One of our best memories of our late summer trip to Québec City was a free Cirque du Soleil event down at the harbor front. I’ve always wanted to see a Cirque du Soleil performance and here was a chance to do so for free. Founded in 1984 by a pair of street performers from Montréal, the troupe may be our best export since maple syrup. The concierge at our hotel told us about it and we were able to get there our final night. The concierge had told us to get there early, as there were no advance tickets and seating was first-come-first serve. We got there about an hour and a quarter prior to show time and the queue was already enormous, snaking on and on. At one point we noticed a curious break in the line. As we got closer, we saw that everyone was waiting politely so as not to block a sidewalk. It was a distinctly Canadian moment.
Looking at the length of the line, we wondered if we would get in. In the time that we waited for the show to open, the line grew and grew, probably doubling. Everyone was in a lighthearted, festive mood as we waited. Finally, the strobe lights came on, music began to play, and the crowd began to surge forward. We hustled to the entrance, trying to keep a grip on one another so we wouldn’t get separated in the sea of people. (Have I mentioned that I hate crowds?)
All of the 5,000 stadium seats were taken and we were urged forward, forward ever closer to the stage. At first, I wasn’t excited by my standing-room-only status, but then I realized that we were among the last people who had been allowed through the gate. Suddenly, I realized that I was one of the lucky ones.
The show was the penultimate event in a five-year contract between Cirque du Soleil and the city. Over 150,000 people had queued up to see the show just as we had in the summer of 2013, and about half as many again were turned away from the gate. It’s possible that a new contract will bring another spectacle back to the Vieux Port next year, but at a cost to the city of $6.5 million CDN a year in a time when budgets are being trimmed, this is far from a certainty.
The show was entitled Le hangar des oubliés (luh hangar dayz oob-lee-ay), which is translated as “the harbor of lost souls,” even though oubliés literally means “the forgotten.” Frankly, the plot was a little thin, but the show was spectacular. Our position on the ground was no hardship in terms of viewing the show. For each act, the focus of attention shifted around the auditorium, and many times it was up in the air as the acrobatic fantasy unfolded around us. I’d never seen, or even imagined, anything like it. The only thing we couldn’t agree on was which act was the best.