The government-controlled developer of palm-shaped islands off Dubai's coast and a related investment arm said Wednesday they have bought a 20 percent stake in international circus touring company Cirque du Soleil.

Property developer Nakheel and investment company Istithmar World Capital did not say how much they paid for their share of the group, which began performing in Quebec nearly a quarter century ago and is today a mainstay of theaters in Las Vegas and the Far East.

The agreement keeps control of the Montreal-based entertainment company in the hands of founder Guy Laliberte, putting to rest for now speculation that the troupe would be sold outright.

"This partnership is the best of both worlds for me and my management team," Laliberte said in a joint statement with Nakheel and Istithmar. "We can keep control of our creative challenges and operations while accelerating our growth doing projects all over the world."

Nakheel and Istithmar are part of Dubai World, a diversified holding company owned by the government of Dubai.

Nakheel, one of Dubai's biggest developers, and Cirque du Soleil agreed in May to build a theater on Palm Jumeira, a massive palm-shaped island housing development Nakheel is building in the Persian Gulf. The 1,800 seat facility is expected to house a permanent Cirque du Soleil show beginning in summer 2011.

In a statement, Istithmar Chief Executive David Jackson said the deal represented the company's first involving live entertainment, an area of investment he called "key to our media focus." The company did not immediately respond to questions about future investment in Cirque du Soleil or other entertainment companies.

More than 100,000 visitors attended a monthlong run of a Cirque du Soleil performance in Dubai last year, the companies said.

Dubai World had an indirect interest in Cirque du Soleil's success even before Wednesday's deal was announced. The company owns a minority stake in casino operator MGM Mirage Inc., which operates a number of Las Vegas hotels that host the circus's shows.

In June, Cirque du Soleil denied media reports that it was for sale. A spokeswoman at the time said the company is approached regularly about possible deals, but that a report that it had received takeover bids from Dubai worth close to $2 billion was false.

Cirque du Soleil was formed in 1984 by Laliberte and fellow street performers in Quebec. Since then, it has grown into a sprawling global operation that plans to put on 18 separate shows on four continents this year.

The closely held production company helped revitalize the circus industry by replacing animal acts with acrobats, dance and live music. It says it generates more than $700 million in sales and attracts more than 10 million visitors per year.