Friday, January 31, 2014

An Audience Awaits

6 Days to go!
TODAY is our first dress rehearsal with audience!

Today, we have our first dress rehearsal in front of an audience!  This will be our first actual dress rehearsal featuring all the elements that the actual production will detail with the exception of the super secret things!  Those will be rehearsed in secret, and will not be revealed until opening night.

It is very important to have an audience participate with us, because they are an essential part of the actual production.  For the last thirty years, audience members have received participation kits.  In a way, it is similar to going to Rocky Horror Picture Show without as many high heels and rock anthems of course.  To teach the audience, there are audience leaders in every section.  Among the cast, these are highly coveted jobs because they may the only cast members who are able to view the entire performance.  Many of the ensemble and leading cast members will stay in holding rooms, unable to view the actual show until it finds its way online.

Sydney 2000 Opening Ceremony kit - these are filled with specific colored scarves, glow sticks, lights, hats, and any number of things for the audience to use during specific segments of the ceremony.  They have provided a background for the production itself.  If tens of thousands of people use a glow stick at the same time, the effect is impressive. 

The Vancouver 2010 kit was a drum that could be played during a segment celebrating the first peoples of Canada
In 2012, one of the great innovation in London was the LED seat display.  A set of LED lights were attached to the seats and could be used by a computer to display any number of effects, much more detailed and brighter than anything seen before.

London 2012 LED lights attached to the seats created a giant LED screen covering the entire backdrop of the ceremonies
LED seat display in use at the London 2012 Opening Ceremony
And if your country is too talkative in their coverage of the Opening Ceremony and you would like to have a more "artistic" viewing experience, I will post the official video of the ceremonies, without interruption or commentary, on my blog as soon as I can - hopefully within 24 hours of the ceremony.

The dress rehearsal yesterday was an attempt to correct more technical issues.  Again, we had some recurring problems, and the rehearsal ran mighty long into the early morning as pyrotechnic devices were tested, any technical props were tested and re-tested, timing of segments were solidified, the official broadcasters practiced their camera positions and angles, and costumes were added for the first time.

It was a long, rainy, cold day here on the Black Sea.  Today, the sun is shining, the dolphins are baying like goats, and my lunch is waiting 5 kilometers away.  Everything is looking good for this first dress rehearsal in front of a packed house!  I am so excited mainly to see their complete shock at what will happen.  Every night, I go back to watch old ceremonies, especially recent ones, to see how different parts of their production were carried out.  I have to say, at this point, if everything goes well, the world is in for something very special on February 7.

Speechless Excitement

Hahahahaha!!! YES!  I cannot contain my excitement!

But first I must give a gift to all the free and the brave across the globe.  Yesterday, I did my American duty and watched the State of the Union Address.  President Barack Obama mentioned his excitement as the world meets once again and our US athletes go for the gold, resounding in a "USA, USA" chant from Congress.  That distant star-spangled banner is visible today for the first time as the flags were hoisted in the Olympic Park.  So, this picture is for you Mr. President, Congress, and everyone in the land that I love!  The first picture of the American flag in Sochi Olympic Park!  I'm certain this is first of many Stars and Stripes to fly in these skies over the coming weeks.

The United States of America!  The flags are in alphabetical order in the Cyrillic Alphabet, immediately preceding the USA (right of the Stars and Stripes) is Slovenia and Slovakia

Our first two run-throughs are complete.  The first run-through was treacherous!  Some technical problems forced us to make some emergency Plan B attempts.  And with the added stress of thousands of cast members and long waits, it was a rough go.

Of my many odd fascinations, as a boy I memorized all the flags of the world.  FINALLY, I found it worthwhile.  Bermuda...you're welcome.  Your flag is now right-side up.

But, I'll wait to talk about the specific problems that we've had until after you see the show next week.  There are too few pronouns in English to hide all the secret details.  Nevertheless, the most fantastic part of the day was the second dress rehearsal.  As if the gods of Olympus adorned a magnificent power on the arena, the show came to life.  IT WAS GLORIOUS!!  The visual and technical effects worked well, and the music...I have no words to explain how much I enjoyed the music.  I only hope the TV commentators don't talk during the entire production so you can enjoy it as well.

