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Archive for the ‘Spectacles’ Category

Today is a very special day (and not only because it’s my birthday!). ¬†ūüėČ

January is Los Angeles Arts Month, and today is the kick off complete with an official opening today at the Music Center Plaza downtown. ¬†The celebration is open to the public and will include performances from Cirque du Soleil and Los Lobos, so if you’re downtown from noon to 1:30 today, check it out!

Here’s more information about the event:

http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/culturemonster/2010/12/cirque-du-soleil-to-perform-at-music-center-for-opening-of-la-arts-month.html

And here’s the website for ExperienceLA so you can plan the next few weeks of exciting LA experiences:

http://www.experiencela.com/

Pick something fun that you’ve never done before and take a friend – you’ll never regret having a new adventure.

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The Olympics came and went so quickly!  The Canadians were excellent hosts and did their best to make the world feel like part of the family, eh?  And as the games drew to a close, they got their hockey gold, and in return they gave us their closing ceremony.  Uh, thanks? 

Awwww Yeeeaahhh. Nothing says Olympics like beavers and lumber jacks.

 

I spent some time analyzing the Opening Ceremony¬†in depth last week, but I’ll cut straight to the chase for the Closing Ceremony and list some of the¬†things that caught my attention¬†during David Atkins’ production:¬†

  • I absolutely loved the opening of the show – the adorable French-Canadian mime attempting to kick the cauldron’s fourth ice pillar into gear totally made me smile.¬† The athlete (who didn’t get to light the torch the first time around) rose up from the hole in the ground like a groundhog, lit the torch and then disappeared back into the floor of the arena.¬† It was clever and fun and as Bob Costas said, it was the “perfect response” to the snafu at the Opening Ceremony.
  • The¬†dressed-in-white snowboarders that made formations on the arena floor were a¬†snappy idea, but it didn’t work all that well for me.¬† At first they seemed to¬†form some sort of¬†preppy mosh-pit that lingered and meandered and took a while to get where it was going.¬† Then they attempted to fall in line and create shapes that weren’t so sharp.¬† I liked how they formed the numbers for the show’s countdown, but other efforts weren’t as solid.¬† At one point they did some collection of things that was illegible to me (I could only make out the word “STRONG”) and then at another point they formed a maple leaf using their boards, but it was faint since the snowboards¬†were¬†too slender¬†to fill in the wide spaces between performers.¬†Good idea, but needed some work.
  • I liked how the film crew was also¬†dressed in white.¬†¬†Props for consistency.
  • I enjoyed some of the musical performances here a bit better than at the Opening Ceremony, and the inclusion of bands and multiple vocalists were key.¬† It seemed like there was more life this time around. Even the athlete’s tribute song was catchy and the crowd looked like it was having a good time.
  • Unfortunately, after an upbeat song about “having a party”, we suddenly came to a party-screeching-halt with a lot of housekeeping like medal ceremonies and operatic anthems and flag presentations.¬† This seemed like a rather odd transition.
  • The Russian preview was fascinating to me.¬† Talk about a one-eighty difference from the Canadian approach.¬† Instead of individuality and organic shapes and youthful celebration, we were immediately introduced to a very serious and regimented Russian choir singing their national anthem in unison.¬† This was clearly a showcase of tradition and establishment – of the collective.¬† And where Canada looked toward the future to some extent, Sochi will be¬†showcasing its achievements past.¬† At first I was a little off-put by the strict approach, but as the choral performance went on I found it very compelling.¬† And it seemed like the entire arena quieted down and gave it their¬†full attention.
