All the best things at Luminato that you can see for free

Where to begin when you're faced with 11 nights of city-wide spectacle? We say start with the free stuff.

Where to begin when you're faced with 11 nights of city-wide spectacle? Start with the free stuff

The Famous Spiegeltent is a travelling concert hall that was built in 1920. It's the centrepiece of this year's Luminato programming, and while most events are ticketed, you can see everything inside for free on the first Friday of the festival. (Thierry Franco/Courtesy of Luminato)

As Toronto's annual festival of the arts, Luminato's programming is always as wide-ranging as the arts themselves. From June 14-25, it'll play host to theatre and opera and music and visual arts and even ice dancing — and this time around there's more of spotlight on local talent than previous iterations, which have parachuted in projects by international art stars including Ai Weiwei, Marina Abramovic and David Byrne. Where to begin when you're faced with 11 nights of city-wide spectacle? We say start with the free stuff. Right from opening night, there's plenty to experience without even buying a ticket, so here are a few of the highlights.

Tributaries - June 14

This might just be the most ambitious event of the festival — it certainly sounds like the most wide-ranging — and it's happening on opening night. From 6-11 p.m., Tributaries takes over David Pecaut Square, the downtown park that'll serve as de facto Luminato HQ through June 25. Involving more than 60 artists, the bill has some serious music-festival vibes, with non-stop performances and on-site food and drink, but you won't find a scene quite like this at, say, NXNE. Organizers describe the night as a "four-part program," one that pays tribute to "the resilience of Indigenous women and the power of land and water." Every hour, you'll get a new production — each one a collaboration between dancers, musicians and multi-disciplinary artists hailing from Indigenous communities around the world. Part 2, "Resurgence"/ "Red Tidal Resurgence," promises some epic sounds. Directed and arranged by Juno nominee Cris Derksen, artists including Tanya Tagaq and Iskwe will be joined by a choir and seven-piece band in this original piece. Meanwhile, Part 4, "Emancipation," boasts a collab between Toronto's Lido Pimienta and A Tribe Called Red's Bear Witness. They're calling their piece a "DJ-VJ 'Call and Response,'" and with the help of a b-boy/b-girl dance team, they'll be slinging music and video art for the final hour of the show.

If you're more of an early bird, take note: the Tributaries program opens at 6 p.m. with playwright Tomson Highway's A Cree Cabaret. That show will be happening at David Pecaut Square too, but it's going down inside a venue called "The Famous Spiegeltent." (More on what in the world that is in a moment.) Tickets to A Cree Cabaret are free, but because space inside the tent is limited, you'll need to call dibs on your spot through the Luminato website.

Step right up! This is The Famous Spiegeltent, and you'll find it at David Pecaut Square for the run of Luminato. (Thierry Franco/Courtesy of Luminato)

The Famous Spiegeltent - June 16

Before we even get into what's happening inside "The Famous Spiegeltent," you should probably get an explainer on what it is in the first place. Essentially, it's a tent — one that is, indeed, famous — and just like, say, a circus tent, it's a travelling venue that can be packed up, and set up, in locations all over the world. This particular venue, whose proper name is actually "The Famous Spiegeltent," was built in Europe in 1920. Inside you'll find stained-glass windows, an Art Nouveau chandelier, wooden walls and floors — and plenty of mirrors (since Spiegeltent, literally translated, means "tent of mirrors"). In the '30s, Marlene Dietrich is said to have warbled "Falling in Love Again" inside this very music hall, and from June 15-18, it'll be Luminato performers passing through. Most evening shows are ticketed — but Friday's your best day to peek inside without paying.

Every Spiegeltent performance on June 16 is free. Among the highlights: a "rock 'n' roll song cycle" inspired by author/activist James Baldwin. It's called Notes of a Native Song, and it's written by Tony-winning team behind Passing Strange. Later, veteran singer-songwriter Veda Hille does a set inspired by Brecht — a fitting choice for the old-timey venue. Remember: Tto see free shows in the Spiegeltent, you'll need to reserve your spot through the Luminato website.

Notes of a Native Song plays Luminato June 15-18, but if you reserve a spot in time, you can see the June 16 performance for free. (Courtesy of Luminato)

Free music - June 15-23

If you miss out on all the "First Friday Free" stuff inside the Spiegeltent, you might be stuck admiring the crazy thing from afar,  but at least you'll have plenty of entertainment while wallowing in FOMO. Every day of Luminato, a different act will be playing the stage in David Pecaut Square for free. Shows start at 12:30 p.m., perfect timing for the downtown office crowd. The program includes R&B (Desiire), AfroSoul (Amia Kuda and Y Josephine) and Brazilian dance music (Aline Morales). Full listings on the Luminato site.

Breakin' Convention Park Jam - June 25

As part of Luminato, the world's biggest hip hop dance festival — Breakin' Convention — will be taking over the Sony Centre. It's the first time the event's ever happened in Canada, and after the competitions wrap, the fest's DJs, dancers and graffiti artists will be throwing a free afternoon party in David Pecaut Square. As for the full lineup, it's still TBD.

Ukweli Roach performs at Breakin' Convention. (Paul Hampartsoumian/Courtesy of Luminato)

Skate with Le Patin Libre - June 20-25

At Vertical Influences, there are seats right on the ice. That's how close people are going to get to the action. If you want to get even closer, it's totally possible — and you can do it for free. Le Patin Libre is the Montreal troupe behind the show. They mix street dance and skating, and from June 20-25, they'll be leading public workshops at arenas around the city. Admission won't cost you anything — though you'll have to reserve your place through the event page — and these pros guarantee to teach you some moves, even if you're still skating with a pylon. By the end of each session, your class will be ready to perform a whole routine  — plus, you'll get a demo from these daring ice dancers as they preview a number from their Luminato show.

More of a "free skate" fan? Le Patin Libre are also leading a DJ Skate Party on June 23. Reserve free tickets for up to 10 of your friends through the Luminato site. The dance party on ice is happening at the former Maple Leaf Gardens.

​Skateboarders vs. Minimalism + Block Party - June 24

For that other kind of "skate" culture, check out the newly opened Drake Commisssary on June 24 for a block party featuring DJs, contemporary art (c/o MOCA) — and a posse of pro skateboarders who have been gathered by artist Shaun Gladwell. If you've been to the Drake Hotel this spring, you've likely spied his video "Skateboarders vs. Minimalism" on one of the screens. As the title implies, it features a skateboarder — the world's top freestyle skateboarder — doing what he does best amid famous examples of minimalist sculpture. The free block party on June 24 promises a similar fusion of worlds, albeit minus the Philip Glass soundtrack. And in case you didn't get enough Le Patin Libre after all their workshops and skate nights, they'll be on site too — this time on rollerblades. No need to RSVP for this one. Programming runs from 1:30-10 p.m.

Still from Skateboarders vs. Minimalism by Shaun Gladwell. (Alex Kershaw/Courtesy of Luminato)

Talks and Q&As  - Various dates

OK, these aren't technically free, but they're included in the price of admission. If you scan the Luminato listings, you'll find bonus Q&As and panels for most of the festival's major attractions, including Life Reflected, King Arthur's Night, Bearing and Until the Lions. (The latter's Q&A is moderated by Luminato's new artistic director Josephine Ridge.) If you need an incentive to actually splurge on a Luminato ticket or two, this could be it.

A scene from "I Lost My Talk," part of Life Reflected. There's a pre-show panel about the production before its June 18 performance. (Fred Cattroll/Courtesy of Luminato)

Find more event listings (including further free programming) on the Luminato website.

Luminato. June 14-25 at various venues. Toronto.


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