When the obscene amount of fireworks finally faded from the night sky, Sochi and the country of Russia could sit back and be proud of its Opening Ceremony.
It was flashy and artistic, innovative and graceful. Except for a renegade illuminated snowflake that refused to turn into an Olympic ring like its four comrades, the ceremony mostly went off without a hitch.
The Russians understood their limitations.
They didn’t have the Hollywood star power of the London Games or the acrobatic genius of Beijing, but they played to their strengths and captured the 40,000 in attendance at Fisht Olympic Stadium with elegant ballet accompanied by the classical music for which the country is known.
But Sochi didn’t shun the Olympic Opening Ceremony that came before it; it embraced some of the better ideas.
Sochi opened with a young girl dreaming of Russia and then flying through the sky — across the country’s nine different landscapes — with the help of a kite. Vancouver used a similar ploy with a young man learning about Canada’s prairies.
The young girl in the Sochi Games also sang the Games’ opening number similar to the young girl in the Beijing Games.
LONDON OPENING CEREMONY SLIDESHOW
VANCOUVER OPENING CEREMONY SLIDESHOW
BEIJING OPENING CEREMONY SLIDESHOW
But Russia used the young girl almost as a literary ploy as she took viewers through the storybook telling of Russia’s history. Again, using the Olympics as a way to recount history is nothing new either. Almost every Olympic Opening Ceremony has done it in some way, shape or form. However, Russia, historians might say, got a little revisionist with its history.
It glossed over some of the darker periods of the country’s history and left out other parts altogether. Communism was only kind of portratyed as a bad era before teeny-boppers came out to dance and drive fancy cars. Space was the final frontier. There was a vague mention of an Iron Curtain, a giant sickle and hammer, and some floating heads of erected (and fallen) statues past.
But there was also color and artistry, the likes of which we hadn’t seen since the Beijing Games. Sochi turned the Fisht Olympic Stadium floor into a canvas and created scenes that didn’t quite come through on television but definitely brought out “ooohs” and “ahhhs” from those in the building. The floor was a raging sea and a scrolling newspaper. It served as a grand ballroom as dancers acted out portions of the novel "War and Peace." It gave the appearance of clouds while various islands floated above it. And it became a skating rink for the Games’ cuddly — and kind of creepy — mascots. It was also the base for a light show that depicted different sports of the Winter Games before it ultimately became the path for the lighting of the Olympic cauldron.
Some of what Russia did, especially the movement of ships on a video-created sea, rivaled some of the magic that was introduced in the Beijing Opening Ceremony. But instead of trying to replicate a lot of the 3-D-like movements from Beijing, many of which were made by people and outstanding choreography, Sochi used the entire space of the stadium. It created huge images on the ground and had huge moving parts in the air. Tents shaped like St. Basil’s cathedral glided across the stadium floor before being lifted into the air. At one point, a troika, which is a Russian carriage pulled by three horses, filled the stadium sky while pulling a burning orange sun. The entire apparatus was more than 213 feet long. It was one of the most impressive and stunning images of the night.
Sochi’s Opening Ceremony was not the best the Olympics have ever seen. That honor might always go to Beijing, because what it did in 2008 was incredibly creative, visually stunning and cutting-edge.
However, Russia stayed true to itself. The ballet was beautiful, the music was classic and poignant, and the homage to the country’s great literature, thinkers and even its more radical pioneers made for a very interesting — if not creative — history lesson. It was grand in all the ways it could have been. Better than Vancouver, different than London, but uniquely Russian, which is exactly what it had to be.
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