  • The rest of the Sochi preview was weak in my opinion.¬† I thought the intro video had some atrocious¬†visual design and¬†was a bit dated, and there didn’t seem to be an overarching theme.¬†¬†Then the following “live” presentation¬†was sort of a disparate collection of Russia’s greatest hits – most of which were presented via video¬†streaming onto Atkins’ pre-existing projection surfaces.¬† I will say that¬†Russia’s music, dance and athleticism¬†are clearly incredible,¬†so they do have much to be proud of.¬† I suppose it’s understandable then¬†that they would highlight their classical accomplishments, and¬†I’m sure they will¬†work out¬†their¬†thematic and artistic¬†kinks¬†for their ceremonies over the next four years (we hope).
  • After Russia’s preview, the CEO of the Olympic Committee spoke about youth as the future, and encouraged the world’s athletes to go out as ambassadors of tomorrow.¬† With such a message, who – do you ask –¬†would they¬†call upon¬†to sing a song¬†to¬†instill that youthful promise?¬† Why Neil Young, of course, with a song written in 1976… before¬†most (read ALL)¬†of the athletes¬†were born.¬† wtf.
  • William Shatner, Katherine O’Hara and Michael J. Fox made for an interesting “I Am Canadian” segment, let’s call it.¬† All are funny and endearing and certainly good representatives of Canada, but this segment bombed.¬† It was definitely a combination of weak jokes and sight gags¬†and out-of-place sound effects (some of which sounded like a big flushing toilet!) with inaudible¬†reaction from the audience.¬† This is the kind of schtick that needs a laugh track, and without it, it just died (per my notes: *cricket cricket*). The idea behind it was good – to give a humorous look¬†at¬†what makes¬†Canadians so unique¬†– but if they really were going for funny it needed stronger jokes, fewer sound effects, and less- (or MORE-) goofy visuals.¬† It was at the level of mediocre-funny, so either going for a more subtle approach, or else going totally overboard may have made all the difference.
  • On a side note, the one bit in the above section that made me laugh was about Canadians being overly polite and saying sorry (or rather “sore-y)¬†about as often as they say “eh”.¬† I seem to have caught that polite virus, so much so that people often threaten me with bodily harm if I say sorry one more time, so I laughed out loud in recognition.
  • Moose headbands¬†are cute.
  • Michael Buble¬†in a Mountie uniform looked a little out of proportion, until he ripped that sucker off!¬† Surrounded by “lovely lady mounties” and a rat pack-inspired ensemble, he crooned on the main stage which had been transformed into¬†the look of a¬†fiery maple leaf.
  • OK, so at this point I was¬†trying to put everything together in my mind.¬† Are we having a party?¬†¬†Are we going to Open Mic Night?¬† Are we reaching back to the 60’s for a kitschy nightclub performance?¬† I started to wonder why the show was so discombobulated, and then I made a stunning realization: they are going for slapstick!¬† The following is proof.
  • The “Made in Canada” presentation was a whirling kaleidoscope¬†of inflatable mounties, giant table hockey pieces,¬†two-man canoes, prancing maple leaves, floating moose(es?) and giant beavers dragged along by big bulky lumber¬†jacks – all of it swirling together into an explosion of ¬†randomness that was capped with the final reemergence of Michael Buble and his mini-skirted mounties¬†singing a swinging rendition of O Canada.¬† Oh my.¬† As this crescendoed, I realized that, for this closing ceremony, they were decidedly trying to show that Canadians don’t take themselves too seriously.¬† Forget pomp and circumstance – they were going for the big laugh.¬†
  • It was during the above segment that the bulk of the show¬†came together for me, because earlier it just wasn’t working.¬† I think that, in taking the humourous path,¬†the show¬†should have built up¬†more powerfully and¬†then¬†tossed itself¬†more¬†firmly over the top.¬† It was all a rather good-natured form of slapstick that may have benefited from pushing the envelope just a little more.¬† But in the end,¬†I enjoyed the light-hearted and fun finale to what was¬†an overall good experience.
  • And Mounties make for great icons.

