Yenra : Olympics : Olympic Ceremonies : Opening of Olympic Games portrayed the heritage of Greece and the universal quest for knowledge

Olympic Ceremonies

Polo Ralph Lauren outfits the U.S. Olympic Team at Beijing Opening Ceremony.

Four years ago, Athens played host to one of the most beautiful and moving Opening Ceremonies in Olympic history. The spectacularly theatrical event featured a vast expanse of water representing the beautiful seas that surround the country, massive flying artifacts, a 1214-foot rolling stage and many other amazing visual displays. The audacious performance painted a dramatic picture of a country steeped in pride for its remarkable cultural heritage; a country, which has made an almost incalculable contribution to contemporary civilization. At the same time, the Ceremony captured the Greek joy of life and the emotional spirit of a newly transformed, modern city, and celebrated Olympic ideals.

The ceremony was preceded by a countdown featuring runners passing a baton -- running being a reminder of the first and only sport of the first 13 ancient Olympic Games.

The world was welcomed to Greece, birthplace of the Olympic Games by 400 percussionists and 50 bouzouki players. Gigantic screens zeroed in on a lone percussionist in ancient Olympia who played the rhythm of a heartbeat, which symbolized the Athens 2004 theme of unique Games on a human scale. He was challenged by a single musician in the Olympic Stadium. Soon both reached synchronicity, at which point all stadium musicians joined in to reach a crescendo -- the signal for a pyrotechnic comet to be launched from a video screen into the water, triggering the reveal of five blazing Olympic rings on the surface of the stadium's vast central expanse of water.

A picture of simplicity and serenity, a 'paper' boat carrying a young boy waving a small Greek flag, gently sailed across the water, representing the affinity Greeks have for the sea; the tiny boat set in such a large expanse of water representing Greece, a small country; birthplace of big ideas. At the end of his journey, the boy was met by the president of the Athens 2004 Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games, Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, the president of the International Olympic Committee, Dr. Jacques Rogge and the president of the Hellenic Republic, Constantinos Stephanopoulos. The Greek flag was then raised to the accompaniment of the Greek national anthem.

The most technically challenging part of the ceremony, Allegory (fable) took the audience on a journey through landmark periods of Greek history -- spanning thousands of years -- using sculpture as a metaphor for the growth and evolution of Greek civilization and its contribution across the arts and sciences, and politics and philosophy.

At the recitation of the poem 'Mythistorema 3' which tells of the burden that the Greeks bear through their heritage, a centaur -- representing the duality of man as part intellectual, part physical and a key figure in Greek mythology -- was revealed at the water's edge. He threw a javelin, which caused a giant Cycladic head, an object, which dates back to 2700 BC, to emerge dramatically from the lake's center and come to rest on the surface of the water. A dazzling display of mathematical formula and geometric shapes -- a tribute to the great physicists and mathematicians of ancient Greece, such as Pythagoras, Democritus and Euclides -- then appeared, as if inscribed over its surface in a magnificent laser show.

The Cycladic head then rose above the water's surface and broke apart into eight pieces, which travelled outward through the air to reveal the figure of a Kouros, a sculpted marble body from the 500 BC. The Kouros also broke apart, this time to reveal a classical Greek statue from the 400 BC. Finally, the classical statue broke apart. The 18 rock fragments then moved through the air before settling just a few meters above the water like celestial bodies floating in space.

Revealed at the core of this floating landscape was a male figure crouching on top of a perfect white cube -- a symbol of the earth. The man stood and began walking, the cube twisting and rotating beneath his feet representing man's evolutionary journey towards becoming a logical, spiritual being, searching for knowledge.

The galaxy of floating rocks surrounding the cube then rose into the air as the faces of the rock fragments were transformed through video into images of human faces and bodies -- a celebration of the beauty and diversity of humanity.

Finally, the rock fragments lowered and came to rest in the water to represent the Greek Islands. Two lovers ran into the water, throwing off their clothes to play and swim in the sea, at which point Eros, the god of love, emerged from the water, flew above the lovers and out toward the edge of the scene to greet the next arrivals into the stadium.

Clepsydras were ancient clocks that measured units of time through the steady flow of water and sand. Here they symbolized the passing of time as depicted in this dream-like and colorful parade. Depicting stylized figures brought to life from Greek frescoes, mosaics, sculptures and paintings; this was a chronological procession, atop a moving stage, of images ranging from prehistoric to modern times. Ten scenes of mythology, discovery, history and culture culminated with a final scene featuring the first Olympic Games of the modern era: Athens, 1896.

