An interesting contrast to the last two opening ceremonies. The theme of Beijing 2008 was China is great, London 2012’s was Britain WAS great. Tonight’s theme? We better start doing something about the environment or we may not have many Olympics to celebrate in the future.
Meanwhile, here’s Barney Ronay’s review of the ceremony:
And so we’re off. Eight years, two discredited presidents and an endless smear of negative publicity in the making, Rio 2016 finally juddered into life with an opening ceremony that was at times delightful, at others a little rickety and home-made.
Let’s face it, nobody likes opening ceremonies. Even Danny Boyle’s wonderful pageant of decline and whimsy and creative nostalgia at London 2012 was basically a lot of things going on for a long time before some sport was allowed to happen, albeit redeemed on that occasion by the genuinely rare achievement of not being brain-achingly mundane, facile, or clogged with schmaltz.
On a clammy night in the Maracana Stadium, Rio 2016 did what it could. Best of all the ceremonials were agreeably short, coloured at the edges by a minimum of hectoring cant about saving the world and believing the children are our future. As the lights dipped and the air turned a lovely cool ocean blue, the big screens showing images of an oddly cloudless surf and happy smiling favela kids, there was even something deliciously seductive about feeling the drip of bad news, the obstacles and outrages fade away for a moment.
The best bit came at the start when Samba great Paulinho Da Viola appeared in a gleaming blue suit and strummed the national anthem, like the world’s most impossibly handsome super-patriotic gameshow host. Beyond that there was a lot of dancing. And drumming. Some puffs of smoke appeared. On the stage a huge green clenched fist was unveiled, symbol of something or other, as the dancers enacted the arrival on these shores of successive immigrants, from Europeans to Africans, to people referred to in the programme as “The Arabs”.
The girl from Ipanema crept in. At one point there was a massive glossy sing-along, while a huge collection of people in zany outfits leapt about, signifying – I’m reaching here – the happy, empowered multiculturalism that currently defines this riven, stratified, hugely troubled land.
Towards the end the voice-over went on for quite a long time about global warming and rising seas. Finally, for reasons that remain unclear Dame Judi Dench read out a poem about environmental disaster in a disapproving voice. We’re sorry, Dame Judi Dench. We’ll try not to drop litter, or massively multiply as a species, or exist as captive consuming proles. All of which seems to annoy you.
Opening ceremonies are by their nature inanity squared, the frosting upon the icing upon the glorious irrelevance beneath. But they do at times provide their own unexpected illumination. Beijing 2008 was memorable for its sheer, frightening, fist-pumping scale – an emblem of China’s own emerging confidence. London 2012 gave us that lovely pantomime of decorative decline. And here Rio 2016s opening show was also a fairly decent take on the country itself: a little messy, a little muddled at the edges, unavoidably absorbing.
At times it was impossible not to feel a little glazed by the basic pointlessness of it all. Not just in the usual way, the existential horror of any opening ceremony. But also more widely. Rio likes a party. But this isn’t really Rio’s party. In the build up to what the IOC calls Day Zero there has been a slight but significant sense of distance in the city. The new, unfinished metro line, the pre-games shindig, even the events themselves; there are plenty who will tell you this is for us, not for them. Brazil, and more specifically the state of Rio de Janeiro is busy with other things. Busy collapsing, busy watching its services fall apart, ruled now by an aggressive new austerity government.
And yet Brazil was always likely to rise to this particular occasion. Nobody does a hang-it-all night out quite like Rio, a place where the world always seems to be crumbling at the edges but still people keep on turning up asking where the party is.
This was an agreeably stripped-back affair, a little hip and ragged and pop-up where London was muscular and polished. The only really jarring note was the preachy green politics dolloped in on top like a Miss World contender talking about helping kids who don’t read good at the end of the swimsuit round.
There is of course a basic absurdity in the spectacle of the Olympics, which is unsustainable, preaching about sustainability and of this preposterous four-yearly blowout taking a moment to chastise the rest of us for our excesses. These Rio Olympics were, lest we forget, the final garland for President Lula, now facing corruption charges, and his successor Dilma Rousseff, currently being impeached. Her replacement Michel Temer was loudly booed here as he declared the Games officially open, which is certainly one way of showing a little mannered displeasure at a de facto presidential coup d’etat.
The games will now begin. The noises off will rattle at the edges, the message of inclusion in this opening shindig at odds with the tensions in the country at large. As ever the best bit came as the athletes emerged in the familiar ceremonial procession. Andy Murray grimaced in a blue pea coat and looked adorably awkward. Nobody really bothered to boo Russia. The refugee flag drew the biggest cheers.
And by the end the night had become a kitschy, trilby-hatted, take on the basic point of being here; a celebration of human ultimacy, the urge to compete and achieve, and a reminder that for all the accumulated plaque of corruption and greed that there is still something pure and exalted at the heart of all this.