Thanks for checking out my reviews, and thanks to Vancouver for a wonderful 2010!¬† Now we’ll all have to wait patiently until the next Opening Ceremony:¬† London, Summer 2012!¬† I hope they find a way¬†to prevent their logo from causing mass seizures¬†before then…¬† ūüėȬ†

XOXO

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Before I launch into the review, let me say that I’ve spent the past two weeks in Jury Duty, and¬†it is one experience I’ll never forget.¬† Though it wasn’t a major case, just the responsibility of having someone’s future in your hands is quite profound.¬† It’s not easy to be a juror for a variety of reasons, but we’re very privileged to be given the opportunity to take¬†such a vital role¬†in¬†our system of justice, and we should never take that for granted, no matter how inconvenient it may seem at the time.¬† When the twelve of us reached our verdict we really¬†felt the gravity of our collective decision, and it was truly moving.

’nuff said.¬† Now¬†on to the review…

__________


As I’ve said before, the Olympics Opening Ceremony in Beijing was probably the best¬†anything I’ve ever seen.¬† But I tried to put that aside and give Vancouver a fair shake, as it’s got to be nerve-wracking to follow such an unforgettable lead in.¬†¬†

Prior to the ceremony,¬†the show’s producer, David Atkins,¬†primed us for a “more intimate” and “emotional” presentation that would be different from the spectacle of Beijing.¬† The one goal they had in mind is that it would make us cry, as stated by Gordon Campbell,¬†the Premier of British Columbia, on the Today Show.¬† Let’s see how they did.

Here are my thoughts on the best and the worst of the 2010 Olympics Opening Ceremony in Vancouver:

As Johnny Lyall swooped into the arena, after what was a pretty cool intro video, I got a quick look at the set elements for the show and must say that I liked what I saw.  The fresh chill of Canada was transported indoors by way of snowy ground cover and crystalline set pieces, and the very smart way that the crowd was dressed in white ponchos created a continuous field from floor to ceiling that could be constantly transformed through light and projection.

The multi-level stage platform with its icy shapes and frosted materials was a strong focal point for the event and incorporated a really good use of levels (which can be a thorn in my side as it’s a pet peeve of mine when the lack of levels diminishes¬†a space).¬† My only complaint would be that perhaps there were too many sets of Olympic rings – below the stage, on the stage, on the screen behind the stage, etc.¬† They became visually redundant by being in such close proximity.

Next we were introduced to the hosts and delegates of the event.¬† Being that we, as Americans, live in a country with a native population, I was very impressed that Vancouver gave such respect to its Aboriginal nations by featuring them as the hosts and presenting them at the beginning of the show.¬† Their segment¬†felt like a standard cultural pageant, though, and it would have been nice if they had been presented in a more intriguing way.¬† The ice totems weren’t my cup of tea.

During the Parade of Nations, while each country walked onto the snow-covered floor of the arena, I took note of the creamy white and pillowy uniforms of the ceremony ushers, and the signage for each country, which looked like they were made of crystalline ribbons.  Beautiful details.  And, it was great to know that by coming out so early, the athletes would be able to see most of the show.

Now here’s where we run into a little snag.¬† Let me first say that I love Nelly Furtado, and growing up in the 80’s, I have much respect for Bryan Adams, but that original song (“Bang the Drum”)¬†was¬†kinda awful.¬† It was like a song from a¬†half-rate¬†theme park show with terrible canned¬†instrumentation and poor lip syncing.¬† I actually felt a little embarrassed for both of them that they had to sing it, and wondered why they weren’t asked to write the song, too.¬† And then I found out Adams wrote it.¬† *cring*¬†¬†

At this point in the ceremony, I asked myself what I thought so far.¬† And to be honest, I was fairly underwhelmed as “experience” goes.¬† I did like the look and feel of the environment as it¬†gave a good sense of a Vancouver winter, but the performances¬†thus far (including the person who sang their¬†national anthem) were rather lackluster, and everything was a bit bland.¬† To be really honest, that’s unfortunately a stereotype I have about Canada: that it’s kinda milquetoast.¬† The ceremony wasn’t helping their case.

Luckily we then transitioned into my favorite part of the ceremony:  The Cultural Section.  This is where the producers could really inject concept and artistry into the equation.

