The Opening Ceremonies: To see ourselves as others see us

Paul Wells reports on the “sometimes incomprehensible, but sometimes heart-stoppingly beautiful” show

What would a latter-day Alexis de Tocqueville discover if he came to Canada today? And for that matter, what would de Tocqueville himself look like today?

In this fractured and spectacle-besotted world, perhaps he wouldn’t be a staid and earnest Old European gentleman. He’d be flashier, perhaps more shameless, with a touch of Meredith Wilson’s Music Man about him. There might even be two of him: the producer of a musical called Hot Shoe Shuffle, say, and the lead singer of a punk cabaret band called Jimmy and the Boys. A couple of nice Australian fellows.

Meet David Atkins and Ignatius Jones, the artistic team behind Friday’s sentimental, sometimes incomprehensible, but sometimes heart-stoppingly beautiful opening ceremonies for the Vancouver Olympics. The question some of us had was whether Canadians could put on a real show. The answer may not entirely satisfy: we didn’t, not alone. The Vancouver Olympic Committee gave the gig to outsiders, to veterans, to the same men who executed the same task — marvellously — at Sydney in 2000. But the undercard, from onstage talent to much of the backstage creative team was packed with talent from home. And when I read my production notes (during Jacques Rogge’s speech, natch) and re-discovered those Australian CV’s at top, I couldn’t find it in my heart to feel more than a pang of regret. Because if Atkins and Jones brought something to the job besides funny accents, endless cheek and a track record few in the world could beat, it was a fresh perspective.

They toured the country for two years, sightseeing and interviewing our homegrown artists, and let’s be honest here, to a very great extent what they found was what we could have told them they would within five minutes after they got off the boat: fiddlers, snowboarders, First Nations drummers and Measha Brueggergosman. But there would never have been any point in pretending such fare isn’t part of our culture; the challenge was always going to be to look at it with fresh eyes. Canadian cultural events are at their least inspiring when they feel like the rote and dutiful ticking off of boxes on a checklist. Oh look, aboriginal drummers. Oh look, a Celtic fiddler.

This sometimes-magical show was something else entirely. Just about the only advantage I have over you who saw it on television was that I was lucky enough to be inside B.C. Place watching it live, and all I can report that you don’t already know is that for most of the night the spirit of the show absolutely filled the cavernous venue. Canadians sometimes strain to fill the awesome space the gods of geography bequeathed us; on this night that really wasn’t a problem.

It began, off camera, with no great promise. Ben Mulroney and a nice BC TV weather lady coached the audience endlessly in the proper manipulation of the cardboard drums and electric lights we’d found on our seats when we arrived. Of course nobody got the choreography. Of course the whole night looked like it was careening downhill before it even began. Of course Ben’s suit looked like a million bucks.

Just before the world tuned in, a voice-over informed the arena that the evening was dedicated to Nodar Kumaritashvili, the Georgian luger who died when his body shattered against an abutment at Whistler earlier in the day. There is really nothing adequate to say or do about such a thing, and everyone’s earnest and conscientious attempts to find a way didn’t do much to help. The show just had to go on.

On a movie screen, a snowboarder came down from a mountaintop, bursting into three dimensions and real life. Almost immediately the evening started showing something I’ve almost never seen at a CanCult event: rhythm. A pulse. Which is not the same (attention Canada Day programmers) as frenzy. From the outset, Atkins and Jones and the rest of their multinational creative team showed a willingness to speed through the stuff that didn’t need time (the briskest Vice-Regal Salute on record for Michaëlle Jean and a double-time RCMP march-in with the flag) but also to linger over the stuff that would reward it (young Nikki Yanofsky, more persuasive with every step she takes away from Ella Fitzgerald impressions, singing a gorgeously languid O Canada).

The welcome from the First Nations hosts was the cue, on Twitter, for the usual complaints about too much Aboriginal claptrap. But it was the tweeting that felt rote. The dancing, the music by Sandy Scofield and Bob Buckley (both Vancouverites), and above all the four towering Salish Welcome Poles felt like something still vital and relevant.

