Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Native Empire, Diverse Creativity

The days are counting down and I am moving at an ever increasing pace.  Cars honk, vendors yell, flags whip, sweat pours - time is quickly running out, and I have blisters on my toes.  In the rehearsal tents, dancers and actors with colored bibs spend hours practicing with few breaks, all in silence.  Meanwhile, acrobats and models move toward opposite ends of the floor to review movement charts, while marshals flood in to line the way for the invisible athletes, all in silence.

In order to get the job done, completely rehearsed and staged, and ready for the masses, everyone is practicing with earphones channeled to listen only to their own translator, instructor, choreographer, or music.  It's a strange sight to see hundreds "shadow box" their separate performances simultaneously, but this is how you put on a production with 6,000 performers.

It's also the one moment that Brazil will show the world its culture, people, and importance in the world. To do that, there are numerous historic moments taken into account in telling Brazilian history.  Take notes of these, because they will appear in one form or another - how would you stage these?

The Amazon & Indigenous Peoples:  Before European explorers came to Brazil, thousands of tribes existed in the Amazon region.  The largest rain forest and river on earth was their means of life, food, and travel.

Amazon River and Forrest
The Portuguese & Slavery:  Brazil was claimed in 1500 for Portugal by Pedro Cabral.  These Europeans developed a slave trade with Africa to help develop the cash crop of sugar cane.  By the 1700s, gold was discovered and more African slaves were brought in to mine.  Even after freedom in the late 1800s, black citizens settled into slums, called favellas, that sadly still exist and separate the people and affluency today.


One of MANY favellas in Rio
Empire: The Portuguese king Joao VI was driven from Portugal in 1808 by Napoleon, and he fled to Rio de Janeiro, where he reigned the Portuguese Empire until 1821, after which he returned to Portugal leaving his eldest son Pedro in Brazil.  Pedro had other goals in mind, so the following year, he declared war on his father, won independence, and was crowned Emperor of Brazil.

The last Emperor of Brazil - Pedro II
Republic, Crops, & Modernization:  After years of many wars, a coup was thrown in 1889, and the Brazilian Republic began.  Along with democracy, immigrants from Japan, Europe, and Africa came to grow new cash crops like coffee and extract rubber.

*First* Airplane: As a proud American, I have to mention that although the first airplane was flown by the Wright Brothers in 1903, Brazil is VERY proud to call their own Alberto Santos-Dumont the first to fly in 1906...

...because their 14-bis plane was the first with wheels and take off on its own.

It later was authenticated that the Wright Brothers' Flyer successfully took off on its own several times 3 years before the 14-bis, but you can probably guess how I fared in this argument.

(Where's that rolling-my-eyes emoji on my keyboard?)

14-bis
Military Rule & Return:  After a military coup in 1964, artistic, political, and social change was halted until a return to democracy in 1985.  Brazil is a young country - they have a great story to tell!

Finally, today's teaser...hmmm, yesterday I mentioned a little construction project going on.  I wonder where/what it is?

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Blue Earth

Rio feels very European, but as one kind local mentioned to me about her street stand, "We work when we want to, we're happier that way."  And yes, Brazilians are very happy, joyful people and have been quick to share that joy.  Especially since my only Olympic experience before this was in Russia, I am eternally grateful to be in a country where people smile.


Around town, and in the Olympic areas, there are still projects and construction.  That's not all that surprising, as most of the venues are temporary or easily assembled/disassembled venues that can be used over and over again.  It reminds me of the days before the county fair, all the rides and carnival equipment get rolled into town - obviously, this is just a bit larger than the county fair.

Temporary seats being erected for the Marathon
Historically speaking, Rio has been very innovative in keeping costs down.  The games at large will cost less than 1/5 of the smaller Winter games in Sochi!  The ceremony will "officially" cost only about 1% of what Sochi spent if you include Sochi's elaborate construction costs!  Perhaps that's more a reflection on Russia's handling of the games, but Rio's ceremony will cost less than the ones of recent.  Outside of some specific large projects, like the athletics stadium, most of the venues are temporary.  They look nice on the inside, and amazingly, are reusable venues that will be used by their athletic unions all over the world.  This aerial photo I found online, but have a closer picture below it, so you can see how simple it is.  By the way, I'm staying at the tallest building at the right of the picture.

