The Sochi Opening Ceremony

I wasn’t able to watch the opening ceremony yesterday, and so I’ve finally had the opportunity now that it is on BBC Iplayer.

Obviously, the coverage that I have access to is from the British Broadcasting Company, so my opinions may be heavily affected by this, but here I go.

Claire Baldwin

Claire Baldwin

Interestingly, the BBC was headed by Claire Baldwin, sports presenter and a proud member of the gay community. The Sochi Olympics has been heavily marred by Putin’s anti-gay laws, so it is interesting that the BBC decided to send a gay woman. Whilst some people have abused Baldwin on Twitter for not taking a stand, I think that whilst the BBC has to remain impartial, by having a gay woman fronting their coverage, they are now bowing to Russian laws. Why do people think that the best way to make a stand is to boycott, when they can show that gay people aren’t all flamboyant and putting it in people’s faces – gay people are normal. Claire Baldwin is showing this.

Within the first 5 minutes, Baldwin has already talked about the issues which these Olympics will be affected by: gay rights, animal rights, corruption and equality. It will be interesting how these issues will be looked at over the next couple of weeks.  Roughly 5 minutes later the report moved on to a look at Russian history – Stalin. It is an interesting approach. 23 years on from the ‘collapse of Communism’ and the end of the Cold War, the BBC can’t help but look back at the past, and compare it to Putin’s Russia now.

Normally I am not interested in the Olympics. In the run up to the 2012 Olympics I got very fed up with it. I realised that living in the Midlands, the Olympics would not have much of a positive effect on me and the area. The North equally would not see much of a benefit. I was really happy to be travelling around South-East Asia during the events – we missed the opening ceremony (we were in Thailand at the time), and although we caught a bit of the events on the TVs in the bars, I managed to avoid most of it. I watched some of the opening ceremony when I got home 5 weeks later. It was impressive, I’ll admit. But still, I wasn’t that interested.

These Olympics however are incredibly political. The internet has been filled by comparisons with the 1936 Nazi Olympics. An event which aimed to make Germany look powerful and innocent and they certainly succeeded. The events showed Germany how she wanted to look. 3 years later, the world was at war.

These 2014 Winter Olympics, which has had the most money spent on it ever, are clearly an aim to make Russia look strong, united and safe. Will it? Well so far, gay rights activists have been arrested in the run up to the opening ceremony, and I certainly think it’s the start of more things to come.

Is Russia too Russian? Russia (especially those in the rural areas) is known to disagree with the West. They view the West as too liberal/flamboyant – this is shown through their gay-rights (or lack thereof) laws. I’m certainly interested in how this will progress.

Is this the end of the Soviet stereotype? That seems to be Putin’s aims with his Olympics.

The Opening of the Ceremony

2014 Winter Olympic Games - Opening CeremonyThe Russians took us through the Russian Cyrillic alphabet (all 33 letters) looking at Russia’s contribution to the world. This included music, science and culture. The child then took a walk through Russia over the crowds. I’ll admit that the performance was beautiful. The parts of land representing the vastness of Russia were pulled over the stadium whilst the girl explored Russia from above, pulled along by a kite. Finally, 5 stars (and the moon) moved through the stadium and finally opened to make the Olympic rings, whilst 500 cast members sang from below. Unfortunately the ‘red ring’ failed to open due to a malfunction.

The unfortunate moment.

The unfortunate moment.

This error has been heavily parodied on the internet. Personally, whilst I found the parodies amusing, I think that the Russian organisers can’t be faulted for this error. It was a very ambitious opening ceremony, so one mistake can be easily ignored. Today, the media ran stories about the Russians broadcasting the rehearsal footage. However, they haven’t denied this, claiming that they did it to maintain the integrity of the Olympic rings. I think this is a perfect piece of reasoning. And the Olympic committee agreed.

I personally believe that many people are going to target any tiny mistake that the Russians make, which is unfortunate. Whilst I don’t agree with many of Putin’s opinions, the ambitious ceremony so far has been beautiful.