For the Parade of Athletes, little could be done. There were a lot of athletes. They paraded. The music was off-the-rack CTV Theme Song Peppy. The athletes looked beautiful, perhaps none more than South Korean bobsledder Kwang-Bae Kang, who beamed so broadly and waved his country’s flag so vigorously he seemed to brim over with the hope of the evening. The rest was fashion faux pas (the Czechs wore red-and-blue spotted camouflage ski pants, seemingly prepared, if necessary, to launch an alpine assault on the Macy’s Christmas Parade) and drudgery.

Then Canada’s team arrived to thunderous applause. They looked like home in their not-too-flashy red parkas and mittens. The theme-song music gave way to carnal, almost furious drumming while the team rounded the track. The only thing I’ve seen that matched it for lusty foreboding is the haka, the Maori war chant the New Zealand rugby team uses to intimidate its foes. But after the day’s events on the luge track, it was frankly a little unnerving.

There was no time to linger. Nelly Furtado and Bryan Adams came out to perpetuate the amiable fiction that Canadians look fantastic and (in the case of Adams) never age. They sang a new Adams tune with about six words in the lyric, and then the stage darkened and seemed to chill for the dreaded Profound Segment. Fabric facsimiles of the Northern Lights descended from the ceiling; a huge, luminous Stay-Puft Marshmallow Bear appeared, jetted itself briefly into the air like Paul Stanley from Kiss, and then sank beneath the — what? Waves? I never did get it. The Alberta Ballet danced, beautifully, to a song by Sarah McLachlan and then, in the only part of the night that seemed to me to fall quite flat, to Samuel Barber’s “Adagio For Strings.” These Canadians, they remember how sad it was when Willem Dafoe died in Platoon.

But then joy and magic saved the night. The joy came from Ashley MacIsaac and an army of Celtic-influenced fiddlers and dancers, kicking off sparks (in some cases quite literally) in a field of oversized maple leaves. The magic came from, well, where it usually comes from: the voice of Joni Mitchell, sombre, dark, craggy and wise, singing her classic “Both Sides Now” while a lone figure danced in the air (there was almost, but perhaps not quite, too much aerial wire work all evening; at times it played like Crouching Tiger, Hidden National Identity) over prairie wheatfields.

It was one of two moments when Atkins and Jones had the courage and grace to distill the all-singing, all-dancing spectacle down to one voice and one image. First, Joni Mitchell’s voice as big as prairie fields. Then, a little later, kd lang singing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” perched on top of a great big gay-wedding cake. In this week’s Maclean’s Kate Fillion gets lang to admit she wouldn’t mind enforcing a moratorium on performances of “Hallelujah”; apparently that will have to begin on Saturday at the earliest, and I for one wouldn’t mind if it never did. Here too the Twitterverse grumbled a little that the song is overdone, but this is what it sounds like when a song is entering the Western canon, which this one surely is. Perhaps it took outsiders to give this song, sung by this woman, the unabashed adoration they have earned.

And then the entire cast of Saturday Night Live came out and lit the torch. About this very Canadian inability to make a freaking decision, the less said the better. As Stéphane Dion, Gilles Duceppe and Jack Layton stood nervously and in vain, holding their torches and waiting for the fourth giant silver doobie to lurch up out of the ice, I realized that here, too, was a tribute to yet another Canadian symbol we are sometimes too shy to admit to ourselves that we need and use and love. They could have made the end of the show as exhilarating and functional as the rest of it if only somebody had remembered to bring some duct tape.




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The Opening Ceremonies: To see ourselves as others see us

  1. a huge, luminous Sta-Puft Marshmallow Bear appeared, jetted itself briefly into the air like Paul Stanley from Kiss, and then sank beneath the — what? Waves? I never did get it.
    Was that the Pacific Ocean orca segment? Looked way cool on the teevee, choreographing these graceful TIFF files killer whales to rise to the surface and meet the spout of steam.