As the first of the four segments in the Cultural Section began, I breathed a sigh of relief that the Voice of God changed from what was a very cheesy, corporate speaker to a familiar soothing and mystical tone (thank you, Donald Sutherland!).

Part One revealed the use of expansive projections on the floor of the arena, much like the technology used in Beijing, and a great use of the arena space, in my opinion.¬† Above the floor hung cloud-like, concentric projection surfaces that really worked for me and carried the eye up.¬† In between, projected falling snow, constructed constellations, the crowd holding thousands of lights, and the glistening sounds were magical.¬† I applauded¬†the strong use of 2- and 3-D elements as the ice “broke” on the floor and revealed an ocean with spouting Orca whales, and then shifted into salmon ascending “upstream” into the heavens…transforming the streams into totems, and the totems into trees…with the concentric clouds above morphing into the leafy canopy of the forest.¬†

As mentioned before, I have a certain stereotype of blandness about Canada, so I think that capitalizing on the beauty of the land and using the inspiration from its environment and from nature were the best ways to promote the country.  That would be the main reason for me to go to Canada, and they made a strong case here.  The only complaints I had with this segment were the slightly boring performance by Sarah MacLachlan and the somewhat inconsistent dancers intermingling with the trees.

In the next segment, for Quebec, we followed a folktale that featured a shadow on the moon and its owner having a one-man fiddling duel.¬† Again, the use of projections and 3-D elements (like a descending canoe, and floating maple leaves) created an immersive experience that worked well.¬† The raucous¬†fiddler and then a¬†lone tap dancer¬†were lively injections into the show, and really highlighted Newfoundland’s Celtic ties.¬† The supporting dancers were weak, and I didn’t much care for the sparklers on the tap shoes, but the featured performer did his job well.

The third segment, by far my favorite segment of the whole ceremony, was the only one that really mesmerized me enough to make me forget everything else and just go on¬†the journey.¬† This segment highlighted the prairies¬†of Canada and featured¬†a¬†young¬†aerial¬†performer¬†accompanied by¬†the wistful song “Both Sides Now” by Joni Mitchell.¬† Golden fields of prairie¬†grass moved about the floor as the performer ran along and floated above them in a Peter Pan-esque show celebrating individuality and freedom and rural contentment.¬† Amazing.

The fourth segment, which focused on endeavor, was a gorgeous display of rain and lightning and clouds (with a field of lights from the audience) that morphed into fire and then to mountains, with a ring of clouds above them.  All of this with just the floor and the convertible projection surfaces that hung overhead at the start of the show (with probably a little help from additional surfaces fed from the floor).  Around the mountain flew acrobatic skiers and aerial snowboarders; on the floor were inline skaters; and onto the mountain were projected images of winter athletes.  From this, the scene shifted into the energetic flow of a cosmopolitan city as the mountains became sky scrapers and the skaters acted as rushing people and automobiles.  In the center, we heard the proclamations of a compelling slam poet who symbolized youthful individualism and the approachable authenticity of Canadians as he was joined below by individual after individual.

Before the official opening of the games, we were given a “candlelight” serenade by k.d. lang, which – to me – was a maudlin choice.¬† I love k.d. lang, and I especially love the song “Hallelujah”, but I think the song is¬†overplayed these days by many performers, and it along with the other songs during the ceremony portrayed a sort of sad and melancholy tone which is probably not in Canada’s best interest.¬† But as performance goes, it was well done.

Cue the pomp and circumstance, the entry of the flag, operatic singing, and Anne Murray!  (I realized there are a lot of Canadians that I like Рeven though I do tend to think of Canada as bland.)  As we all know, the lighting of the torch had its issues.  I think most event producers have had an experience where something just would not go off as planned despite all of the best laid plans, so I totally sympathize.  But I thought it was well-played to have four torch bearers Рmale and female, and olympic and para-olympic athletes.  And the design of the cauldron(s) with the four ice towers fit perfectly with the look and feel of the entire ceremony.