The main stadium for Beach Volleyball at Copacabana Beach
Not the prettiest stadium, but it gets the job done!
The ceremony will be performed at Maracana.  And it has had it's own construction project.  A tent city was set up months ago for the ceremony.  Tents for costumes, changing, offices, practicing, and full football-field sized ones for choreography.  This allows for us to assign different performance groups to practice simultaneously instead of waiting for their time inside the stadium.  There has been a construction project going on inside the stadium, but I'll save that teaser for another post!

This is the main entrance to the stadium.  I usually am transported by car and enter in another location, so this was actually the first time I went to the front of the stadium since I took a bus.  There are many armored soldiers surrounding the stadium, and I have a great picture of one carrying a bazooka of all things!  Learning my lessons from the Russia, I will refrain from posting military photos until I know it's safe!


Today's teaser - hmmm...it's getting close to dress rehearsals!  We're soon going to have to give up the use of our phones now that we will begin full runs, so I have some great teasers saved up and ready to go.  We're not supposed to take pictures ourselves (selfies)/workers/actors - people in general - but somehow I got this one approved...

Monday, July 25, 2016

The Simple Pyramid

Hello again from Rio!  Today, I had a brief meeting at the Cathedral downtown.  Brazil is the world's largest catholic country, and you may be surprised with one of it's largest churches.

Rio Cathedral 
Inside Rio Cathedral
Bell Tower
This "new" cathedral took 12 years to complete and finished in 1976.  It is not fancy in any respect other than the design, based on a Mayan pyramid.  It is open air, made of what now is weathering concrete, dirtied from air pollution, rusted steel, but still smelling of incense and so simple, one would have to think Pope Francis, a South American who loves the simplicity of life, would be pleased.  The bell tower, also very austere is an actual, manually controlled bell tower, which I had the privilege to see and hear at noon.  If you look closer, you can see all the rusted spiral staircases that go to the top of the tower.

If you wondered, the old cathedral is gorgeous.  I found the images below online and I probably won't get to see it until after the ceremony.  Here is where the ceremony becomes involved.  Since the Olympic Flame began its continuous use in the ceremony in 1928 in Amsterdam, there has been a standing rule that the Olympic Flame be continuously lit over the Olympic Stadium.  The Olympic Stadium is the stadium specifically designated for Athletics (track and field).   Rio's Opening Ceremony is not at the Olympic Stadium but in Maracana, the most famous football (soccer) stadium in Brazil.  So, the Organizing Committee asked the IOC for help in changing the rule.  They allowed Rio, for the first time ever, to do something different!  The flame will be lit at the Opening Ceremony, but cauldron will spend the games in the square in front of the old cathedral downtown.  "Hmmmm...how is that going work," you say?  I'll let you figure that out!   The design, how it's going to be lit, and who will light it are all big secrets but are sure to be amazing.

Inside the Old Rio Cathedral
Outside the Old Rio Cathedral
It's beautiful down here and this being the second time that I've experienced the games, the media surrounding it always surprises me.  Rio certainly is better suited and prepared than Sochi was.  It's very easy to make negative reports, but people down here seem mostly annoyed with all the concerns.  Frankly, it has been too cold and dry for bug problems. I find it strange that all the top women golfers are attending the games (despite the media's fascination with zika), while many of the top men golfers have pulled out of the games due to "concerns."  In many respects, everyone is very excited, definitely not "on edge."  I saw the New Zealand Olympic Team and have seen some of the Irish and Austrians - everyone I have met are happy, feel safe, and enjoying themselves.  Rio and Brazil, are very welcoming to visitors.

And finally, today's teaser...yikes, you will feel that music!  I have a good teaser coming soon.  Nothing to give away anything, but it'll make you think.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

The World's Pilgrimage

Seemingly to bless our feet in the pilgrimage, shimmering clouds of silvery granite dust swirl around the many feet and pathways, guiding our way toward the top of the mountain.  Strange fruits grow on the trees within a truly urban jungle where monkeys scatter from curious children wanting to play.  The faithful and the tourists trek up to this point for one reason - Christ the Redeemer.


