Sunday, February 14, 2010


Sometime in the past 20 years, the opening ceremonies to the Olympic games went from something I avoided, to something I endured, to become I look forward to. The opening to the 2008 summer games in Beijing were spectacular in both scale and execution, and at the time, I remember thinking "I hope the Vanoc guys are taking notes". Having watched the ceremonies from Vancouver on Friday night (and portions again yesterday with Fenya and Glory), I have to say it doesn't look like they did. To be fair though, they did only spend about 1/10 of what the Chinese did, so full marks for getting the most bang for their buck.

Part of the reason I love the opening ceremonies is the great opportunity it gives the host country in terms of showing the rest of the world what they are all about, or, at least, what they think they are all about. Despite the disappointments (most notably the failure of one of the cauldron pillars to arise in time), the Vancouver opening ceremonies are probably a pretty fair representation of Canada, for better or worse.

Let's start with the bad:

* Energy Crisis - CTV's telecast was completely lacklustre, with poor pacing and no sense of drama and excitement. Crowd noise was filtered out of most portions, giving the initial proceedings a feeling of sterile detachment. We want to hear the cheer, dudes, why do you think they include it in so much rave music?

* Too Sexy For This Song - I know there are a lot of people who wish Canada had a sexier image, but do you know what song totally does not need to be slowed down, sexed up and performed by a torch singer in a slinky red dress and 4-inch heels? THE NATIONAL ANTHEM. (Can I get an 'amen'?) Nikki Yanofsky is awfully talented and has a tremendous voice and, yes, is very easy on the eyes for a sixteen year-old, but her rendering of "Oh Canada" felt overdone and inappropriate, having more in common with Marilyn Monroe's rendition of "Happy Birthday Mr. President" than the song I am familiar with. And my mom thinks so too.

* The Kitschen Synch - Nelly Furtado and Bryan Adams singing "Bang Your Drum" wasn't bad, but didn't feel like it had a lot of energy. This may have been due to the lack of crowd noise, but is more likely due to the fact that they were clearly singing to tape, and Bryan Adams' voice can clearly be heard joining in even though his microphone is down around his hip. Sigh.

* Shut Up Already - I should mention that I have never liked Brian Williams, but I can't fully articulate why; I think he just comes across as a smug git, full stop. My distaste for him is balanced out by my appreciation of Lloyd Robertson, his partner in commentary. They both get failing grades however, as they continually interrupted any of the cultural proceedings that didn't include singing with their reading of the crib notes about what every element symbolized. My thinking is that if the audience doesn't need it, neither do we. If you want to compromise, put in a text crawl or something.

* Symbolic Dysfunction - The torch. Well, what can you say? Four flawless rehearsals, and the hydraulics pack it in at the worst possible moment. Watching Wayne Gretzky and the others wait for a giant pillar that never materialized was the definition of awkward pauses, but thank God they didn't cut away to a Viagra commercial. The worst part was that Catriona LeMay-Doan had to stand and watch while everyone else got to participate in the lighting.

* Driving Farce - As Gretzky rode in the back of a truck, carrying the Olympic flame down to the waterfront where the outdoor cauldron awaited, random happy or drunk dudes ran alongside. It's hardly the presidential motorcade, but does this strike anyone else as weird, especially given how much security there was for the regular torch relay?

That being said, though, there was a lot to like; frankly, all the cultural elements, the singing, dancing and music, were all top notch.

* Grand Entrance - The fantastic footage of the snowboarder coming down the mountain, culminating with a leap into the stadium through the Olympic rings as they erupt in fireworks was a great way to kick everything off.

* Aboriginality - Giving the First Nations chiefs a post in the dignitaries box to share in being the host nation (an Olympic first), and having their people give their own welcome prior to the parade of nations was great. And as a bonus, all four of their totems made it out of the floor without incident.

* Sadness & Respect - If you kept a dry eye when the Georgian team entered the arena wearing black armbands in memory of their dead teammate and then doffed their hats, prompting a standing ovation from all 60,000 people in attendance, I don't want to know how you did it.

* Sarah McLaclachlan - 'nuff said.

* Fiddles and Dance - this was a great production number, and the idea of linking the country together by regional styles of fiddle play would never have occurred to me. Plus, it was good to see Ashley MacIsaac again.

* The Floor - They used over one hundred projectors to create a number of effects on the floor, from waving wheat, to cracking ice, to pods of orcas swimming through the stadium, complete with whale spouts. Spectacular!

* Poetry in Emotion - I am not very hip, so I can't really tell you the difference between beat poetry, slam poetry, free verse and rap, but Shane Koyczan's poem "We Are More" was a real highlight for me, and in an evening that included Wayne Gretzky, Betty Fox, Rick Hansen, Sarah McLachlan, k.d. lang (singing Leonard Cohen), and Cirque de Soleil, that's quite an accomplishment. From the opening of
Define Canada
You might say the home of the Rocket
Or The Great One
Who inspired little No. 9s and little No. 99s
But we're more than just hockey and fishing lines
Off of the rocky coast of the Maritimes
And some say what defines us
Is something as simple as 'please' and 'thank you'
And as for 'your welcome,' well, we say that, too

he had the audience in the palm of his hand, and has prompted a lot of very positive responses from around the world. The complete text can be found here, but unfortunately I can't find a link to the reading itself. Ah hell, here is the whole thing:

"Define Canada

You might say the home of the Rocket

Or The Great One

Who inspired little No. 9s and little No. 99s

But we're more than just hockey and fishing lines

Off of the rocky coast of the Maritimes

And some say what defines us

Is something as simple as 'please' and 'thank you'

And as for 'your welcome,' well, we say that, too

But we are more than genteel or civilized

We are an idea in the process of being realized

We are young, we are cultures strung together then woven into a tapestry

And the design is what makes us more than the sum totals of our history

We are an experiment going right for a change

With influences that range from A to Zed

And yes, we say 'Zed' instead of 'Zee'

We are the brightness of Chinatown and the laughter of Little Italy

We dream so big that there are those

Who would call our ambition an industry

We reforest what we clear

Because we believe in generations beyond our own

Knowing now that so many of us

Have grown past what we used to be

We can stand here today

Filled with all the hope people have

When they say things like 'someday'

Because we are more

Than a laundry list of things to do and places to see

More than hills to ski

Or countryside ponds to skate

We are the abandoned hesitation of all those who can't wait

We are first-rate greasy spoon diners and healthy living cafes

A country that is all the ways you choose to live

A nation that can give you variety

Because we are choices

We are millions upon millions of voices

Shouting, keep exploring

We are more

We are the surprise the world has in store for you, it's true

Canada is the 'what' in 'what's new'

So don't let your luggage define your travels

Each life unravels differently

And experiences are what make up

The colours of our tapestry

We are the true North

Strong and free

And what's more

Is that we didn't just say it

We made it be"

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