Saturday, August 9, 2008
Opening Ceremonies Rock the World
Did you watch the 2008 Olympics opening ceremonies last night?
If not, roll the big rock away from the entrance to your cave, get out in the real world and find some coverage of them (maybe here on Youtube), because they were simply the most amazing opening ever.
It wasn't just the money that made the ceremonies special. Yes, they cost an almost obscene amount (estimated at around 180 million dollars*), especially when you consider that the average worker in China can make as little as $2 a day. But we've seen that "lots of money" does not always correlate to "high quality"--think of some of the truly terrible Super Bowl shows you've witnessed, the garish display of "more is better" that passes for art.
No, these ceremonies, the brain-child of director Zhang Yimou, owe their brilliance not to finance but to the people of China, over 22,000 of whom performed Friday night in the newly-constructed National Stadium , in 15,000 costumes, among 43,000 fireworks, in awe-inspiring synchronous harmony.
The stadium itself played a huge role in the opening ceremonies. Replete with built-in projection screens around the entire perimeter and a huge LED screen in the floor of the stadium, the "Bird's Nest" provided a high-tech venue for China to showcase its performers.
First came the drummers--2008 of them. In China, the Fou drum is an historic instrument, dating from medieval times, made of ceramic or bronze and set atop a wicker table. The Fou drummers, perfectly in time, beat upon their drums, which lit up with each stroke. Thunder filled the stadium. Apparently, there were worries that the drummers would be too intimidating, so they were instructed to smile throughout their performance.
There was so much to see throughout the ceremonies that it was hard to take it all in, from the lit-up Chinese characters counting down the seconds, to the dancers suspended by cables encircling the suspended globe, to the women in gorgeous costumes of gold and rose and teal, to the Tai Chi masters forming, without a single mark to guide them, perfect concentric circles on the floor of the stadium.
And everything was people-powered, from the dancing boxes, propelled by hundreds of performers hidden until the end, to the lights on skin-tight costumes (changed at the last minute from black and re-sewn in time for the event in kiwi green). Even the huge LED screen on the stadium floor, which "unrolled" like a giant scroll, was covered by a sheet of cloth and then marked in ink by the mechanism of the moving hands and feet of the performers. Their illustrated landscape of mountains and water was given a sun flourish by yet another dancer, which was then colored in with a smiling face by Chinese children singing in the center of the stage.
I could go on an on re-counting the highlights of the night, but one I fell asleep too early to witness just broke my heart on the re-counting:
China's world-renowned basketball player, Yao Ming, entered the parade of nations beside the very small (especially in contrast to Yao's 7 feet six inches!) nine-year-old Lin Hao. Many found themselves wondering, "Who is this little boy walking with Yao Ming?"
Lin Hao, despite his tiny stature, is a national hero. During the devastating May 12 earthquake in which 70,000 Chinese perished, Lin Hao was buried in a pile of rubble. After being dug out, he sung songs to keep up his spirits and that of other victims. He then went on, despite suffering multiple injuries himself, to rescue others of his schoolmates, even returning inside the collapsed building where he had been trapped and digging alongside workers to do so.
When asked how he was able to find the courage to keep working and rescue his classmates despite his own injuries, Lin Hao replied (I'm in tears again, writing this) that he felt responsible for them because he was the hall monitor and leader of his class.
The lighting of the torch, by former gymnast and triple-gold medalist, Li Ning, was an acrobatic affair that required Ning to run the full perimeter of the stadium before making his historic leap to light the Olympic torch.
*Though American news reports place the estimated cost at closer to $300 million, Zhang said in a press conference this morning, "We encouraged economic use of resources in preparing for the Olympic Games."
Photos from Xinhua, www.chinaview.cn
at 1:50 PM