    I realized that here, too, was a tribute to yet another Canadian symbol we are sometimes too shy to admit to ourselves that we need and use and love. They could have made the end of the show as exhilarating and functional as the rest of it if only somebody had remembered to bring some duct tape.
    So props to the commenter who days ago nominated Red Green to carry the flame to the cauldron.

    • The 'marshmallow' bear is the Spirit Bear. They're Black Bears with a genetic defect. The First Nations Legend is that the Raven created them to remind us of the last ice age and are not to be harmed. I thought the orcas turning into salmon going up river and then turning into the tree trunks was brilliant. It's bears hauling the salmon out of rivers and into the woods to eat them that helps the trees grow so large. All those carcasses make wonderful fish fertilizer. I think it's the nitrogen.

    • Thank you. And to be clear I meant for it to be perfromed with a souped up barbecue lighter.

  2. As myl states above, while I guess maybe it didn't work as well in the room, the orca whales rising out of the floor/waves and spouting bursts of water into the air looked hella cool on television.

  3. CTV, as host broadcaster, did an absolutely terrible job in covering the opening ceremony. Could Lloyd be any more of downer? Did Lloyd and Brian have any prepared research, or did they fake the whole thing? And how do you not have the cauldron not work, not to mention not having the not having the token "four host" nations not present to start the ceremony? A grade of C+ at best.

    • I'm sure they tested the cauldron a number of times and it always worked.

      However, they probably *didn't* test it after having 20 tap dancers pounding away on it. Oops.

    • I watched NBC and found them surprisingly good.. or at least better then I expected.

      • When the Economic Action Plan ad came on, I turned to NBC.

        CTV almost ruined the Super Bowl game with their constant Olympic ads – missed to plays.

        Gretzky – good grief. I guess he's "just visiting" after living in the US for 20 years. Is Gretzky the only former Canadian that matters?

      • I had to watch nbc as my only other choice was the Aboringinal network in cree…thet were great, but unfortunately my cree isn't.

    • NBC did a great job and they also did a Canada tribute that was first class. I have been trying to find it on the internet but to no avail. Does anyone have it.

    • Initially, I also tuned in to CTV, and found the commentary so drab that I was falling asleep. I switched to CBC and found that the anchors were mostly being showcased and quickly switched to NBC.

      NBC provided real excitement, excellent content and was pleasantly surprised on the positives of Canada and Canadian Athletes. I only switched back to CTV and CBC during NBC's commercials.
      Proud to be Canadian, however sad to see the mediocrity of Canadian Television.

    • Lloyd was more than just a downer to the ceremonies, he was an absolute embarrassment to Canada. What a blunder Lloyd Robertson unleashed to the world, during opening ceremonies. Referring to W.O Mitchell's Who Has Seen the Wind, being about a little "girl" growing up in 1940's Saskatchewan, when in fact, the book is about the author himself, as a BOY growing up in 1930's Saskatchewan. The book was written in the 1940's. WHAT A STUPID MAN! Robertson goes in front of the world, only to forget about doing some homework, before he comments on classic Canadian literature. What fools they are at CTV. YOU ARE FIRED, ROBERTSON! In fact, you are ALL FIRED at CTV, for the most sub-standard Olympic coverage, EVER!

      • No, he would hardly make that mistake, since a quotation from Mitchell's book was read in the first person. Then Robertson announced that the person about to fly around to Joni Mitchell's song was a girl, though many viewers seem to have assumed she was a boy.

        • Yes, in-fact, he did make that mistake. Watch that part over and you will see; and that he doesn't go on to correct himself, ever!

        • Do YOUR homework! YES, he did! Go back and watch it and you will see. It was Robertson himself who assumed the novel was about a "girl", perhaps with the actor at the ceremony looking somewhat girl-like. Regardless, it's his mistake to own; he was the one who decided to wing it, and NOT do his homework before hand. Watch the ceremony, before you come back on here to pontificate about something that obviously only afforded your brief attention.