But once again, let's get some background music to this post - you know what to do.  Press play and have fun reading.


The ceremony will be offering several styles of truly Brazilian music.  I've written about samba and bossa nova in the previous two posts.  You're listening to a type of music invented in Rio in the 1800s.  If Brazil is now best known for samba and bossa nova, choro was the defacto "Brazilian" popular music before WWII.

It is based in classical music tradition - an amalgamation of the German waltz, Spanish habanera, and other European dance/music forms then combined with West African dance rhythm.  It is very similar to the relationship between ragtime and jazz in the US.  Both born of African rhythm and the classical music tradition, but once jazz matured, it would reign as THE American music.  Similarly, bossa nova and samba evolved out of choro to take the world by storm.

Early on, when I was learning about the music culture of Brazil, I expected this to be vocal music since it was called "choro" - it looks very similar to the word for "choir" in most every Western Language, but it actually means to "cry" in Portuguese, and choro is predominantly instrumental.  I've sort have fallen in love with this music since learning about it.  The most famous composer of choro was Ernesto Nazareth, and I've purchased the critical edition of Nazareth's music for my library among other things.  The ceremony will beautifully feature a choro performer, Paulinho da Viola, in one of the most prominent segments (of which I have a hand in).

Preparations are moving toward evening rehearsals which has freed up the time I should be sleeping - the morning!  But today, a few of us (and some members of Ireland's Olympic team) were able to go up to see the world's largest art deco statue in the world - Christ the Redeemer.  I turned around from the same location in the second panorama.  (click photos to see a larger view)

Christ the Redeemer (left - as if I had to say), Maracana Stadium (Opening Ceremony - middle white thing by the edge of the hill), Downtown Rio (Right)
Sugar Loaf Mountain (far left), Copacabana Beach (middle left - behind the range), Ipanema Beach (middle right)
Crown in front of the statue looking at Sugar Loaf Mountain.  At the middle bottom part of this photo you can barely see a green roof behind the tree branch.  The nuns who maintain the chapel and monument live there.  You can pull up a rope and container at the cement outcropping to drop in a donation.


Underneath the statue there is a small chapel.  A family was having a baptism there when we arrived.
By population, Brazil is the largest Catholic country in the world.  Obviously, we cannot tell the story of Brazil without talking about Catholicism, and we can't tell the story of Rio without Christ the Redeemer.  These turn out to be major artistic points in the ceremony - and in a very exciting and beautiful way.   Tomorrow, we are making a stop at the nearby downtown Cathedral, one of the World's largest, for some final planning before a week of practice runs leading up to the first dress rehearsals.

Teaser photo, oops!  Taking photos of the sign asking us not to take photos during rehearsals.


Saturday, July 23, 2016

Bossa Nova, Wine, and Swag

Let's put on some classy bossa nova to go along with this post, press play and read on!  I give you permission to grab a glass of wine and read slowly.


A day of good work comes to the end.  Rio, one of the largest cities in the world, is a unique place in many respects.  Brazil is very diverse, much like America, yet prosperity in its smallest form still hasn't reached everyone, depending on what block you are on.  Quite literally spitting distance from the richest parts of town are favellas, the poorest parts of town.  A couple days ago I posted a picture of the view from the top of my building looking toward Copacabana beach and Ipanema beach.  Here is the view from the top of my building looking the other direction.  Although I'm in a prosperous area, the hill behind me is filled with shack houses.  Christ the Redeemer statue is way in the distance.  Can you see it?  I'll spend some more time on this in the future, but these elements will be prominent features in the ceremony using an amazingly creative design and staging.  You'll have to see it to believe it.

Favellas near Copacabana
I spent a meal today eating fish, drinking wine, and listening to bossa nova, pondering what I was going to write about in the few minutes I had.  What better way to explain this complex city than by listening to bossa nova, a refined art rooted in the favellas and Brazil's multiculturalism.  Bossa nova sways with elegant melodic phrases, jazz-influenced improvisations and harmony, touched up with a perpetual samba rhythm - obviously, we can't make a production about Brazil without it!

