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'Passionate' ceremonies kick off Olympic Games

From Botticelli to "Boogie Man," the Opening Ceremonies of the Winter Olympic Games, held in Torino, Italy, on Friday, offered something for everyone.

Before a crowd estimated at 35,000 in Torino's Stadio Olimpico, the three-hour event included elements representing Italy's soul: Supermodel Carla Bruni wore a sparkling gown by designer Giorgio Armani to carry the Italian flag, dancers created Botticelli's Renaissance masterpiece "Birth of Venus,” veteran actress Sophia Loren helped present the Olympic flag, a red Ferrari spun in circles, and tenor Luciano Pavarotti sang a Puccini aria.

On the flip side, the traditional parade of national teams marched to the beat of American and European disco, a segment that included such surreal moments as the contingent from Iran--in the news for its controversial nuclear program--parading to "Funkytown." In a salute to the Alps, dancers waltzed around life-size rolling cow sculptures.

The spectacle included some dazzling moments, such as the "great skier" depicted by 500 performers, the giant Olympic rings creating the "triumphal arch," and the lighting of the 187-foot Olympic Flame, the tallest in history.

Producer Marco Balich--a Venetian lawyer turned rock promoter--and associate producer Ric Birch--a veteran of Olympics ceremonies in Atlanta, Barcelona and Sydney--faced the traditional Olympics challenges: creating an event that embodies one culture while not offending an international audience, and that excites stadium spectators as well as the millions watching on TV.

Event professionals interviewed by Special Events gave high marks to this year's opening ceremonies.

"I loved the addition of the pyrotechnics," notes Paul Creighton, CSEP, vice president of T. Skorman Productions in Orlando, Fla. "The flame backpacks were very cool." He was particularly impressed with the "great skier" and with the Olympic rings segment. "The lighting was awesome, and the acrobats working on the suspended rings was extremely impressive. Even though you knew it was coming, when [all five] rings flipped 90 degrees to create the Olympic rings, I still got chills."

Debbie Meyers, CSEP, head of Bravo Productions Entertainment in Dallas, praises the segment featuring acrobats on a climbing wall, whose performance climaxed in the creation of a "dove" to symbolize peace. "I was delighted by the images of Italian culture that were brought to life, and that encompassed the 'passion' theme for the ceremony," she says. She also noted the strong role of women in the ceremony, who not only made up the team bearing the Olympic flag, but also lighted the flame itself at the event's end.

Both Creighton and Meyers wish the event could be televised as the stadium audience sees it. "The editing that TV does to fit [its] format lessens the impact to the home viewer," Creighton notes. And though the parade of athletes is "unbearably long," he says, "I realize that this will never change. It's the one chance for each country to celebrate their participation."

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