There are many moments of complete shock and amazement for me.  Having seen and studied the Olympic Ceremonies my entire life, I can easily say that you will find this ceremony remarkable.  I will not tell you my critique of its historic importance until after the production, but I certainly wish that Russians in particular will be able to find a new optimism for their country.  Hopefully the world will view this mammoth artistic event as a celebration of peace and culture. 

There's the good news here in Russia

The bad news back home is that I found out that my landlord put my house back up for lease online.  They shouldn't have done that!  The good news for those in Manhattan, KS is that they can now take free tours of my messy house if they contact my property management!  Hopefully, this can be resolved in the coming hours or else I'll have to ask for some local help.

Another ambiguous schedule today - who knows what's in store.

Skating Center, USA flag, Cauldron, non-metal palm trees, and the Hockey Arena

The Olympic Stadium, Cauldron, USA, and Me!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

No Reservations

8 Days to go!
2 Days until our first dress rehearsal with audience!
TODAY is our first dress rehearsal!

Adler Market
Today we have our first complete dress rehearsal.  I am quite anxious to be able to put things together for the first time.  Because of our recent technical issues, it has been over four days since some of the parts of our production have rehearsed.   Hopefully the intensity of the day will keep everyone on their toes.  Another concern of mine is that we are still unable to have everyone rehearsing in costume (a problem of nearly every opera I've been in), and some of the costuming is quite intricate.  Without giving anything away, it is really necessary for some cast members to rehearse in costume because of certain technical reasons, and unfortunately we will have to wait until the first live rehearsal with audience.  I'm nervous just thinking about it.

Security has been increasing more and more, so I will need to leave the resort about three and a half hours early to make it to the Olympic Park on time.  We feel incredibly safe here at the Olympics, and in a way, we are shocked to hear all sorts of news from the states of security concerns.  I have a feeling that actual daily life here isn't what the American media is making it out to be.  As the Sochi Organizing Director said yesterday, "Sochi is the safest place on the planet."  Notwithstanding an actual safe at Fort Knox, and we discuss this as a group very often amongst ourselves, I know of no one in our production that can say something negative about the competence or feel any lack in the security of these games.

As you may or may not know, the Olympics are actually held in a town called Adler, not Sochi.  There aren't any Olympic events in Sochi actually.  Yesterday, some of us decided to venture out to the city market in Adler.  It was glorious!  The smells of the spices alone were entertainment enough.  I felt like I was Anthony Bourdain, wandering around some strange market, in some random country, enjoying local food, and loving life.  And just like any Travel Channel show, if you find yourself in a market, go to restaurant next to the market.  The food will be incredible!

Adler Market

It's too bad I can't take a picture of the smell...

fresh bread at a nearby restaurant

fresh vegetable stew

customary Russian cheese bread

fried pocket of meaty soupy goodness

Monday, January 27, 2014

The She-Prisoner of Caucasus Trout

11 Days to go!
5 Days until our first dress rehearsal with audience!
3 Days until our first full dress rehearsal!

The Olympic Ceremonies are divided into two segments, an artistic portion and a protocol portion.  The artistic portion includes all of the elaborate feats of artistic ingenuity.  The artistic portion of the ceremony officially was integrated in the rules and structure of the ceremony itself for the 1964 games in Tokyo.  At that point in time, part of the protocol of the ceremony was to hand over the original Olympic flag from the mayor of the previous host (Rome 1960) to the mayor of the new Olympic host.  An artistic display of several minutes was planned to highlight the specific culture of both cities.  Tokyo would also be the first to use balloons and a mass release of perfume as part of the ceremony.  The flag hand-over tradition is now a part of the protocol of the Closing Ceremonies. 

Until relatively recently (1976), the most prominent part of the ceremony was in the protocol segment, the Parade of Nations.  After 1980, the artistic portion of the ceremony exploded into an extravaganza due largely to the Cold War.  Moscow (1980) created a grand showcase of Russian folk culture, which would be followed by an American response in Los Angeles (1984) that featured Hollywood, Disney, Pop Music, and everything American, including a stunning performance of Rhapsody in Blue on 84 grand pianos.