And speaking of the show, everything is full steam ahead.  The cauldron has been tested, and although it is a big secret - you won't believe how cool this is going to be!  Everything is going so well, it's scaring me!

For example, in Sochi, it took me almost 30 hours to get my credentials.  Here in Rio, I merely waited in line and within 2 minutes I received my accreditation.  Today I picked up some swag (free stuff promoting the games); a design that would likely send Tim Gunn to hide in some safe corner of Mood - but hey, it's free.  I'll make it work!

Rio Olympics work uniform
All in all, I received a bag, two pairs of strange silky zipper pants that turn into shorts at the knee, three pairs of short socks (long socks are very unpopular in Rio), three polyester shirts, a jacket, a rain jacket, a belt not unlike a boy scout's, a multi-pocket man purse/sachel, handbook, water bottle, water bottle belt clip, a flimsy baseball cap (ironically, baseball is not included in the Olympics this year), and an awesome pair of shoes.  This sort of acts as my uniform when we begin full runs.  The color indicates my position, similar to the star representing a general in the US Army, everyone knows who I am within the volunteer workforce - although in this case, they can tell our roles using the Google Maps satellite image given how bright everything is.

Finally, I took a selfie today at one of the samba schools near the stadium.  Another "behind the scenes" teaser for you!  Tomorrow, I have some adventures planned - hopefully a good blog post will follow!


Friday, July 22, 2016

Behind the Scenes: Brazilian Music

Carnival in Rio
I can hear people singing and drumming through the window all day and evening along a street filled with restaurants that runs beside us.  My favorite parts of discovering culture involve all the sensory delights of those two great arts:  food and music.  They both involve the amalgamation of skill, time, generations of expertise and experimenting, but best of all, their creations reflect our love for each other - our musical performances and meals exist to be enjoyed by our friends, families, and ourselves.  Recipes and musical compositions are passed down through the generations.  Today let's go behind the scenes to take a look at the music of Rio, although let me tell you, I will also be VERY passionate about exploring the food scene as well!

Shhhhh...we're behind the scenes!
Of course, like every major culture on the planet, Brazil has had a vibrant art music tradition.  It was influenced by the Portuguese and music of the Christian World beginning in the Renaissance, African music from the millions who were trapped into slavery, and even the ancient traditions of indigenous peoples in the Amazon.  But Brazil invented several younger, sexier styles of music which took the world by storm:  choro, samba, and bossa nova.

Earlier today I had to take a trip out to get a few more instruments and other supplies.  What better place than Brazil's largest Brazilian Music store, Bossa Nova & Companhia.  A special thanks to Claudio who helped answer all my questions, and introduce me to all sorts of new music and performers.


I found what I was looking for - cuicas - a type of pitched drum.  Pictured below is a professional cuica made of aluminum, rawhide drumhead, and stick attached to the underside of the drum.  To play it, you wet cloth or cotton and move it along the stick to create higher or lower pitches.  I had to take the picture against a mirror for you to see the inside.

Inside a cuica - a peculiar pitched drum

Here is a terribly hilarious cuica solo.  Believe it or not, it's named cuica because that is the local name for the woolly mouse opossum, which makes a high pitched squeaky sound.  And this instrument definitely squeaks!  Yikes!


It's often used in samba as the following video shows.  Samba is a relatively new form of music and dance that developed from the African music traditions of those living in the poorest communities, favelas.  And like jazz, gospel, and blues in the US, Samba transcended race and class and became a truly Brazilian art form.  This is a cuica team practicing for the carnival parade at the Sambodromo (pictured at the very top).