  4. Great analysis, Paul. Being inside, though, you missed an unexpected rescue of the torch lighting fiasco. In what looked for all the world like an unplanned afterthought, they put Gretzky in the back of a truck and then drove him for fifteen minutes through the streets of Vancouver down to the waterfront cauldron. There were no people lining the streets like during the torch relay, it was just college students on their way to the bars when, "holy crap, there's Wayne Gretzky with the torch! Let's follow him". Soon, he was like a pied piper, leading a cheering, yelling crowd of excited teenagers who were all doing their best to get on camera or get near Gretzky. They finally get to the cauldron, there's a small crowd plus the throng who've followed the torch, and Gretzky gets out, lights it, and then stands there, unsure of what to do while people just cheer and adore him. There was no stage, no music, no speeches, no VIPs – just a bunch of Canadians who took it upon themselves to cheer and sing O Canada. Pretty awesome.

    • truly and indeed awesome is the exact word

    • It was really awesome, and I enjoy Brian Williams now he's on CTV.

  5. Someone get Lloyd to retire. He looks and acts so old.

    • I've always admired Lloyd; he's very Canadian.But yeah, it's been time for at least ten years. Give someone else a chance Lloyd!

  6. "a huge, luminous Stay-Puft Marshmallow Bear appeared, jetted itself briefly into the air like Paul Stanley from Kiss, and then sank beneath the — what? Waves? I never did get it."

    -That would be arctic polar ice breaking up (nice cop out though…).

    "in the only part of the night that seemed to me to fall quite flat, to Samuel Barber's “Adagio For Strings.” These Canadians, they remember how sad it was when Willem Dafoe died in Platoon."

    -Um, yeah nice cop out again There was four trees that symbolized Cathedral Grove on Vancouver Island, and then they burn, the embers fall, and the trees crumple to earth like gray ash. The symbolism wasn't exactly subtle. Then a big ol' moon rises and a demonic fiddler leads into the Celtic part of the show.

    Coverage was heavily edited on the second time through on CTV and NBC, and skipped much of the wonderful initial First Nations dance piece. Not to mention that CTV news, in between showing unedited and edited versions of the opening ceremonies, actually showed the video footage of Nodar Kumaritashvili being killed in his luge accident. BAD TASTE and truly disrespectful.

    The opening ceremonies were a beautiful piece of art with a sober message on climate change, aboriginal relations, risk and responsibility in sport, and multicultural influences in Canada. Too bad they were tarnished by biased, reckless, and irresponsible media coverage.

    • The K
      D Laing bit made me sick!

      • Really…didn't all those gov't funded injuns make you sick too?

        • Which ones, the ones that took part.Or the ones that wanted to disrupt everything.

          • You don't like democracy or what? Natives have differences of opinion too! It's clear what Spenc thinks of natives further down the thread.

  7. I saw it on TV live and couldn't believe how long furlong went on, talking and talking, like a furlong's worth. I agree with those who found the special effects like the whales, northern lights and macy's polar bear to be tres cool; for me Kd Lang is so 1980s — she and the choice in music just drained any energy out of the moment for me. Wouldn't someone more current and good, like Shania or Feist or Chantal Kreviazak, have been a better fit?
    And what was with that dude who looks like the Blues Traveller and the weird rap?
    Overall, it was nice from a home-boy's perspective but i'd be most interested in hearing what more gala-exposed experts (sorry Harper) would say.

    • I actually don't agree with you on K D lang's performance. She did an awesome job, look at what happened to the national anthem that was sung by a more "current" person. This is just my personal opinion and plus hallelujah is a wonderful song.

      • I'm so torn on the anthem.

        I think it was a GORGEOUS performance, but I do kinda wish it'd been more "traditional" (60,000 people singing along? That would've been pretty cool). However, as I said, it was a pretty stunning performance musically, and I find it hard to imagine there's another 16 year old on the planet who could pull off a performance like that at an Olympic Opening Ceremonies, so I'm pretty OK with it. I also don't blame young Nikki Yanofsky one but for the decision as to how to perform it, as I'm absolutely certain she was brought in to perform it that way.

      • I liked the first 3 or 4 minutes.

        After that it got a bit annoying.

