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U.S. border agents found not guilty of lewd acts at Cirque du Soleil show

Roller skate performs spin during a private performance of Totem from Cirque du Soleil in Toronto, Ont., on August 10, 2011.

Michelle Siu/The Globe and Mail

It was Canadian pop star Alanis Morissette who first asked: "Would she go down on you in a theatre?"

That provocative question was at the heart of a now concluded California court case, where two off-duty U.S. customs and border protection agents were accused of committing lewd acts at a Cirque du Soleil show in San Diego.

At a May 27 performance of the Robert Lepage-directed circus spectacular Totem, Kallie Helwig, 24, and Gerald Torello, 35, were observed engaging in some hot-and-heavy PDA by fellow spectators - but they were cleared on Monday of having crossed the line into illegal affectionate acts.

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According to a report from NBC San Diego, other audience members testified that they had first seen the couple kissing and groping, then later observed Helwig's head moving up and down on Torello's lap during the show - the latter giving a high-five to two children in attendance who turned around to see what was going on behind them.

Helwig, however, testified that the patrons had wildly misconstrued what happened on the circus date - with her mother seated just down the row from her. Not feeling well, Helwig had leaned over onto Torello during the show and, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune, simply "propped her head onto her hand while resting her elbow in his lap" and "occasionally leaned over to grab a handful of popcorn from the tub at the couple's feet."

So did shocking contortions occur off-stage at Totem - or only on stage? The two U.S. border patrol agents were cleared of committing one lewd act, while the jury deadlocked on the second count. (Helwig was found guilty of misdemeanour battery, after a scuffle ensued with one of the spectators who had complained to ushers.)

Etiquette at live performance has been on the decline in recent years - with spectators accused of inappropriate behaviour from answering cell phones to, in the case of a recent Broadway performance starring Paul Rudd, drunkenly vomiting over the mezzanine railing onto audience members below.

But canoodling at the theatre is not without a long and illustrious history. In 19th century New York, for instance, theatres were where prostitutes would meet their clients - and, while they usually retired to a nearby brothel, occasionally, the entire transaction would occur on an upper balcony.

Cuddling and kissing under the big top seems rather tame in comparison. But individuals, of course, differ on where to draw the line on public displays of affection. With Valentine's Day tomorrow, it's worth asking: On a scale of holding hands to the full Morissette, where should the sexy circus tricks stop on a date at the theatre?

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About the Author
Theatre critic

J. Kelly Nestruck is The Globe's theatre critic. More


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