One more exciting use of the cuica is in the victory ceremony music that was just announced today.  Although the video is still unlisted on youtube, only about 100 people have heard this at the time of this posting!  The bit below is the music that they will play as the medal winners in some of the more modern sports like BMX, moutain bike, and beach volleyball ascend the podium.  Can you spot the cuica?  Other popular and traditional sports will have different podium music, in case you wondered.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Olympic Dreams in South America


In the Copacabana bairro of beautiful Rio de Janeiro, I am getting ready for the Olympic Games Opening Ceremony!  I have waited until now to make any announcement about my involvement for rather selfish reasons.  I needed some "calm before the storm" this time around.  But I am super excited to share some of the Brazilian culture (or what I experience of it) with you all over the next several weeks.  In case you don't know, I have joined the performance operations team for the ceremonies, which will be incredible.  So don't forget to tune in to watch them on the evening of August 5!

I'll try to not be detained like I was in Russia!  Click here to reread that amazing journey of the making of the 2014 Sochi Opening Ceremony.
The view from the top of my building here in Rio!
Before I get started - please check out my Olympic website, www.openingceremony.info to learn all sorts of facts about the ceremonies that I've put together over the years.  Best of all, it's the largest collection of ceremony video online.  It's always a work in progress, but if you're crazy for these gigantic artistic events like me, you'll love it!

In the meantime, I suppose we should start with a little lesson on Olympic semantics.  I'm looking at you, Bob Costas!

Many people are already incorrectly calling these games the "Summer Olympics."  Instead, the correct name for the Rio 2016 Olympics is rather archaic, "The Games of the XXXI (thirty-first) Olympiad," but they're called this for good reason.  It is currently WINTER in Rio.  Since the seasons of the Southern Hemisphere are opposite of the Northern Hemisphere, it makes it very confusing for everyone down here when you see "Summer Olympics" on a commercial.

I first landed in Santiago, Chile where it was a brisk 34 degrees.  Everyone was wearing winter coats and pants.  Where I, in my brilliance, left 100 degree Kansas in shorts and a t-shirt.  For what it's worth, it's in the 70s and 80s here in Rio since it is along the coast - perfect weather, if you ask me.

The cool, damp, diesel-filled air of Rio reminds me remarkably of Sochi.  And Sochi was confusing enough for that matter - it was a city in a subtropical climate with palm trees hosting a Winter Olympics!

K-S-U in Sochi - with palm trees!?
30 minutes from there, is a winter wonderland in Rosa Khutor
In fact, these aren't the first seasonally misplaced games.  The first modern "Summer" Olympics were held in Spring.  The Games of London in 1908 ended on Halloween and the St. Louis Games in 1904 ended the day before Thanksgiving!

Prior to 1994, both the Winter and Summer Olympics occurred during the same year. This format helped to allow for one of the strangest years in the Olympic movement, 1956.

 When horses were barred from entering Australia for the Melbourne 1956 Summer Olympics, the IOC added a full-fledged Olympics (ceremony, parade of nations, torch relay, and all) just for the equestrian events in Stockholm, Sweden earlier in the year.  You can check out the 1956 Equestrian Olympic Opening Ceremony here!  That meant that in 1956, there were THREE Olympic Games!  The Winter Games occurred in Italy, during Winter of course. Then the Equestrian Games occurred in June in Sweden and the Summer Games in November and December in Australia; both during their hemisphere's Spring.  Craziness!

Cauldron Lighting of the 1956  Equestrian Games
But to bring us full circle, Rio not only will be the first South American games, but they will also be the first "Summer" games completely contested during Winter.

I'm looking forward to new adventures, tidbits, and pictures to share with you all of the course of the next few weeks!

"Summer" Olympics held outside of Summer
1896 Athens - Spring (6-15 April)
1900 Paris - Spring, Summer, & Fall (14 May - 28 October)
1904 St. Louis - Summer & Fall (1 July - 23 November)
1908 London - Spring, Summer, & Fall (27 April - 31 October)
1920 Antwerp - Spring & Summer (20 April - 12 September)
1924 Paris - Spring & Summer (4 May - 27 July)
1956 EQUESTRIAN GAMES Stockholm - Spring (11 June - 17 June)
1956 Melbourne - Spring (22 November - 8 December)
1964 Tokyo - Fall (10-24 October)
1968 Mexico City - Fall (12-27 October)
1988 Seoul - Summer & Fall (17 September - 2 October)
2000 Sydney - Winter & Spring (15 September - 1 October)
2016 Rio - Winter (5-21 August)