This year, Russia's culture will obviously be on display again, and I am quite excited to be in such an artistically rich country.  The music alone from this country is phenomenal.  Russian composers, although many not living in Russia, include some of the greatest of all time.  Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, Rachmaninoff, Rimsky-Korsakov, Stravinsky, Shostakovitch, and many more contributed to a great cultural heritage here in Russia.

Novels, ballets, quilts, paintings, and several entire art forms (expressionism, social realism, and neoclassicism) are rooted in the innovations of Russian artists.  Whereas London celebrated the modern history of the city and the East End with rock and pop music, modern dance, and a steam punk montage of its past, look for Sochi to showcase Russia in a style more appropriate to the Russian tradition.  It will be spectacular.  Tomorrow, I will explain the protocol portion.

But everyone should know my favorite part of "culture" is food.  Yesterday, I ventured out with some of the ceremonies staff and cast to experience some of what Sochi has to offer.  Take a look at my excursion below.  My first meal here of onions, beets, and herring was the smelliest meal I have ever eaten.  Sochi needed to redeem herself.  Unfortunately, our traditional cuisine included some strange options including: a wine called "Milk of a Loved Woman", an entree called "The She-Prisoner of Caucasus Trout", but my favorites were the only four side-dish options - Pistachio nuts, chips, squid, and chewing gum.  I chose good ole potatoes and dumplings.





Ruining Art

our restaurant

a church

Dinner!

Winter Theater of the Czars


Funny sign in front of the underground walkway

Many signs point the wrong direction here or say the wrong thing...I don't know what the sign above meant - these ramps are actually for strollers and are VERY steep

Uh oh!!

10 Days to go!
4 Days until our first dress rehearsal with audience!
2 Days until our first full dress rehearsal!

Technical problems!  This opening ceremony will be sure to shock an audience of about 4 billion.  It is one of the most ambitious technical shows ever attempted, but today we hit a snag.  Obviously, I cannot say anything about it, as most every bit of the Opening Ceremony is a closely guarded secret.  But, I'll have more on this at the end of my post.

Yesterday after working, it was too hot to stay near the coast any longer, so I decided to go up to the mountains.  Amazingly, the games in Sochi are the most compact in Winter Games history!  It is amazing to be able to, within an hour, reach the snowy peaks of the Caucasus Range (the highest in Europe) and see the sunset on a warm sub-tropical beach.


Rosa Khutor approx. 5:00pm

Sochi approx. 6:30pm

Yesterday, I explained the artistic segment of the Opening Ceremony.  The other portion of the ceremony is called the protocol segment.  This would entail all of the "official" parts of the ceremony that are required by the International Olympic Committee.  Since 1908 (London), the ceremony protocol includes the National Anthem of the host country.  The most prominent part of the protocol section is the Parade of Nations. Greece (home of ancient Olympia) leads a parade of all the countries in alphabetical order with the exception of the host country which enters last.  Addresses by the President of the International Olympic Committee and the President of the Organizing Committee, oaths to promote fair play and judging by an athlete and an official, and announcements and signs in all official languages (French, English, and the official languages of the host country) are all part of ceremony protocol.

USA in the 2012 London Parade of Nations


Other parts of ceremony protocol include, the Olympic Flag being raised to the Olympic Hymn (performed at the first Olympics of the Modern Era - 1896 Athens).   A release of doves, which since 1988 has used an artistic representation of a dove release as several doves infamously we incinerated in the Olympic Cauldron.  A song of peace should follow the dove release before the ever famous lighting of the Olympic Cauldron.  These protocol segments are part of every Olympic Ceremony.  CLICK HERE for more information and to watch complete Olympic Opening Ceremonies.  If you want to know my list of the four greatest ceremonies, CLICK HERE.

Doves burning in the 1988 Seoul cauldron lighting

2012 London Cauldron

Olympic Flag carried in to the Olympic Hymn

Alternate "dove release" in the 2012 London Opening Ceremony


As for the preparations in Sochi, let's hope that this extra day of technical rehearsal will iron things out.  Some of the stadium staff needed about twice as much preparation time in the stadium as we actually are receiving.  If you remember, the stadium was originally an open-air stadium but due to weather, a very special roof was constructed to aid in the production of the ceremonies.  It will be worth the effort, but the extended construction schedule cut down the time to rehearse in the space.  Things are actually running very smoothly.

Original Stadium Design
Current Stadium Design