        I was like "OK K.D. We get it. Enough already"

    • Gosh – the Olympics/entertainment shouldn't be for all age groups I guess.

    • I thought choosing hallelujah was a bit cliche, but KD Lang did a fantastic job with it – and I was born in the 1980s.

      • It's on her (relatively recent) covers album and it is spectacular there, and was spectacular live

  8. "Crouching Tiger, Hidden National Identity"

    …..You kill me Wells!

    PS: Duct tape is for things that move (but shouldn't). This situation called for WD40.

    • Unless it was a leaky hydraulic hose or fitting….do you know for sure that it was stuck? (I like your PS, just curious about actual cause of failure to rise to the event)

  9. "Aboriginal claptrap"–oh, yeah and far too much of it for too long. But compared to CTV's pre-ceremony claptrap–the most awful drivel that made my party watching cringe with embarrassment, it was a relief. Did someone get paid for writing that stuff?

    • That was freaking awful, wasn't it? "Winged gods." Seriously.

    • The (inner-city Vancouver) bar I watched the Ceremonies at had the Canucks game on right up until the moment the event started. Glad to see I got the best of both worlds; there might not have been anyone left at the bar if they'd put CTV's pre-ceremony coverage on.

  10. "They could have made the end of the show as exhilarating and functional as the rest of it if only somebody had remembered to bring some duct tape.

    Wonderful piece, Inkless, especially the last para. The ending was a bit odd — lighting the torch by committee, as it were. The spectacle of the erection-failure in the stadium and that of Gretzky being driven in the rain for 15 minutes must make quite a few late-night comedians happy.

    Doesn't matter, I guess. It's what the atheletes do over the next fortnight is what really counts.

    • And here I thought the erection-failure was planned, as in "One out of every four Canadian men will experience E.D."
      LOL.

      It was great, I really enjoyed watching it

  11. Paul let's agree to disagree about Nikki Yanofsky's singing of O Canada. The way she sang it, it was self-indulgent and all about her. If she'd sung it straight, what would have happened? Every Canadian in the stadium would have sung it full voice. It would have been electrifying.

    • Agreed! I really dislike it when a singer gussies up our national anthem. An anthem is not a performance piece as such. It has a greater purpose. I too think that, given half a chance, the Canadians in the audience would have joined in, but that was impossible with her rendition.

      • I was half hoping the audience would stand up and sing it anyway, in the traditional way. They should have got the guy who sings the anthem at Canuck home games. He encourages audience participation.

    • I'm definitely in the minority about this, but I'm breathing a sigh of retrospective relief that it DIDN'T become everyone in the stadium singing along. I find the anthem, whenever sung en masse in a sporting context, has become something of a victory chant, or a rah-rah war cry (especially in NHL games). For an event that's supposed to be about opening Canada to the world, the last thing I want is a stadium singing the anthem in a way that's usually associated with "We are the Champions".

    • I don't blame Nikki Yanofsky for the decision to sing the anthem that way, as I'm quite sure she was brought in by the organizers to sing the anthem that way, and I don't think there's another 16 year old anywhere who could give such a great performance on such a big stage. I would have preferred a more traditional rendition too, but I don't think how it went down is any indication that Yanofsky was being self-indulgent or conceited.

      • I agree. I don't think she was responsible for the arrangement, and she has a lovely voice. I would have preferred to hear her sing the anthem in the more well-known arrangement.

    • I couldn't agree more. When it comes to a national anthem, straight is the best way to go, so that we can actually sing along, which is what we should be doing.
      Chas

  12. I for one was thrilled with the amount of East Coast talent involved – MacIsaac, Anne Murray, Measha Bruggergosman, Sarah McLaughlin. But I do agree on the national anthem – the singer was flat, she was slithering into notes and massacred that bastardization of Mozart.

      • I just couldn't disagree more.

    • I think that technically, Anne Murray is "just visiting," along with Donald Sutherland and Bryan Adams.

