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Sochi Olympics open with great artistry, minor hiccups

Published: Monday, February 10, 2014

Updated: Monday, February 10, 2014 06:02

  Watching the Sochi Winter Olympics opening ceremony was like viewing a performance of the Bolshoi Ballet Company performing “Swan Lake” (1875). Mystical, whimsical, beautiful and — at times — over the top, the entire opening ceremony was an exercise in elegance, extravagance and precision.

Nearly every part of the ceremony went flawlessly — with the minor exception of the unveiling of the Olympic rings. Audiences all over the world over were shocked when the one ring ran into a technical glitch and didn’t transform as planned from a snowflake into the fifth Olympic ring. The awkward four-rings-and-a-snowflake hovered in the air, leaving a blemish on the production’s otherwise flawless execution.

Most of the evening consisted of Russia doing what it does best: flaunting its history of producing some of the greatest artists the world has ever known. Russian ballet companies performed excerpts from “Swan Lake,” danced out the conflicts from “War and Peace” (1869) and moved the story along from the Viking beginnings of Russian history to the building of St. Basil’s Cathedral to modern day Russia. For the largest — yet often quite isolated — country in the world, Russia proved that its enormous gestures of art and showmanship are almost as expansive and sweeping as its massive territory.

Despite the minor flaw of the fifth Olympic ring not opening, NBC made a bigger faux-pas by not including the greatest event of the night: the Russian Police Choir performing “Get Lucky” (2013). An under-appreciated and lively performance, the men of the choir proved that Russia has got funk, soul and a sense of artistry.

The Cyrillic alphabet commanded the order of introduction for each country’s team, emphasizing that Russia is still a country that has its own mindset and is proud of its unique history and culture.

Perhaps the strongest metaphor for Russia’s execution of this opening ceremony — and its resurgence as a power player on the global stage — is the tale of young Lyubov. Lyubov, the lead in the show who danced among crowds of ballerinas and guided viewers around Russia, was portrayed by an 11-year-old girl named Liza Temnikova. Temnikova is not a prima ballerina in a Russian ballet theatre or the daughter of Russian aristocrats, but rather the child of two taxi drivers. She got her big break at a casting call for the lead in the show. Living what many in the U.S. would describe as “the American dream,” young Temnikova represents what Russia presents as “the new Russian dream” — the ability to rise above hardship to success.

As Lyubov, she took viewers on a journey through the several thousand years of Russia’s history, a tour de force of fantasy that explored the best parts of the country’s past — Peter the Great, realist literature by Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky and reform following the fall of the Soviet Union. Temnikova’s command of the story was reminiscent of Clara in “The Nutcracker” (1892), and the result was as fantastical and wondrous as the Christmas fairytale itself. But just as “The Nutcracker” makes light of potentially intense situations, so too did Russia gloss over harsher parts of its own history. While tactfully paying homage to the soldiers who died for Russia in World War II, the former USSR chose to focus on a more bright and cheery version of its story.

While Russia painted its past with the brightest of colors, one of the loudest statements at the opening ceremonies came from Germany, whose athletes painted themselves in bright colors in a literal way: rainbow outfits. While officials deny that the team’s opening ceremony uniforms were a protest against Russia’s anti-gay laws of late, the message of the candy-colored parkas was loud and clear: while Russia is leading the games, the rest of the world is there to try to tell other stories too.

In a wild and exciting opening ceremony, Russia revealed that it still has the pageantry to command the world’s attention. However, only time will tell if “the Russian dream” is something that can hold true once the Winter Games have ended and if the voices of the rest of the world will rise in a rebellion that overpowers Tchaikovsky’s ballet scores.

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