The producers seemed to give the audience plenty of participatory opportunities with lights and ponchos, but I think giving them drums to use was somewhat regrettable as it deadened the sound of what should have been applause.  For the television viewer, it sounded like a quiet audience, or occasionally even sounded like low booing.  To the next ceremony producer:  please avoid this.

Before I close, I was very saddened by the luge athlete who passed away before the ceremony, and feel for his family and his teammates.   The ceremony did its best to honor his memory and to still carry on with a solid event, which was appreciated.

So, as to the real test of success:¬† Did the ceremony, as Premier Campbell hoped, make me cry?¬† Well, no.¬† With the exception of briefly welling up when the¬†VOG¬†announced the start of the ceremony, I was surprised that I did not shed a tear since I can cry at the drop of a hat at any well-staged spectacle.¬† The absence of tears was probably due to the sense that, while the ceremony was lovely and had some very striking moments, I found some of the musical performances¬†dull to melancholy¬†and there was something slightly¬†missing with the storytelling. If I compare¬†the ceremony¬†to Beijing’s for just¬†a moment (sorry!), perhaps it lacked some charm or wit or surprise that could have taken it from a good event to something even better.

Ultimately for me, the¬†lone boy flying above the prairie¬†was the most¬†affecting moment of the show because, perhaps, it told a simple story that we all can relate to no matter who or where we are in the world, and at the same time it¬†conveyed the most important things we need to know about Canada¬†– its nature, its beauty, its simplicity, its kind people, its individuality.¬† If the goal of any Olympics Opening Ceremony is to share the host country’s strongest attributes¬†with the world and to encourage others to visit, then I think¬†Vancouver¬†succeeded¬†(whether I cried or not).

_________

CLICK HERE¬†for a slideshow of some of the ceremony’s highlights (though photographs truly don’t do the projections any justice).¬† And¬†CLICK HERE for assorted highlight videos from NBC.

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In a few short hours, I’ll be sitting in front of my television ready to watch the Holy Grail of experience design (with the exception, perhaps,¬†of all things¬†Disney):¬† the next Olympics Opening Ceremony.¬†

I’m still over the moon about the last ceremony in Beijing, which was probably the best thing I’ve ever seen in my life…ever.¬†¬† Directed by Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou, it told the story of China’s history and its achievements using China’s chief resource – its people.¬† The symbolism of thousands of Chinese¬†citizens coming together in synchronicity – to drum out the countdown to the ceremony, to paint the story of invention on a massive scroll, to use their bodies to form a human represenation of the ceremony’s Bird’s Nest Stadium – was¬†the most striking way for China¬†to¬†show its strength in its people¬†and to let the world know that because of its citizens, China is a true force.¬†¬†Plus the raising of the torch bearer into the sky as he was¬†trailed around the circumference of the stadium by the imagery of the faces of the people was just mind blowing.¬† If you are one of the few people who didn’t witness that amazing spectacle, please find it, rent it or buy it – NOW!¬†

So tonight, poor Vancouver is tasked with following this incredible feat.¬† I doubt that they nor any other country will ever be able to¬†meet or exceed the artistry and spectacle of Beijing.¬† But I still look forward to seeing what they’ve created, and I plan to keep an open mind and not hold them to any 2008 standards.

As I understand it, they are eschewing grand spectacle in favor of telling a story that will take viewers on an emotional journey (and¬†as I heard from¬†Gordon Campbell,¬†the Premier of British Columbia, on the Today Show this morning, he hopes it will make¬†us cry).¬† As some may know, I’m a crier (I cry when I see something sweet, something sad or something spectacular), so this should be right up my alley.¬†

The details of this evening’s event¬†are totally hush hush, but the ceremony’s producer, David Atkins, spoke with Matt Lauer this morning on NBC to help set the stage (click to see video):

http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/35017294/vp/35366993

So, in the spirit of the Olympic Games (cue swelling theme music), I hope you will join me and the billions of hopeful hearts across the planet as we gather together tonight in great anticipation of the Opening Ceremony of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.  After all, we are the world.

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