  13. To me it is important that the national anthem be sung as it was intended. It seems disrespectful to try to "jazz" it up and make it "different", as is so often done with "O Canada". That is not intended to insult the lovely young lady with the beautiful voice who sang it. If the Canadians present had joined in, it would have been far more moving – I prefer a powerful singing of the anthem. Generally, it is easy to describe the show–it had some good parts, some bad parts, and some excellent moments that gave me goose bumps while watching from home. What a heartbreaker that there was the evident malfunction in the end, but allowing more than one person to do the lighting was truly Canadian…we are generous and modest!

    • I didn't care for the tempo of O Canada either. Perhaps the producers were mindful on not making the Olympics seem like one big hockey game. What I also didn't care for was the shortened version of "God Save the Queen" which morphed into a few bars of "O Canada" just prior to the GG declaring the games open. PM Harper was noticeably confused as well as he proudly started to sing along with our national anthem, only to confusedly cease when it was abruptly truncated. And yet we had to listen to Furlong go on and on ("you are the best athletes in the world of all time", or words to that effect- does anyone really believe this? ) Did Dryden write his speech? Did anyone edit it?

      • Wasn't that the vice-regal salute?

        • Yes, you may be right. If Harper was confused, maybe I can be excused for my ignorance.

  14. Didn't watch it, but from reading PW's description it sounds like the ceremonies would've benefitted from the descent of an 11" stonehenge from above.

    • Bring on St. Hubbins and Tufnel!

      • We can only hope we'll see that for London's Olympics.

    • Hey, I was making Spinal Tap jokes during the beginning of the cultural component. "From the dawn of time, a race of First Nations! No-one knows who they were or what they were doing!" At least, no-one in charge of programming our appropriately politically correct and completely culturally meaningless melange of mediocrity.

      (I had nothing against showcasing some First Nations creative myths. We've all heard it before, but the world hasn't. But couldn't they, y'know, do it properly?)

    • The missing cauldron reminded me of Derek Smalls stuck pod, which he finally burst out of just asTufnel and St Hubbens were retreating back into theirs. I was rolling around on the ground shouting "HELLO CLEVELAND"

  15. Amazing ceremonies. The special effects were unbelievable on tv. But what was up with the lack of Quebecois representation??? not kosher at all.

    • Wasn't the fiddler in the canoe dueling with his moon shadow have its roots in Quebec culture? Well, so the American broadcasters claimed…

    • Low-Rent Roch Voisine Substitute was there!

      But yes. Yes, that was weird.

    • Being that all the Commentaries and even the signage that was carried was done in French First ,showed the world that Quebec is alive and well in British ? Columbia Canada….

      • right on. this is worth repeating: the signs and announcements were in French first and three Quebecois musical celebrities (one of which was Celine Dion) turned down the Olympics.

  16. I was keeping an eye open to notice if I saw the fake maestro and his wand synching. Was the pre-show controversy warranted? The only evidence I thought I saw of fake violin bowing (apart from the earlier dancing fiddlers) was at the end in the background when The Olympic Hymn was belted out by Measha Brueggergosma.

    I was looking for Joni Mitchell in the "Flying Wheat" guy-bit (Canada's response to the "Flying Tomato", who Lisa LaFlamme in pre-show constantly referred to as the "Red Tomato" so as not to confuse Lloyd Robertson who really enjoyed the movie "Fried Green Tomatoes") but she was never shown. That was disappointing. I suppose she was omitted to uphold the Vancouver Olympic's "no lip synch" vow.

    One thing that bugged me of a minor nature – was that whoever designed the fake wind on the flags didn't do a very good job. The Canadian flag seemed to be constantly struggling to get disentangled – the Olympic flag faired somewhat better – well, the bottom half had some life.

    Overall, I was pleased. Wanted to grab a Molson Canadian when that guy did the "We say zed not zee bit". I think it will play well internationally – the audience that really matters.

    • Molson is an American company. So too, Tim Horton's. Is there anything Canadian left?

      • Wendy's divested themselves of their shares in Timmies years ago, and while the publicly traded company that subsequently operated Tim Horton's was initially incorporated in Delaware after the Wendy's takeover (though the Tim Horton's headquarters have always been in Oakville), the company became completely Canadian again back in September of 2009.

