together.

In June, the ultra-conservative kingdom allowed women to drive, lifting a decades-long ban.