With the sounds of the operatic soprano Maria Callas filling the stadium, Eros swooped down to greet a pregnant woman, the final figure of the Clepsydra parade. She descended from her stage and moved into the water; her pregnant belly gently glowing as she waded into the water while a galaxy of lights submerged beneath the water began to radiate outward from her. In ancient times, the stars in the sky were thought to be the milk of the Goddess Hera, wife of Zeus. Hera awoke to discover that an unknown baby, the son of Zeus, had been breastfeeding. The baby grew up to be the hero Hercules and Hera's milk nurtured his immortality -- the root of the expression 'the milky way'.

The stadium was then bathed in sparkling stars as the audience activated their own lights to complete the picture before a huge mist screen rose from the center of the lake to reveal stars floating upward to form a spiralling strand of DNA which concluded the symbolic journey from man's first attempt to understand himself (the Cycladic Head) to his most recent and profound discovery -- the decoding of DNA.

All the performers assembled around the water as all the rocks rose and retracted back towards the center of the space. As Asteri tou Voria, a song of journey and celebration was sung, the rocks formed a mountain crowned by an olive tree. The olive tree has been sacred among Mediterranean nations for thousands of years and is also the ancient symbol of the Athenian City State. The olive wreath was the ultimate prize for a victorious athlete and the olive branch is also a global symbol of peace and freedom.

Traditionally, as the birthplace of the Olympics, Greece has the honor of entering the stadium first, followed by all the other teams in alphabetical order. On this occasion, countries entered in sequence according to the Greek alphabet led by placard bearers wearing costumes inspired by ancient Greek vases. For the first time, athletes took a spiral route into the stadium and onto the field of play -- a reference back to the DNA theme.

Musical accompaniment for the athletes' parade was provided by the famous DJ, Tiesto, voted number one DJ in the world by DJ Magazine in 2002 and 2003.

Bjork was set high above the athletes with her long dress reaching down to the ground. The lyrics of her song were as if sung by the sea -- the proud mother of humanity. As she sang, her 'dress' extended out over the entire field covering all the athletes and an area of 99,781 square feet to reveal an image of the globe -- the largest photograph ever printed.

The story came full circle as the modern history of the Olympic Games was retold, beginning with the ambitions of the Greek, Dimitrios Vikelas and Frenchman, Pierre de Coubertin, to revive the ancient Games of Olympia and extend them to the whole world. Returning to the Games' ancient beginnings, a runner carrying a flag bearing the image of an olive branch entered the stadium and began his way around the stadium as the roll call of each previous host city was announced. At the mention of World Wars I and II, the runner stumbled and fell but recovered each time to complete his circuit and eventually break a ribbon as the Olympic host city, Athens, was declared.

As five bells tolled and the crowd joined in with bells of their own, a host of children carrying olive branches burst into the stadium leading the entrance of the Olympic flag, which was raised to the accompaniment of the Olympic hymn.

Hovering above the athletes, a runner was revealed and raced toward the center where three large concentric rings representing the globe were revealed. Holding an illuminated baton to the globe, the word Olympia was illuminated on its surface. The single runner was then joined by 35 runners who rose from the athletes to similarly touch the globe and illuminate the name of every other city the Olympic Torch Relay has visited en route from Olympia to Athens. A final runner then travelled outwards from the center and descended to illuminate the word Athens on the ground with the word pulsing like a heartbeat while the entrance of the Olympic torch to the stadium was announced.

The torch entered the stadium and the flame was passed among seven torchbearers before then being run along an avenue the length of the field through the athletes. The spectacular 102 foot long cauldron lowered to meet the torchbearer who ascended a staircase to light the cauldron which was then raised skyward -- the ultimate Olympic symbol of peace.

As the cauldron reached its final position, a magnificent firework display filled the sky finally heralding in the Athens 2004 Olympic Games.

The Olympic Stadium was transformed from a world-class sporting venue into the world's largest theatrical stage. As the show unfolded, audiences were treated to an unsurpassed display of creative and technical artistry featuring stunning scenic transformations, a diverse range of ethnic, classical and contemporary music -- including a stunning performance from international superstar, Bjork -- and a wonderful performance from a vast cast of dedicated and talented volunteers drawn from the Greek community.

Jack Morton produced the ceremony, working in collaboration with Artistic Director Dimitris Papaioannou. Jack Morton led the ceremony production with a team of over 850 in Athens as well as international expertise drawn from its London, Los Angeles, Sydney and Hong Kong offices. Jack Morton was also responsible for bringing together an army of over 8,500 volunteer performers and supporters.