Sunday, August 10, 2008

Behind the Scenes: Opening Ceremony

The day after the Olympics opening ceremony, everyone in China talked about the performances and behind-the-scenes activities: Who were those drummers? How could those character holders make characters and waves in such clean sequences? Is that really a Chinese painting scroll? How could performers dance on that huge ball? Who were those two sweet girls who sang the song and played piano with Lang Lang? Why was the Olympic flame lit that way? Endless questions, endless guesses. The media reported as much as they knew about all things behind-the-scenes.

The 2,008 drummers and nearly 1,000 character performers are soldiers by profession, but ever since they were chosen by the directors of the ceremony nearly a year ago, they practiced daily in a secret place near Beijing, in the cold winter and hot summer. Since it's difficult to train all those performers at once, dozens of leaders were trained first, then those dozens trains hundreds, and the hundreds trained thousands. To make sure each performer knew his or her exact position during the performance, each one wore an earphone to listen to directions.

The big Chinese painting scroll is 147 meters long and 27 meters wide. It isn't a real scroll but a computer-controlled LED screen. But it has a special paper in the middle where dancers, opera performers, and children created the painting.

On the huge ball representing earth, there were 60 performers, along with 2,008 Tai-Chi performers from the same martial arts school near Shao Lin Temple in Henan province. They practiced for over a year. The people on bottom had the toughest challenge, because they had to perform upside down. Many had headaches and vomited during practice. The smiling faces of 2,008 children were collected around the world after the Beijing Olympic Committee asked for submissions of photos worldwide.

The girl who sang the song about the national flag (a song every Chinese knows) was a 9-year-old girl in Beijing who loves singing and dancing. The girl who played with Lang Lang was a 5-year-old Beijing kindergartener when she was selected to be interviewed this April. Director Zhang Yimou knew immediately she was the girl who would play with Lang Lang. But the Committee informed her only in June and she began practicing then. She and Lang Lang got a chance to practice together only in late July when Lang Lang came to Beijing.

Director Zhang Yimou said in a press conference that the thing he worried about most during the performance was lighting the Olympic flame. He worried so much whether the running and lighting could be completed without an accident. It's very hard to run when when hung in that way. Li Ning secretly practiced over 6 months; he practiced only late at night in a secret location and didn’t tell anyone, even his relatives and close friends. Every time, the 2.59-minute run was so exhausting that he couldn’t do anything else afterwards. Why did he run around the Bird's Nest to light the flame? It comes from the Chinese saying of Tian Ren Yi He – Heaven and People are Harmony Together, so he ran to the heavens to light the flame! Now the 31-meter torch with an 8-meter fire is seen from a distance. The Olympic flame and spirit are showing the theme of this historic performance – He (Peace)!

UPDATE: ChinaSprout now carries the DVD of these jaw-dropping performances at the opening ceremony. This is a wonderful keepsake.



Rosebud915 said...

Thank you so much for providing such wonderful details about the opening ceremonies. They were simply awe-inspiring. My only disappointment was that I was not able to watch them with my daughter Ming who is happily at overnight camp. We will certainly buy your DVD! Thank you for your terrific posts. It's so wonderful to have your insight at our fingertips.
With very best regards,
Rose Lewis
Author, "Every Year On Your Birthday" and "I Love You Like Crazy Cakes."

Xiaoning said...

I'm glad that you find my blog about the Olympics insightful. I'm so happy I can be here to provide "eyes" for those who can't! I'll try to post more and tell as much as possible about my experiences in Beijing during this historic time.

I'm also happy to report that, beginning today, our customers can buy a DVD of the opening ceremonies at:

cvada3 said...

I live in California, and I was totally overwhelmed by the Olympic opening ceremonies. I called all my friends and urged them to tune in to see a show so spectacular, the likes of it may never be seen again in the history of the olympic games. I wanted everyone I knew to see it so ordered the DVD from ChinaSprout hoping nothing would be left out. It will not play on my computer, laptop, TV, or DVD player. I'm told that it will not play via American media devices. Please help me if you can.