Part Two

Following the opening of the Olympics and the Russian national anthem, we move on to the next part of the show. A huge globe is projected onto the stadium floor, and this projection (taken from space) shows each country as they walk onto the stage. Starting, as is tradition, with Greece, all of the countries came onto the stage in their Olympic outfits. The teams are much smaller than those at the summer Olympics, but the athletes look proud and excited, and I certainly felt a lot of support for the British athletes when they took the stage. 56 people are representing Great Britain, the largest ever.

Interestingly, as the Russian team arrived on the stage, they played a remix of T.a.T.u’s ‘Not Gonna Get Us’ (‘Nas Ne Dogonyat’). The duo rose to fame in internationally with their play on lesbianism (both girls are straight) and are probably the most well known Russian artists in the world. They were tipped to perform on the show, but were instead only present in the pre-show performance which was not broadcast internationally. This is off, seeing as they were chosen as they were well known to the rest of the world. Arguably, this could be because Putin recognised the controversial nature bearing in mind the girls’ public show of affection during their performances. It’s a real shame, as I was really enjoying seeing their performance.

This year’s Winter Olympics’ has a record number of participants. Russia, the USA and Canada have the largest amount individually. This is reflected in the large amount of money that Russia has piled into the events.

The mascots.

The mascots.

The mascots of the Olympics are incredibly creepy. Praised by the commentators on the BBC, I have no idea what they are for! The animations of the faces were kind of cool though.

Part Three

The history of Russia. This is an impressive work of cinematography using Russia’s biggest actors to show the creation of Russia. This includes their diverse ethnicity. I’m very impressed with this, and it is beautifully edited to show their rich history. This ends with the construction of the Olympic stadium.

The Troika and the Sun.

The Troika and the Sun.

There is a beautiful use of projections on the floor and the horses flying through the stadium (the Troika). The little girl returns to witness more history and imagery. This is truly beautiful. The sun is being carried along. It is 65 meters long – huge! It must have been such an impressive sight in the stadium.

St Basil's Cathedral.

St Basil’s Cathedral.

With the melting of the ice, colour fills the stage with hundreds of performers to create a Russian city, initially in the shape of a fish moving through the melted oceans. The young girl looks around in awe at the beautiful city as she witnesses the creation of the St Basils Cathedral. The carnival of colour that follows is amazing. I truly can’t believe how amazing this show is. The history is fascinating (the architect was blinded following its creation to prevent something so beautiful being created again).

Moving on from the medieval era, we see the moving seas on the floor again. An amazing use of projections, it is unbelievable how they have made this. There are people on the ships, working with the projection to depict the new era. Looking across the stadium, the seas looked so real.

War and Peace.

War and Peace.

Looking at Peter the Great, the show looks at how the army changed, marching across a map of the Baltics to create St Petersburg, a new, modernised Russia. Next, it changes into the story of War and Peace and the creation of a ballroom with Russian ballet. It is truly stunning to witness the infamous ballet stars.

Russian Revolution.

Russian Revolution.

The show moves to the end of serfdom in the 1800s as Russia changed entirely. This shows the start of industrialisation of Russia and with it, it brings the 1917 revolution (the period of time I have studied and find most fascinating). The train in the sky is impressive beyond belief and the new steel works fly through the sky. The stage is red to represent the Bolsheviks. The dancers move onto stage in a unified fashion in ‘futuristic’ outfits to show the rapid change in Russian society. Machinery follows them with the sounds of the train in the background over the music.

As the lights change from red to white, the music slows to bring a climatic ending to the machinery. Moving into the Second World War the people on the stage freeze and it fades into black to the sound of planes. Search lights fill the audience and there is silence.

Part Four

The period of reconstruction.

The period of reconstruction.

Lights rise and we hear the sound of construction once more. It’s post WW2 during a time of reconstruction. The machinery, tools and constructions are all red (to symbolise the Soviets). It shows the creation of the Eastern block and the iron curtain. Life has improved, with happy people, roads and cars. The music is upbeat and it shows the space race, the rise of the skyscrapers and the old mixes with the new as the hammer and sickle move across the sky. As the BBC says, this segment has been done with tongue in cheek. This period is now seen with a sense of nostalgia which is why this period is being seen positively. It is interesting to notice that the people are dressed very in very Western clothes of the 1950s. This was very controversial during this period of time in Soviet Russia (and the Eastern bloc).

