A young girl is orphaned when her mother, a circus aerialist, is killed in a fall. A rival circus informs the sheriff that the girl is an orphan, and she is subsequently placed in an orphanage. The circus' manager, known as "The Fixer", determines to help out the girl and punish the rival circus owner.
Bruno Everard, the mercenary, power-mad owner of a traveling German circus, exploits everyone, including his family of four sons and a daughter, all of whom are trained performers. His oldest son, Klaus, who has always resented his father's obvious preference for the younger and more talented Josef, tries to endear himself to Bruno by marrying Teresa Vizzini, the daughter of a menagerie owner with whom Bruno has long wished to merge. In so doing Klaus infuriates young Carlotta Martinez, an aerialist whom he had promised to marry. Meanwhile, Josef has fallen in love with a wealthy American, Hillary Allen, but when she asks him to abandon the circus and return to the United States as her business manager, Josef breaks off the romance.
When Polly Fisher, a circus aerialist, is hurt while performing, she is taken to the house of a nearby minister, John Hartley. As she recuperates, they fall in love with each other and secretly marry. But when the truth leaks out , John's congregation rebels at having a circus woman as their minister's wife, and he is fired. Polly decides to leave John in hopes of giving back to him the calling that means so much to him. But fate steps in and rearranges all plans.
A young woman in a small Mid-Western town goes to a traveling carnival one evening, where she is urged by a silent clown to visit the carnival's circus and see The Aerialist, the show's star attraction. She is entranced by The Aerialist, but during his act he misses a catch and falls to the ground. She rushes to help him, but then the ground beneath them gives way and they fall through into the dreamlike world of Cirque du Soleil. Separated, they travel through the different tent worlds trying to find each other, interacting with the strange and wonderful performers and performances of Cirque du Soleil.