By Leanne Italie
Don’t expect the opening ceremony at the Rio Olympics to match the grandeur of some in the past.
But do look for plenty of smiles, scenic depictions of the rainforest and a celebration of the country’s ethnic diversity.
Marco Balich, the Italian executive producer, would not disclose finer details ahead of Friday’s opener, but offered broad strokes on how the host country’s heritage will be honored.
“This is not the most grand show,” he said Monday from Rio, though he wouldn’t disclose how much money he had to spend. “This is not an opulent show compared to London or compared to Beijing, but it will be a very emotional ceremony, full of heart and very graceful.”
Balich is an experienced Olympic hand. He created, directed and produced the opening for the Torino Winter Games and served as executive producer of the closing ceremony in Sochi and the Paralympics there in 2014.
In all, 4,800 performers and volunteers will be involved in the show built on three basic “pillars” touching on sustainability, particularly re-forestation, “smile” and the idea of “gambiarra,” the quirky Brazilian art of improvising repairs using whatever parts are available.
“Smile is the approach the Brazilians have toward life,” Balich said. “Brazil is not a grand nation. They’re saying in this ceremony, we are who we are, with a lot of social problems, a lot of crises in the political system etcetera.”
He promises a “contemporary and cool” approach, one especially inspired by native son and renowned photographer Sebastiao Salgado and his work with his Instituto Terra on property once owned by his family. Today, the land is a nature preserve, and the nonprofit raises millions of seedlings and trains ecologists.
“The message is Brazil has the last garden in the world, which is the Amazon, and we need to protect that garden,” Balich said. “This is a message of hope for the future. This is not a message of ‘oh the world is going to terminate because of global warming.’”
Other strong elements will include a celebration of Brazil’s ethnic diversity and its rich music, from bossa nova to “hippy-hoppy,” as they say in Portuguese, Balich said. And, of course, there will be a touch of Carnival. He’s using some of the same costumers around Rio who design for Carnival.
The traditional Olympic cauldron will be a small affair. There will not be a large volume of fire as an intentional show of small and low emission, organizers said. To frame the small flame, a large sculpture by the artist Anthony Howe will appear behind it, symbolizing the sun. It will be set in motion with spirals representing life.
The idea of the opening, always, is to showcase the host country’s culture, something that has earned oohs and aahs through time, usually also accompanied by some head-scratching as traditions and history play out.
“We are going back to humanity. We’re going back to people. The audience here, as soon as they hear the music, you stand up and dance,” Balich said.