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05.08.2012- 'Be not afeared; the isle is full of noises'

Sunday, 5 August 2012

If there's one thing which sets the tone for any Olympic Games, it's undoubtedly the Opening Ceremony. Forget the form book, abandon the media hype and neglect the negativity- when it comes to the official opening of the greatest sporting competition on the planet, there's always a palpable sense of anticipation in the air. Nowhere was this more keenly felt than in the Olympic Park last Friday night, as the clock struck 20:12 and the countdown to Danny Boyle's 'Isles of Wonder' welcome to the London games began.

Introducing Great Britain to a global audience on this scale demanded a level of creative vision never seen before. Forget Cliff Richard at the Jubilee concert or a grandstand performance from Andrew Lloyd Webber's back catalogue- this had to be something which blew the world away, which threw open the doors of the 30th modern Olympiad with style, and which, most importantly of all, inspired a generation.

Beginning with a pre-show which incorporated a series of picturesque tableaus depicting and idyllic slice of rural Britain, this was a charming vision of our green and pleasant land. A chorus of children's choirs from Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England brought the voices of four nations together in harmony, perfectly reflecting the genteel scenes being enacted on the grand stage of the Olympic stadium floor. This sedate serenade did not continue for long, however, before the arrival of cacophonous industry to the green fields, gardens and meadows of Britain. Kenneth Branagh's recital of the speech from William Shakespeare's The Tempest which inspired the ceremony at this juncture not only acted as a masterstroke of narrative, but also foreshadowed the riot of sounds which would unfold as the evening progressed.

As our journey through the history of Britain continued, plentiful pastures were supplanted with towering chimneys in one of the more overtly theatrical moments of the evening. No smoke or mirrors in use here, as Boyle allowed the audience to witness the transformation of the set piece by piece; green turf replaced with molten metal in a representation of the industrial revolution which began in Britain and transformed the world forever. Accompanied by Underworld's spine-tingling soundtrack, the sight of five glowing rings hoisted above the stadium is one which spoke volumes about the significance of invention, hard work and perseverance- values which are dominant throughout the sports encompassed within the Olympic competition.

The theme of groundbreaking, global innovation continued as the performance progressed, most significantly through the appearance of Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the world wide web- another creation which has utterly transformed the environment which we live in. The proliferation of communication in the digital age, as depicted in a riotous dance and narrative montage also proved to be a fundamental theme of this performance. Sherlock style on screen text messages, status updates and images were woven through a classic 'boy meets girl' story, accompanied by projections encompassing a host of cultural references which have had an undeniable impact on modern British culture. Full of noises indeed, the soundtrack to this interlude featured a series of populist anthems, including Going Underground by The Jam, My Generation by The Who and Firestarter by The Prodigy. Bringing our auditory experience of these isles right up to date, enter Dizzee Rascal performing Bonkers- perfectly pinpointing the party atmosphere electrifying the stadium.

Bonkers, too, were some of the more quintessentially British elements of the performance. Mr. Bean playing the keyboard to the strains of Chariots of Fire will surely go down in history as one of the more bizarre moments of any Olympic Opening Ceremony, but as a celebration of British humour it was utterly heartwarming. Full of fun too was a pre-recorded segment featuring Daniel Craig's James Bond accompanying The Queen to the stadium, proving that as a nation we are as capable of laughing at ourselves as we are at making a rather stylish entrance. Uniquely British too were tributes to Great Ormond Street Hospital, the NHS and the imaginative power of children's literature. Care, love and nurturing the next generation no matter what were the core values explored through this truly imaginative section, which witnessed nurses lindy-hop, hospital beds illuminate and icons from childhood stories come to life before our eyes.

Moments of light relief and laughter were hauntingly juxtaposed with poignant elements throughout the performance, most breathtakingly in Akram Khan's choreographed piece. Set to Emeli Sandé's flawless rendition of Abide With Me, Khan drew upon his kathak training to create a fluid, dynamic and deeply moving tribute to those who lost their lives on 7/7, performed with energy, power and pride by an ensemble of fifty two dancers, symbolising the fifty two victims of the attacks. Poignantly remembered too, were those who gave their lives fighting in war, as the leitmotif of a poppy was incorporated throughout- most strikingly by the mass of athletes gathered in the centre of the stadium, and when Thomas Heatherwick's copper petals came together to form the Olympic cauldron. In simple terms, whilst this was a ceremony of humour, pioneering spectacle and innovation, it was also one which reflected on the sacrifices made by so many people throughout the history of Great Britain and London; sacrifices which have ultimately allowed us to come together at this moment to celebrate the unifying power of sport, national pride and selfless dedication to achieving your goals, no matter how impossible they may seem. 

From the forging of molten rings to the procession of peace doves on bicycles, from the polyphonic journey through our musical heritage to the lighting of the cauldron by a group of Olympians of the future, this was an Opening Ceremony which was inventive, theatrical and full of breathtaking surprises. Peppered with a dusting of uniquely British humour, history and heart, this was a performance which inspired not only a generation, but also a nation. World- welcome to London.

(Image credit: BBC NewsThe Guardian and itv.com.)

1 comment:

  1. Really enjoyed reading this, so well written! Thank you :)

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