Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Thoughts on the Opening Ceremony Experience

It's four days past the London Olympic Opening Ceremonies, and words are still not easily found to describe the experience. Of course, it was a wonderful ceremony. But it was so different on several levels, and my reactions varied greatly from one portion to the next.

Entering the venue, I learned early on one major difference from past Opening Ceremonies. Most likely due to austerity considerations, the seats for attendees included no kit, no program, no pins. Nothing. This was a disappointment -- Opening Ceremony kits are a coveted prize of past Games!

How better to Ebay the experience, my dear?

Shaking off the sticker shock for official programs, priced at 15 pounds (!!!), settling into my original seat in the 222 section, I did enjoy the massive green field of play symbolizing the Isles of Wonder. In case NBC cut it, during the countdown sequence, there were live sheep, ducks, geese and horses with May Pole players on the British "island" in the center of the stadium. Audience members participated by "silking" the stands with massive blue silks creating water around the grand stage.

The massive bell featuring Shakespeare's quote from The Tempest -- "Be not afeard: the isle is full of noises" -- hung just a few row below my seat, and in the one-sheet run-of-show provided to spectators, I learned this bell will remain for posterity to be run in the year 2212 with a message from its creators commenting on the recent infancy of the World Wide Web, invented by British-born scientist Tim Berners-Lee, who said "This Is For Everyone" (the theme of the evening). Clever!

Other segments to love: The opening "Journey along the Thames" video, the "Green and Pleasant Land" countryside show on the British meadow, the songs from the Four Nations, Kenneth Branagh acting as a leading engineer (Branagh was the first of several predicted performers from my pre-ceremony post), and the transformation into "Pandemonium" and The Age of Industry (as described in the ceremony media guide).

I was delighted by the Olympic rings -- one forged by iron workers on the stadium floor -- took flight and rained gorgeous gold fireworks. Best rings arrival since Torino.

Also loved the pixel screens, which volunteers taught the audience to use during the countdown. This is the modern version of the flag cards famously unveiled by the spectators at the Los Angeles Opening Ceremony in 1984.

Paraphrasing a friend's friend via Facebook comment, I could have done without the tribute to socialized medicine. From my seat, the "big baby" did not appear as as such. Blowing bubbles was a good idea but not easy to appreciate outside of the venue (nor inside). The 3D glasses did not enhance a thing (and why not brand the glasses with Games logos?).

But Rowan Atkinson's performance set to "Chariots of Fire" was perfect. And the montage of music and TV via the BBC went over well (more Annie Lennox next time, please). I found myself awaiting Morissey's lyrics "There is a light that never goes out" for the arrival of the torch and cauldron, but the song's somber themes would not have played well.

I really did love the solo performance of "Abide With Me" sung by Emeli Sande. The modern dance segment was beautiful, and it struck me as the largest dance in opening ceremony memory. What a bloody shame NBC cut this (see my July 28 post for more on this segment).

It was brilliant to play tribute to the July 7 bombing victims with a memorial video (set to my favorite Brian Eno tune) ... why not add a brief remembrance for all Olympic Family members at future opening ceremonies (this would have easily covered the Munich 1972 victims and Olympic Family/IOC members lost in this Olympiad)?

The arrival of a record 204 national Olympic committees gave me time to grab dinner, trade a few pins and ... wait for it ... UPGRADE MY SEAT. With a wink, a flash of an unaccredited media badge, and a camera, I found myself on row 10 in section 124, this time under the stage right area of the big Olympic bell and platform for Sir Paul McCartney's performance.

As luck had it, I sat only a few seats from just about every living Team GB Olympic medal winner, and enjoyed a much closer view of the athlete parade including Usain Bolt/Jamaica, Team USA, Team GB and many more (I arrived during the letter "H").

The "dove bikes" were cool.

Much was made of the Queen's arrival with the James Bond actor Daniel Craig. Jolly good show! The only improvement I'd suggest ... perhaps Her Majesty could have high-fived the other living James Bond actors en route to the helicopter, or Sean Connery could have been revealed as the pilot.

I searched with loaned binoculars but did not yet spot the newlywed Royals, who I hope to see at beach volleyball or gymnastics.

For me, the more I learn about the Olympic cauldron, the better it gets. In the media section of the stadium after the event, the TODAY Show's Meredith Viera told me the delegations each carried in a bit of the cauldron that was attached (it was a bean- or melon-like chrome piece about the size of a football), which volunteers attached to the cauldron before it was ignited (Viera stated these pieces go back to each participating nation after the Games).

But it was, in my opinion, an oversight to permit its display out of public view. Vancouver got this right with two cauldrons in the Olympic city.

And inviting unknown youth to ignite the cauldron ... zzzzzzzzzzz ... (been there done that with the little girl who lit the cauldron in Calgary).

There are many things to love about the London Olympic Opening Ceremony and I will always cherish the experience. There is a light that never goes out, indeed.

Photos by Nicholas Wolaver

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