As the young girl prepares to fly back into the sky, we witness the continuation of life in Russia, as people marry and the baby boom occurs. It is treated very romantically. This was obviously a time of huge political unrest, but this is ignored.

The end of Communism.

The end of Communism.

The girl releases a red balloon to symbolise the fall of communism, and we look at a new Russia. The BBC states that we don’t know what this new Russia is. The economy is poor, infrastructure is poor, and there is still unrest. But, these Olympics have been arranged in 7 years, and it is impressive. Footage shows us the journey of the Olympic torch, with special focus on its flight into space.

Part Five

Following the speeches, where they called for a lack of political disagreement on the ‘back of the athletes’, the fireworks went off and the stadium lit up in a spectacle of colour. The Olympics had been announced as open by Putin and the Doves of Peace began, and this time it was like the ‘Swans of Peace’ as there began a performance of Swan Lake.

Swan Lake

Swan Lake

Described in many ways, the ‘Jellyfish’ like head gears are interesting to say the least. The beautiful music of Swan Lake fills the stadium and the women spin to make the lights swirl around them. I’m not quite sure what to make of this performance. The lights and projections end up making the shape of a dove on the ground, but I’m quite confused about the jellyfish lights. It was pretty though, but I’d have rather seen more ballet dancing to this iconic piece of music.

And finally, the Olympic flag is brought onto stage in the run up to the lighting of the Olympic flame. The Olympic Anthem (which I had no idea existed!!) was now ready to be performed once the flag was attached to the pole next to the Russian flag. As the song began, the flag was raised. The next tradition, the taking of the Olympic Oath by an athlete was spoken proudly whilst holding an Olympic flag. It is performed on behalf of all athletes, judges and coaches. This tradition is something which I think is integral to the opening ceremony. It is a proud moment for all athletes to take part in the games, and I have a lot of respect for them.

Final Section

A scene from the opening ceremony of the Sochi Winter OlympicsRoller bladers skate on to the stage, covered in lights which show a new future. Constellations take their place in the sky, with giant gigues representing different sports. Again, the imagery is beautiful and well crafted. The figures individually light up one by one to eventually remain lit in the sky over a floor of stars. The sequence continues to light the figures in patterns with the music. It is a very different and unique piece of art that has been created, which builds up a lot of tension and excitement for the next two weeks.

The Ice Hockey player sends a ‘puck’ across the stage and the Olympic flame is brought onto the floor carried by Sharapova. Hugely popular in Russia and internationally, it is not a surprise that she is so heavily involved in the opening ceremony.

olympic 12 olympic 13 olympic 14As the chosen torch bearers run through the entire cast of the show, optimism and excitement build. Watching this opening ceremony has certainly made me feel inspired. The lighting of the Olympic cauldron is impressive, they light one end and flames go all the way up to the cauldron, which lights as fireworks erupt. There is a huge cheer from the crowd and the sky is filled with lights. It is an amazing show of fireworks at the end of a fantastic opening ceremony.

olympic 15

It is a shame that British media has been so obsessed with the initial malfunction of the Olympic rings, one mistake which seemed to mar the show. Jokes have spread that the person responsible will have been killed or sent to ‘Siberia’, when instead the show should be recognised for what it was, an amazing show which embraced such a fascinating and vast history. Whilst Russia is surrounded by controversy, I fear that reporting will never be all that favourable, but like the world praised London in the summer of 2012, I truly believe the world should praise Sochi for this spectacle that I am glad to have watched.

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About Becki

I completed my BA in History in July 2013 and am currently studying for my MA in History (by Independent Study). My views are formed by my experiences, what I read, and the debates that I am keen to become involved in. I strive to learn more, be proven wrong, and then learn again.

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