  17. I am not an artsy fella but I actually loved the whole thing. Well, that Adams song was horrendous but didn't last too long. The anti-Aboriginal racists don't get to complain becasue there was white folks in plaid and tattoos and Doc Martens. And I don't care if Hallelujah is overdone. KD can sing it on TV every day as long as she sounds like that.

    • MY RESPONSE

      Hey did anyone catch the four Phallicies of the first nations?

      Phallicy one: First Nations Chief's are heads of state? Hardly!

      Phallicy two: First Nathions people taught Canadians to be mannerly and welcoming. Try going through a reserve and talking to the folks? Or living on a reserve in Montreal.

      Phallicy three: First nations people own most of the land in Canada. O Please!

      Phallicy four: First nations culture is diverse and interesting. A few feathers, some drums and some pretty wacky get ups combined with wild out of tune throat moaning and very uncoordinated dancing. In truth, all this bespeaks a primitive, undeveloped culture and I am frankly sick and tired of it leading off all our cultural events with "this is the real Canada". Not so, the real Canada is European and now multi cultural. We have never taken into our society the ways of the four phallic "Nations". We only do it now out of a guilty conscience but deep down we wish the organizers would be less politically correct! Tell me those four pole's did not look Phallic last night. Best bit of irony in the whole event.

      • The european population was sparse and poor untill the end of th 18th century when immigration drastically increased euro numbers. Without the help of the aboriginals, Canada never could have been colonized (tragic irony). Certainly our forebearers would have died of scurvy.

    • Agreed on the KD comments.
      As for "The anti-Aboriginal racists don't get to complain becasue there was white folks in plaid and tattoos and Doc Martens"
      I believe Spenc BC already managed to prove you wrong.

      • Just because the anti-Aboriginal racist is complaining, it doesn't follow that he has any credibility.

        • The Spence moron is probably a neo-con traditionalist of some twisted sort, who's too stupid to realize that Aboriginal peoples are by and large a conservative, highly traditional cultural group in themselves.

          • They are still only a small slice of Canada. What I am protesting is the out of proportion attention we give them because of guilt! Most Canadians, you included, hide their feelings on this matter and come across all pious. I would rather tell the truth than be a hypocritical leftard!

    • Ah yes, any reasonable discussion about time alloted that is disproportionate to any one group makes people "racist": The refuge of all weak arguments.

  18. Yeah there should have been more country music. Did the First Nations teach us how to spell "Phallicy?"

    • Its a play on words idiot. Check the last line. Phallic as in D!CK Note the upside down i.

  19. I was late so I missed the much-panned national anthem (although I note Paul's thumbs up and agree – having seen it later – that, rather than a sing-along it was a genuine hymn to our nation). It was not long before I had switched to NBC's coverage because, figuring they would be using the same cheat-sheet production notes as CTV, I had that Canadian curiosity about how others would be seeing us. I was not disappointed in the least! I love Paul's line about the doobie failing to spark at the torch ceremony and I thought the Gretzky parade to the waterfront was anti-climactic for TV at least but, overall, I must say that as the show metaphorically moved across the country I was genuinely moved. I recognized, with pride, that this was about us and telling our story to the world.

    • From everything I hear, the NBC coverage was MUCH better, MUCH more complimentary of the ceremonies and, ironically, seemed much more proud of Canada and Canadians.

      • Initially, I also tuned in to CTV, and found the commentary so drab that I was falling asleep. I switched to CBC, where the anchors were mostly being showcased and quickly switched to NBC.

        NBC provided real excitement, excellent content and was pleasantly surprised on the positives of Canada and Canadian Athletes. I only switched back to CTV and CBC during NBC's commercials.
        Proud to be Canadian-however sad to see the mediocrity of Canadian Television.

    • Well ya did you see the size!

  20. Looks tio me like Anon, Tiggy, Toporious, or whatever is wearing a different suit today.

    • Yeah, a racist clown suit!

      • Racist is an easy come back when you dont have to think about what was said. Truth hurts huh!

