The Winter Olympics In Russia

Russian winter Olumpics

Grand Illusions at Opening Ceremonies

 And Evening of Magic and Majesty

Despite the looming fear of terrorists out to disrupt the games to make a political statement, and the possibility of demonstrations by openly gay athletes intended to flout Russia’s repressive anti-gay laws and embarrass President Putin, the opening ceremony at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia was a marvelous spectacle to behold.

A celebration of Russian history and culture, it provided a magnificent showcase for the artistic treasures of Great Russia.  While the average American’s vision of this faraway land on the other side of the world is distorted by ignorance and disinformation, watching these ceremonies  last night provided a different view of these remarkable people and their culture.

Until recently the vision of Russia held by most Americans was shaped by Cold War rhetoric, thus the only thing that most people in the US knew about the Russians – which was then the Soviet Union – was that they had thousands of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles armed with nuclear warheads aimed at all of our cities and towns, capable of obliterating American civilization in a flash, and that we were ready and able to retaliate with even greater destructive power.  It was not the kind of thing that made for good vibes between the two peoples.

However the American parody of Russians obscured the great achievements of Russian culture, especially in the performing arts.  Russian is the Mecca of classical ballet and the circus, which has produced a tradition of great designers of costumes and theatrical settings.  And their achievement in music – both instrumental and vocal – is second to none.

Their composers are performed all over the world and their ballet masters – dancers and choreographers alike – have shaped the art of classical European dance around the world.  For instance, George Ballanchine, mastermind of the world renowned American Ballet Theater housed in Manhattan’s magnificent Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts was a Russian Exile.   All American Ballet lovers have genuflected before its Prima Ballerinas and Dansuers.

The designers of this ceremony combined the best of the Russian classical traditions in music, dance, theater and ice skating with the brave new world of computer-generated imagery, employing myth and fabulation to create grand illusions of magical fantasy figures from the past and future, synchronized to musical scores that made the animated illusions appear to dance.  It was a powerful statement about Russian capabilities in the arts and technology.

One of the high points in an evening with many illuminated moments was a massive number where music, song, dance, and grand illusions combined to make a powerful statement on Russia in the twentieth century.  A period when the Russian people experienced three revolutions in four decades: the bourgeois revolution that overthrew the Romanov dynasty, the Bolshevik Revolution that brought the Communist Party to power and the Industrial Revolution that converted Russia from a backward semi-feudal society to a modern state.

These powerful visual vignettes were a cacophony of magnificent sound, massive images that allude to the industrial age, ballets celebrating the working masses whose labor and ingenuity ushered in the industrial era, accompanied by heroic music performed by a grand orchestra with strings, horns and thunderous tympani.  By any measure it was world class stuff that made all of the American commentators who insured us the games would expose Russian incompetence look pretty silly.

All who witnessed this innovative show, performed in a massive sets that combined elements of classical and modern architecture, must confess that it was a worthy salutation to the Olympic Games.  The NBC commentator said “it was part Hollywood and Part Broadway.”  It was no such thing!  It was part Bolshoi ballet, part Moscow Circus, and part Russian Opera.

Fantasy and reality blended into a mesmerizing spectacle where giant pillars of multi-colored fires seemed to flow like a fountain, as massive explosions of fireworks timed to explode on cue to the powerful music playing in the background brought the ceremony to a close with great drama. It was a fine prelude to the magic moments we will witness in days to come, when skaters wearing sharpened blades on their feet will elegantly pirouette on ice, while skiers and skateboarders leap off mountainsides and fly through the air in death defying stunts.  It may well turn out to be the greatest show on earth!

Pillars of Fire

Russian Olympic Fireworks

A Chorus of Singers

Russian Olympics 2013

Dancers in a hail of Laser Lights

Russian Olympics dance number

Russian Dancers Weave Visual Alchemy

Russian Olympic Dancers

Giant Laser Men Smacked Hockey Pucks in the Sky

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And Rainbow Colored Castles floated in the Air

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Set in Fantastic Computer Generated Landscapes 

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A Fantastic Pillar of Fire
3b3de640-902c-11e3-96cc-e979eb8d5362_467610951Towered over All
As the World’s Greatest Winter Athletes 

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Marched in the Parade of Stars!

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(Double Click to view Shani Davis win Olympic trials)

(A 4 time Olympic Medalist with 2 Golds)
Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
February 2014

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