It may not have had the power and glamor of Beijing 2008 or the sophisticated elegance of London 2012. But Rio de Janeiro showed that low budget could be high impact as it delivered an Olympic opening ceremony that will long be remembered for its color, imagination, passion and profound message of hope.
Some 21 million US dollars were spent on the four-hour extravaganza at the Maracana stadium, about half London’s outlay four years ago. During the week the show’s executive producer, Marco Balich, said the figure was irrelevant, vowing the creativity of his production team would ensure Rio’s curtain-raiser was the “coolest” in history. The 54-year-old Italian, participating in his 17th Olympic opening and closing ceremony, was as good as his word.
The ceremony began with a two-minute video showing how sports are an integral part of Rio’s lifestyle, where nature and urban life coexist in harmony. The video was accompanied by the song “Aquele Abraco”, That Hug, composed bossa nova legend Gilberto Gil. The song, performed here by Luiz Melodia, was seen as a symbol of the struggle against Brazil’s military dictatorship.
The focus then turned to the center of the stadium where silver-clad performers reproduced a pattern created by Athos Bulcao, whose work is widely seen to reflect the founding elements of Brazil’s culture, with its African and Portuguese roots. Giant waves were created by the movement of some 250 metallic sheets along with the music Samba de Verao, or Summer Samba.
It was followed by a countdown in which the squares were inflated by their own movement. The sheets turned into giant cushions, which percussionists hit to perform a drumming “batucada”. In the center of the stage a design of a tree was raised, symbolizing peace with the earth.
The main element used in the segment was the Abrigo, developed by Rio artist Franklin Cassaro. The “peace with the planet” symbol was designed by cartoonist and writer Ziraldo.
The next section was dedicated to the Amazon region, home to the world’s largest rainforest. Producers recreated the “birth of life” with a three-dimensional projection of micro-organisms that moved frenetically and divided among themselves. Microbes, represented by large kinetic sculptures, fluttered across the stage. Then a giant forest filled the center of the stadium.
Two indigenous groups, interpreted by Parintins Festival dancers, emerged from the converged shadow of yellow butterflies. The groups recreated patterns of their art, performing their native dances while holding elastic bands that formed giant huts, known as ocas.
Rio de Janeiro is a city of more than 1,000 favelas – communities where much of the country’s rhythms and dances originate. Funk artist Ludmilla delighted the audience with her rendition of “Rap da Felicidade”, an anthem in Rio’s favelas, while a boy danced.
Elza Soares then performed Canto de Ossanha, a song which played a major role in helping Afro-Brazilian music break into the mainstream. The segment was completed by Zeca Pagodinho and Marcelo D2, contemporary Rio artists that have created their own styles by fusing samba, pop, pagode and hip hop.
Credited with empowering black women, Brazilian rappers Karol Conka and MC Sofia sung while a dancer performed a combination of break dance with capoeira. MC Sofia, who is only 12 years old, showed all the makings of a global pop star with her confident and compelling on-stage presence. “Look and listen to this black girl. Focus only on the empowerment, respect our fight and our movement,” she sang.
The stage was then swamped by Maracutu and Bate Bola dancers. In a warning about the danger of intolerance, a battle broke out between the two groups that convulsed the stadium. The energy and tension of the artists portrayed disputes throughout Brazil and the world that are yet to be resolved.
Actress Regina Case brought the crowd to its feet by dancing to Pais Tropical while Jorge Ben Jor played the guitar. Their performance was followed by choreographies from a typical Madureira Baile Charme, or soul ball, featuring some 1,500 dancers. The upbeat segment ended with a short fireworks display.
The next part of the ceremony was a reminder of the fraught impact of climate change. Screens with Nasa-type data showed the spread of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, climbing temperatures, melting ice caps and rising sea levels. Meanwhile a boy tried to find a way out of maze of buildings in a dry, treeless landscape.
The sombre scenes were followed by a message of hope as the boy spotted a plant emerge from the arid ground. Carlos Drummond de Andrade’s poem, A Flor e a Nausea, was read by Fernando Montenegro and Judi Dench, its verses providing hope the planet can be saved. “Stop business,” the poem said. “A flower has sprouted in the street.” Meanwhile screens showed the benefits of planting new trees and told us that Brazil has reduced deforestation in the Amazon by 80% since 2005.
In an Olympics first, athletes participated in the opening ceremony’s creative program by receiving a seed and a cartridge with soil. The 11,000 seeds will be planted in Radical Park at Rio’s Deodoro Olympic site, forming the Athletes’ Forest. There will be 207 species of Brazilian trees with a different one for each Olympic nation.
Rio Olympics seeks to embody green, environmentally friendly and low carbon life. According to some reports, Rio used HHO Carbon Clean Machine to reduce emissions and protect the environment.