Careful what you wish for. For two weeks, armchair pop-spectacle producers from coast to coast indulged in one of the most popular events of this Vancouver Olympic season: critiquing the opening ceremonies. Too morose. Too much weird symbolism. Too many Aboriginal dancers.
And, this being Canada, everybody had their own checklist of the excluded. Not enough Ontario (said the Ontarians). Not enough spoken French. Not enough youth, humour, urbanity, what have you.
But what would happen if some cosmic joker actually wrote down the sum of all the kvetching and produced a show that gave Canadian audiences what so many had complained was missing? Okay, you nation of backseat drivers, we’ll give you rappers and phonetic French and rock bands and Michael Bublé until you beg for Aboriginal dancers.
In the end, this was more or less what we got in the closing show, which was produced, like the opening, by Australian freelance spectacle producers David Atkins and Ignatius Jones. And its best feature was that it might make some viewers look back more fondly on the sometimes-luminous opening show.
From the opening ceremony’s first moments, when a snowboarder burst out of a movie screen and through the Olympic rings at one end of the stadium, that earlier show displayed something few CanCult events have managed to show: rhythm. A pulse. Obligatory ceremonial moments raced by. But Atkins and Jones paused and luxuriated in richer material, beginning with the arrival of the Aboriginal “hosts” from four southern B.C. First Nations and the appearance of four towering, translucent Salish welcome poles.
Fabric facsimiles of the northern lights descended from the ceiling; a huge, luminous Stay-Puft Marshmallow Bear appeared, jetted itself briefly into the air and then sank beneath the waves. Computer-animated projections of Haida whales swam in the fabric sky. A lone figure dancing in air over images of wheat while the house audio system played a recording of Joni Mitchell’s decade-old reissue of her classic Both Sides Now.
It was sometimes a bit rustic and solemn but it had a purpose, and it suggested to Vancouver’s legions of visitors that they had come to a serious, thoughtful place. The only real break in the spell came when part of the hydraulic Olympic flame cauldron refused to rise up for the ceremony’s climax.
The closing ceremony began with a good-natured joke on that moment. A theatrically bewildered Catriona Le May Doan rose out of the BC Place floor to light, at last, that last part of the cauldron.
Much of the next hour was a bit of a jumble, with the anthems of Greece (the Olympics’ home), Russia (the site of Sochi 2014), and the Olympic movement bursting forth at odd intervals, while a parade of acrobats in giant radioactive hamster balls sang the praises of Sochi to the tunes of Tchaikovsky and Borodin.
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