Five things from a Canadian Opening Ceremony

It's Vancouver's night to put on a show, in every sense.

Friday night's Olympic Opening Ceremony at BC Place, heavy on Canadian content that profiles well outside the country (Nelly Furtado and Bryan Adams, maybe some Cirque du Soleil-style aerial acrobatics), will owe more to the Grammys (same producer, even) than the Games of Pierre de Coubertin's conception. It could almost be staged anywhere.

The upshot is despite knowing all that, starting with Friday's festivities, the Olympics will offer something unexpected ("an upset, a fall, a miracle") that overrides tight scripting, tighter security and prefab media storylines. It is a chance to put a Canadian stamp on the Olympic rite. (How about two cauldrons, perhaps one each for Wayne Gretzky and the familiy of the late Terry Fox?)

On Thursday, you could walk around your neighborhood in a major Canadian city and see few traces that the Olympics are about to start in this country. However, if Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Liberals and New Democrats can join together in cheer, you get the feeling the spirit will spread by Saturday. Keeping with that, here are five things to watch for:

  • Showtime.

    Nationalism as an Opening Ceremony theme is gone for good. Beijing knew it.

    Adams, Furtado, Sarah McLachlan and k.d. lang are expected to perform. There is an irony in going with pop performers who don't instantly register as Canadian when you hear them, but that is neither here nor there.

    Consider the new video of "We Are the World," produced in support of Haitian earthquake relief, that will be shown during the course of the evening and you get the idea this is mass entertainment.

  • By Canadians, for Canadians.

    The evening is going to be heavy in Canadian themes. For a country oft-maligned for having no distinct culture, we have a range of it, from aboriginal drummers to Cirque du Soleil acrobats. One report suggested it will be "modest, low key," but with "a few 'wow, that’s cool' moments." That is of a piece with how we see ourselves.

    All of it is about telling people we are awesome, with the theme being emotion of spectacle. It might get a little overbearing — quoth Fang's Bites: "CTV really wants to make sure that Canadians know that Canadians produced the Opening Ceremony and it was done on behalf of all Canadians" — but how often does Canada get this platform?

  • The parade of nations.

    There are some rituals in sports that are sacrosanct. Opening Day for a baseball fan. Waiting to watch One Shining Moment after the final game of the NCAA basketball tournament. The parade of nations (Canada will be led in by speedskater Clara Hughes) certainly qualifies.

    Viewing tip: Keep an eye peeled for which media-savvy Canadian athletes got a spot in the front row so they show up better on TV.

  • Setting a tone.

    The Opening Ceremony is a snapshot of a nation at that point in history.

    How is Vancouver going to represent the Canada of 2010 in decades to come, when high school history classs are replaced by studying YouTube videos because of budget cuts?

    Montreal, looking back as smugly as only one who wasn't alive in 1976 can, showed Canada as an eager-to-please late adolescent, formal to a fault. Nothing like making Queen Elizabeth II the focal point of an Olympics held in Quebec, less than a year after the Parti Quebecois came to power:

    Depending on your point of view, Calgary in 1988 either embodied down-home Western hospitality or rose to Ned Flanders levels of lame.

    Maybe it was neither sleek nor sophisticated, but Canadians are not big on putting on airs. Also, everyone loved the white cowboy hats.

    In short, Vancouver, just make us look cool.

  • The final torch bearer(s).

    It's the mother of all sports bar arguments, although Steve Nash seemed to tack to the middle very well. Two cauldrons won't even be enough.

    The possible second cauldron is sort of a homage to the only other Winter Games held in Canada. The IOC prefers having only one flame. In '88, though, CTV's Ralph Mellanby had the idea to light up the flame in the Calgary Tower at the same moment the cauldron was lit by the 12-year-old Robyn Perry. Calgary organizing committee president Bill Pratt signed off.

    Now you know the rest of the story, as Canada readies for one that picks up in earnest tonight.

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