Olympic opening ceremonies win with scale and simplicity

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      By the time Tamara Taggart and Ben Mulroney took the elevated stage in B.C. Place to lead an audience-participation rehearsal, I was wondering whether the opening ceremonies of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games were going to be the ordeal I’d feared.

      Like many people, I’m not an opening-ceremonies kind of guy. I’m really not into the big production numbers that usually get wheeled out for these events, involving as they do a mix of Vegas and faintly desperate patriotism. And Taggart and Mulroney were scaring me.

      It was 5 p.m., an hour to go before the start, and I’d been sitting in the spot I’d staked out at one of the press tables for an hour and a half. Earlier in the day, the Straight’s photographer, Matt, and I had made it through the airport-like gauntlet of security. Then, searching for the media entrance, we’d taken a series of wrong turns on the advice of friendly but half-informed volunteers. We’d finally entered the building through a desolate airlocked door around the side, after being checked out by a scowling bouncer.

      Now, with my butt going to sleep on the hard plastic chair that I’d been guarding for myself, I listened to Mulroney and Taggart direct the fast-gathering crowd in how to use the contents of the blue cardboard boxes that had been placed on every seat in the house. There were coloured flashlights to be switched and off according to cues from giant video screens. There were fake plastic candles to be waved in patterns demonstrated by red-tuqued “audience guides” standing at the front of each section. There were papery, light-coloured ponchos to put on, to create a uniform background. (Of course, everyone at the press tables ignored these instructions.) It all had to be done right, and at the right time, or the 3.5 billion people watching on TV—again and again they mentioned the 3.5 billion, despite the serious unlikelihood of that number—would be horribly disappointed.

      Everyone should make sure to hold on tight to their flashlight, Mulroney said, to stop it from “flying out of your hand and hitting someone in the head. Believe me, it isn’t too pleasant.” He appeared to be speaking from experience.

      After single-song performances by Jully Black and the Canadian Tenors, Taggart took a last-minute look around the house. “I’m just checking to see if everyone has their ponchos on!” I never thought I’d live to hear Tamara Taggart say those words. They were unsettling.

      With 10 minutes to go before the 6 o’clock kickoff time, the duo left. And then things really started to pick up—partly to the credit of that strange rehearsal.

      You probably saw those swirling, choreographed constellations of lights on the TV broadcast of the ceremonies, but I don’t think the televised images did justice to how effective they were live. I could see the difference by glancing at the monitor anchored to the table in front of me.

      The same goes for the blazing colours of the First Nations regalia that dominated the long first segment of the ceremonies—not to mention the endless energy of the dancers who wore it. They seemed to be in constant, powerful motion that often escaped the frame of the TV cameras.

      Half an hour in, as team after team of athletes was introduced and paraded, I began waiting for at least one of these dancers to pull a header, face down in the fake snow. I soon became worried for one fast-footed member of the Métis group, as well as for one of the spinning powwow performers—they never let up, even when Bryan Adams and Nelly Furtado showed up in their midst. (Sweet Jesus, to think that after all these years we’re still stuck with Bryan Adams.)

      The entire middle portion of the show was impressive in both scale and simplicity, as the designers found one ingenious way after another of creating huge, brilliant images out of little more than cloth, cables, and projected light. The lone figure soaring over the crowd—right past my vantage point—during the yellow-hued segment about the prairies was inspired. I mean, hell, it bordered on moving. I kept waiting for the hokum to start, to come flooding in and wake me up, but the whole spectacle just kept getting better and better.

      Full marks, too, for calling on B.C.–raised slam poet Shane Koyczan to close out this segment. It was a gutsy move, placing him in a spot that’s usually reserved for some blandly safe, platinum-selling artist. And Koyczan did not disappoint. Delivering his piece “We Are More” with authority from atop a 40-foot-tall riser in the middle of the floor, he quickly won over the decidedly non-slam audience.

      Sure, the huge silver pillars meant to rise from the floor for the lighting of the cauldron seemed to get jammed in their sockets for a minute or two. And sure, one of them never did make it out of the floor. (Did you catch the sheen of flop-sweat in the TV closeup on the face of the Great One?) But that didn’t take much away from what was, overall, a consistently inventive piece of mass theatre.

      I can’t believe I’m saying this, but”¦ I had fun.

      Photo gallery: Opening Ceremony.



      Loving Vancouver

      Feb 13, 2010 at 6:47am

      It was absolutely inspiring. Canada, Vancouver should be incredibly proud of themselves and their glorious country. From beginning to end was breathtaking. Canada was depicted in a very positive light and the overall message was worldly recognized. It was an absolute honour to watch; and have a whole new found appreciation for your country. The way you include and recognize everyone, that started with the torch relay was truly inspiring. You should hold your heads up high, and thought that the true meaning of the olympics was heartfelt, and that beets 300 million anytime. congrats.
      Vancouver and Canada - Beautiful; inside and out.. Very lucky citizens.

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      Edmonton, Alberta

      Feb 14, 2010 at 8:30am

      I, along with a few other million Canadians, counted down the days to the opening ceremony and the start of the 2010 Olympic Games and Friday night we settled in on the sofa to watch what we thought would be a typical ceremony. Our discussions prior to its beguinning focused on the tragedy of the young man's death in the sliding accident, we wondered how you could celebrate the games as we all mourned his loss and its affect on all who would compete. Then, as we watched, the emptiness we felt was filled by the sheer beauty of life depicted so brilliantly, in so many moments of the opening seremony. We were moved to tears and such a quiet pride in the healing power of billions of people sharing the burden off his loss and the joy that will come, in the coming days. Thanks so much, for all the work the organizing committee put in, to produce a ceremony that was awe inpiring and the whales weren't too bad either! If I wasn't Canadian, I'd want to be.

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