Michael Pavitt

After being told a couple of months ago that Canadian entertainment company Cirque du Soleil would be creating the Toronto 2015 Pan American Games Opening Ceremony, I must admit to an immediate sense of excitement and also an awareness that the curtain raiser for the event would be in safe hands.

Anyone I told in the following months would admit to a degree of envy at what promised to be a spectacular show and, although there was not a big surprise to reveal here as there was at Baku 2015 when Lady Gaga sung John Lennon's Imagine, it is fair to say that Cirque du Soleil did not disappoint. 

In fact, the Ceremony was perhaps enriched by not having a surprise headline act, as the show had a Canadian core running through it from the ouset. Several local comedians took to the stage to start the pre-show entertainment, while the porcupine mascot Pachi engaged in a "wiggle off" with presenters from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Both segments provided a light-hearted start to the evening and also gave the Ceremony more of an intimate feel, as the 45,000 person audience were invited to become involved in the opening stages.

In addition to the crowd participation, the closed roof and having a crowd on three sides of what is normally known as Rogers Centre, which acts as the home to the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team, the audience seemed to have far more involvement in the action.

While there was no major surprises during most of the Ceremony, the breaking with tradition in some parts of the Ceremony was a welcome change, including the early arrival of the Pan American Games Torch.

The pre-show aimed to get the crowd involved in the Ceremony
The pre-show, featuring mascot Pachi, aimed to get the crowd involved in the Toronto 2015 Opening Ceremony ©Getty Images

It allowed for Canada to display both their sporting credentials, while also being able to showcase Toronto with the well-executed film focusing on their 4x100 metres relay team who won the Olympic gold medals at Atlanta 1996. 

The spectacular base jump from the famous landmark, the CN Tower, and arrival of Donovan Bailey, a member of that winning relay team, as well as the 100m at those Olympic Games nearly 20 years ago, from the roof of the venue understandably garnered a lot of attention both in the stadium and online through social media.

The Canadian sporting legend was one of many famous faces who appeared throughout the night's proceedings.

The early entrance of the Torch also enabled Cirque du Soleil to make full use of the Flame during the Ceremony, with the dramatic segments also paying tribute to Canada's native history as the performance marked a journey from the early stages of the country's development to the modern nation they are today.

Perhaps the cleverest moment of the Ceremony involved the depictions of "The Fire of Dreams" and "the Fire of Reality", a reflection that a temporary window between the two fires offers the possibility to some that dreams can be transformed into a reality, highlighting the brief two weeks time-frame to become a Pan American Games gold medallist in the city.

While the native dancers, acrobats and the stunning choreography wooed both crowd and those in the press tribunes, the introduction of more Canadian heroes proved to be one of the highlights of the evening.

As expected Cirque du Soleil produced a spectucular show
As everyoe expected, Cirque du Soleil produced a spectucular show for the Opening Ceremony of Toronto 2015 ©Getty Images

By having charity workers and astronauts among those carrying out the Olympic and Pan American Sports Organization flags with sporting icons, Canada were also able to display the wide variety of talents in the country. It also continued their theme of being inclusive, which has formed a major part of the Games in the build-up to the Games, with groups such as PrideHouse Toronto holding events to welcome lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people.

The theme could be felt away from the Ceremony itself as various events were taking place throughout the city, while the CN Tower, continued to be a major part of the festivities including being home to fireworks throughout the duration of the performance, which were viewable for those outside, rather than inside the venue.

Perhaps by trying to include those without tickets Toronto 2015 have cleverly tried to drum up excitement across the city, rather than sporadically in venues, with their arts and culture programme PANAMANIA looking likely to step-up this drive to potential attract non-sporting fans to invest in and enjoy the Games.

Indeed, inclusion was central to the Parade of Athletes into the stadium as they were welcomed by music befitting their country's cultural heritage. Brazil walking out to Samba music for example. While the shifts in the music created an ever-changing atmosphere, they were also able to reflect the various different traditions that exist through the Americas and the Caribbean.

By displaying the various cultures and presenting themselves as a welcoming country, Canada successfully displayed the how a multi-sport event in bringing people together to take part in the same event, as although it is repeated at almost every sporting event, the manner of the delivery from Toronto appeared to be more than just a throwaway line.

The decision to play music relating to each country was a well received part of the Parade of Athletes
The decision to play music relating to each country was a well received part of the Parade of Athletes, especially the samba for Brazil ©Getty Images

It was somewhat fitting then that the Torch would be handed to the next generation, who would be seen as the people to continue the message of inclusion into the future.

Although the theme has been explored in several Opening Ceremonies, again Toronto found a variation on the idea with the passing of the Torch from Payne-Wiggins to her son Andrew, a National Basketball Association (NBA) star with the Minnesota Timberwolves, although the thought did become slightly lost after he then gave the Torch to basketball legend Steve Nash, whose career has come to an end rather than starting.

His lighting of the Cauldron, with the aid of the firework, nonetheless proved a fitting end to a well-crafted occassion. Toronto will now hope that next two weeks of competition lives up the spectacular - and yet inclusive start - the Ceremony provided.