A sneak preview of a grand Olympic ceremony

Athens 2004 Organizing Committee (ATHOC) President Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki turned author yesterday in stating: «We are writing a new chapter in Olympic history and Greek history» with these Games. A big theme of this ambitious new national text – or at least the broad outlines as envisioned by one unusual artistic talent – is a high-tech visual and theatrical retrospective, to be unveiled tomorrow night at the opening ceremonies for the Games in what Jack Morton Enterprises, the producers, call «an epic production.» More glimpses of an increasingly thinly veiled secret emerged yesterday from Dimitris Papaioannou, the concept creator. Taking his cue from the ATHOC chief’s promise «to captivate a global audience, and surprise them too» (and like her, speaking from script), Papaioannou set out a vision that aims to evoke a sense of Greek history through a «highly contemporary,» technology-rich medium, using performers suspended from above and other elements ascending from the bowels below the stadium’s grassy surface. Two leitmotifs, of the human heartbeat and running, commemorate the early ancient Games and the elemental aspects of life. They will be drawn out in a succession of images building to an «allegoric joining of human consciousness.» Three Greek sculptural eras will be represented, including a one-minute tribute to Eros, god of love and friendship, whose influence is being newly appreciated in research on antiquity. The sea will play more than a bit part. Lest the Apollonian focus on high art, times past, and Delphic wisdom prove too taxing for the sports world, Papaioannou assured that his production would involve «no lecture» but rather a joyful moment aiming at the heart, not the head. The arrow apparently flies true: The ATHOC head admitted to being near tears while watching. And any fuddy-duddy images from past parades of athletes will, he insisted, be wiped clean by the spirited work of Tiesto, a Belgian disc jockey and the first-ever DJ at a Games. He will spin both original and recorded music to accompany a «real parade for young people.» The response of nonplussed classical purists is uncertain. The show involves some 2,000 moving lights, utilizing 35 kilometers (22 miles) of steel cable. A subterranean holding chamber is 23 meters deep and 25 meters across. The «stunning theatrical environment» will last 3.5 hours and involve 4,000 performers. Twelve artists and 400 others conceived it, with an obvious focus on youth. On Tuesday evening, a full house of 70,000 watched a sneak preview, with special forces and evacuation teams on hand. Tomorrow, prearranged announcements will be ready in three languages to facilitate emergency evacuations if needed. The cost of the opening ceremonies, though queried, was not revealed. Warming to the twin themes of modernity and change, Angelopoulos-Daskalaki said a key aim of the past three years was to prove that Greece could do it – not in a spirit of defiance, but as a way to demonstrate the discipline, focus, teamwork, time consciousness, and ultimately, competitiveness of Greeks. The aim was behavioral, not just physical, change in Greece. This can get overdrawn; Angelopoulos-Daskalaki claimed that «we saved the forests» at Schinias, where the flat-water rowing and canoeing venue abuts the Marathon battle site, and asserted the Games would leave a positive environmental legacy. More convincing was her emphasis on technological advances; mobile phone services withstood the torrent of messages following the Euro 2004 soccer win, in vivid contrast to the chaos that erupted after the earthquake of September 1999, when Greece’s cellular systems crashed en masse. Nearly 1 million people now take public transport daily in a car-besotted city. With all the improvements, she insisted, «we started a different way of walking toward the future,» a journey in which «the Olympics was just a step.» While arguably true, it will be hard to convince the world’s sports media of it over the next two weeks.

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