Beginnings and Endings

Apart and beyond the in-between

In only just two months, on Friday, July 24, 2020 from 20:00 – 23:00 Japan Standard Time (JST) the Opening Ceremony of the Games of the XXXII Olympiad was supposed to take place at the Japan National Stadium. A long-term foreseen date and aspired moment since Tōkyō’s election on September 7, 2013. 

The Olympic and Paralympic Games’ Opening and Closing Ceremonies, often inspired by the different characteristics of host cities and countries, which in turn are showcased to the world audience through performances, have nowadays become the centrepiece of the event. As the International Olympic Committee (IOC) expresses, they are an invitation to discover the culture of the country that welcomes the competition.

Although the modern Olympic Games were for the first time held in 1896, it was after the Fourth Olympic Congress in Paris in 1906 that the Olympic Games’ Opening and Closing Ceremonies were initiated. The founder of the modern Olympic Games, Pierre de Coubertin, considered not only athletes, but also philosophers, scholars, poets, musicians and sculptors as figures of Olympism. Furthermore, he explained that the Opening and Closing Ceremonies as well as art competitions, which started to be practiced through aesthetics, were inspired by the ancient Olympic Games. Indeed, aesthetics played an important role in the lives of the ancient Greeks. Through the Olympic Games, which included music, dance and art, they were expressed and projected as a form of ritual in the relationship between humans and Gods. Whereas art was part of an unofficial, on-going accompaniment to the Games, singing and dancing were practiced notably during the night of the conclusion of the competition, though it was not considered a proper Closing Ceremony. As a matter of fact, only the victory ceremonies are indicated in historical records and no clear evidence of official Opening and Closing Ceremonies has been found. 

At Tōkyō 1964, dance was first intentionally staged at the Olympic Ceremonies, making a link between the ancient and the modern Games. Japan attempted to reflect an authentic atmosphere, and seized the opportunity to raise the profile of the nation. It was notably Tōkyō 1964 that transformed the Opening and Closing Ceremonies into a communication tool, emphasising a new vision of the Games to the world. 

Today, Rule 55 of the Olympic Charter outlines a protocol that must be respected at the Opening Ceremony of the Games, including features such as 1. Entry and welcome 2. Playing the national anthem 3. The parade of the athletes 4. Official Speeches 5. Olympic Laurel 6. The symbolic release of doves (associated with peace, from 1936 to 1988, the release of doves used to take place before the arrival of the Olympic flame. However, following an unfortunate demise of several birds that perched on the Olympic cauldron at the Opening Ceremony of the 1988 Games in Seoul, the use of real birds has been replaced by symbolic figures) 7. The opening of the Games 8. Raising the Olympic flag and playing the Olympic anthem 9. The taking of the Olympic oath by an athlete 10. The Olympic flame and Torch Relay 11. The artistic programme.

As part of the preparations, the Tōkyō Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (TOCOG) established a Basic Policy to deliver ceremonies that the audience would appreciate, whilst at the same time showing the appeal of Japan and Tōkyō to the world. The policy contains three sections: Section 1 - Positioning of the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tōkyō 2020, including historical and social significance and the Games vision, Section 2 - Opening and Closing Ceremonies Overall Concept, subdivided into Peace, Coexistence, Reconstruction, Future, Japan and Tōkyō, Athletes, Involvement and Excitement, and Section 3 - The Positioning of The Four Ceremonies with Act One: Introduction - Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games, Act Two: Development - Closing Ceremony of the Olympic Games, Act Three: Diversification - Opening Ceremony of the Paralympic Games and Act Four: Conclusion - Closing Ceremony of the Paralympic Games. 

Nomura Mansai, an actor in traditional Japanese (kyogen) theatre, was designated Chief Creative Director for the Tōkyō 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Opening and Closing Ceremonies on July 30, 2018. Movie director Yamazaki Takashi and Sasaki Hiroshi were appointed Executive Creative Directors for the ceremonies of the Olympics and the Paralympics, respectively. Sasaki Hiroshi was Creative Supervisor of the handover ceremony at the closure of Rio 2016, particularly known for the moment when Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzō appeared dressed up as Nintendo’s Super Mario. Movie producer and writer Kawamura Genki, creative producer Kurisu Yoshie, singer-songwriter Ringo Sheena (stage name), creative technologist Sugano Kaoru and choreographer MIKIKO (Mizuno Mikiko) were chosen as additional Creative Directors. Tōkyō 2020 follows the tendency of its three Olympic Summer precursors in appointing individuals from the film industry as supervisors; for Beijing 2008 Zhāng Yìmóu directed 15,000 performers in the impressive opening ceremony at the Bird’s Nest stadium, at the London 2012 Games, film director Danny Boyle lead a show that featured inter alios Queen, the Spice Girls, Mr. Bean and David Beckham and at the opening of Rio 2016, Fernando Meirelles, together with Daniela Thomas and Andrucha Waddington, chose to express the Brazilian spirit of music and samba. Marco Balich (who was Executive Producer and Creative Director of the 2006 Torino Opening Ceremonies as well as Executive Producer of the Closing Ceremony of the Olympics and the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the Paralympics of Sochi 2014), Balich Worldwide Shows and FiveCurrents, in association with the Japanese advertising company Dentsu are the producer of the Tōkyō 2020 opening and closing events. 

Rather short while ago, a dear (and much admired !) researcher acquaintance drew my attention to a sequence of rehearsal for the Opening Ceremony of the Tōkyō 2020 Olympic Games. The extract, though short, is not the less impressive and the part showing the individuals the very few seconds after their performance, made me realise the pressure that the artists probably feel (already at a training session, not to mention at the real ceremony, supposed to be held in front of tens of thousands spectators, television audience excluded), as well as how much time and effort must have been put into the preparation to achieve such precision. 

I am not quite sure, but I believe that like many (group) activities, practice of the performers has temporarily been suspended or maintained individually. The Tōkyō 2020 Summer Olympics Opening Ceremony has been rescheduled to one year later, Friday, July 23, 2021. At least, 12 months have therefore been added to the training. Time will tell what we may ultimately get to see that day.

Lit a flame in the honour of the day. Tōkyō, May 23, 2020, 14 months before the foreseen Opening Ceremony of the XXXII Olympiad © Louise Claire Wagner

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