On being ... duped?

By Ingrid Sapona

The title of this column is courtesy of my friend Barb (who I hope doesn’t mind me attributing it to her). She offered it up as we were leaving the opening night of a free, three-day grand finale of Luminato, an arts and culture festival. The finale featured Canada’s world-famous Cirque du Soleil in an event created exclusively for the festival. The media was abuzz about the event, but details were scant.

Festival organizers described the Cirque performance as involving two mythical communities of performers -- one representing the untamed, natural world and the other representing man-made urbanization. Members of the two communities would start at different ends of the waterfront and make their way toward the centre where they’d converge later in the weekend. Given this, I had the impression Cirque performers would be roaming around the waterfront, interacting with people. A newspaper article on Thursday, however, described two distinct points on the waterfront where the Cirque had set up stages of some sort.

Barb and I were curious about the event, but neither of us had any set expectations about the performance. If anything, we both were a bit skeptical, given all the hype. But, it was a lovely evening and we ventured down to the waterfront with open minds.

When we got to the first location the Cirque had set something up, we were surprised at how elaborate the stage was. The area, which is used for ice skating in the winter, had been transformed into a marsh, complete with whimsical trees and cattails and dreamy Cirque music was playing in the background. It was nearly 7 o’clock and quite a crowd had gathered. We understood the performance was from 7 – 9 p.m., so we joined the crowd.

After about 15 minutes of waiting with no sign of even a single performer, much less any performance beginning, we headed toward the other end of the waterfront to see what might be going on there. It was almost 8 o’clock by the time we made our way to the other whimsical Cirque stage. There too, Cirque music was playing and a large crowd had gathered. Once again, we joined the crowd and waited. After a few minutes I asked a couple folks whether they’d seen anything so far and they said no.

There was a garden nearby that I’d never walked through, so we decided to head there before it got dark. We figured that by the time we returned to the Cirque stage area, the performance would probably be underway. As we were making our way toward the garden we noticed a few Cirque performers headed toward us. Some were on stilts, one was dressed as a horseman, complete with an elaborate wooden-framed horse, and another was some sort of nymph. After that, we were on the look-out for other performers. We soon saw some that looked like a rag-tag street gang. Though it was fun watching them meander through the crowd, the interactions were pretty much what you get with normal street buskers.

We ended up back at the skating rink turned marsh (the first Cirque stage we saw that night) by about 8:45 p.m. The crowd had grown, but we still couldn’t see any performers there. I asked some people what we’d missed and the answer was: nothing. The performance, which was scheduled to end in just 15 minutes, hadn’t started -- or at least it hadn’t made its way there yet.

Barb and I loitered there for a few minutes – mainly to check out peoples’ reaction as they waited. To our surprise, most seemed un-phased by the wait. Maybe they were just happy to be by the lake on a beautiful evening, or maybe showing restlessness (much less irritation) just isn’t part of the Canadian temperament. I did see one couple briskly walking away and I heard the guy telling people who passed him that the performance was over. When I asked him if it had even begun, he looked me straight in the eye and said, “Well, I guess that’s the question, isn’t it?”

Not interested in waiting around any longer, we left. Though we had had a nice evening (it was a pleasure to walk around the harbourfront), we agreed it was unbelievable, not to mention rude, that the Cirque kept the crowd waiting like that. We laughed at the thought that maybe the joke was on Toronto – and Torontonians. Perhaps the Cirque folks were using Luminato to bring to life PT Barnum’s famous comment about fooling people!

We also talked about the fact that even though neither of us went with any real expectations about the Cirque’s performance, somehow we felt disappointed. That’s when the idea of an On being… about expectations came to me.

Pleased that I had an idea for On being…, I reassured Barb that the evening wasn’t a total bust because it gave me an idea for the column. To this, Barb very drolly said, “Let me guess: On being … duped?” I had to laugh. I told her I was thinking of something a bit more philosophical, but she did have a point. In thinking about Barb’s title I realized that, in fact, we did have an expectation going into the evening: we expected not to end up feeling like fools for waiting around for a show that, as far as we could tell, never really materialized.

As a post script I should tell you that according to the Toronto Star, apparently there was some kind of performance that evening -- we just didn’t stay long enough to see it. I don’t feel too bad about missing it, however. According to the newspaper, because the show was so late getting started it was “cut short and seemed underwhelming”. Underwhelming indeed…

© 2009 Ingrid Sapona


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