  21. Having a Quebecker present is not the same as representing Quebec culture, of course. Plus, I doubt many of us noticed Ms. Yanofsky's origins because of all the blood that was pouring out of our ears when she sang.

      • The Devil in the canoe was inspired by the image that usually represents La Chasse-Galerie but the similarity to the legend stop right there. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Lachassegalerie

        The fiddlers' session was mostly inspired by Acadian, Québecois and Haut Canada music. I was satisfied by that.

        • Yeah, but he was wearing a kilt and looked all keltic and stuff. Would've like to see a proper distinct shout out to French Canadians, after all the French were the first europeans to settle in Canada. Not to mention that they spent all that time on the wierd joni mitchell prairies thing… Quebec still outnumbers the prairies to this day!!!

          Still was an awsome show. Especially the whales, that was *amazing*.

          • with a few exceptions, it almost seemed as if Vanoc set up an opening ceremonies that was for the BC
            Olympic Games. The focus on Aboriginal culture is very much a pet project of Gordon Campbell. It needed to be part of the total spectrum, not the dominant theme. If I was French Canadian, I would feel the same way…where is the moment for my culture? The response of the Government is a sad commentary on why things are done. " It was important for us to make amends to the aboriginal people."
            You cannot continue to hold policy within that apologetic context everytime you do anything public. The pendulum has swung too far.

  22. All I can think about is Greece 2004 Greece 2010.

    Derek

  23. I didn't recognize my own country in those ceremonies, and I was born and raised in Canada. To an outsider, one would think we are essentially a collection of "first nations" who speak French and that Vancouverites are the tenants of the four host first nations. There were some stirring moments to be sure, but I was still left thinking "if this is a representation of Canada, I wonder where I've been living for the past 40 years".

    • I concur!

      • Aknowleding and offering a gesture of respect to the original people is not the same as pledging fealty to them. Get over it, we're not going back to the days of indians not being able to drive a boat or speak their own language, both realitie in BC as recently as 50 years ago.

    • "I didn't recognize my own country in those ceremonies"

      then you must have been asleep since @ 1955

      Rip Van Winkle? ….

    • Agree!! had European guests, and they were Shocked, and dissapointed that all the commentaries and signs were done in French first,,not english..really embarrassing and confusing for my International friends!!!

      • European guests "Shocked" that signs were French first??? Were they here attending an Aryan Nation Summit? If your "friends" were truly International, then they would be okay with French first signs and already know that French and English are both official languages of the Olympic movement and — oh, yeah — Canada.

        • Mr. Inkerman, I did not say my Guests were not ''O.K.'' with the French being first.. I they said they were Shocked at seeing French First on signage etc, granted we have 2 official languages they automaticaly thought that English would be first..Like on all the travel brochoures, web sites, etc, etc, Our guests are going to be in B.C. for over a month so I have reassured them that,,when in a strange Country it is o.k. to ask Questions, be shocked,, even confused,because Canadians are Known around the world for being hospitable, helpful and understanding to our visitors,, not sarcastic or crass,,, wouldnt you agree????

        • Mr Inkerman,I did not say that the were not o.k. with the French first, i said that the were shocked to see that every thing was in French first,and they are fully aware of us having 2 official Languages..assuming that English would be first and French being second just like on the travel brochures, currency,,heck even the can of soup in the cupboard. Our visitors are going to be in B.C. for over a month doing some travelling around,so I reassured them that when in Doubt about something,, just ask someone and they would be more than glad to help, Canadians are Known world wide for being polite and helpful,,not Sarcastic , beligerant or crass..isnt that right Mr. Inkerman ??

      • Why? Most people in Europe speak several languages….

    • finally, someone who acknowledges the ceremony for the uncoordinated tacky mess that its was.

  24. I generally enjoyed the whole thing, especially the biker-gang fiddlers.

    I couldn't help fantasizing about the giant floating bear getting loose and then rampaging through BC Place. There not being a giant tranquillizer dart available, it would be left to the Mounties to open fire to bring it down as the screaming crowd panics and runs towards the exits. Now that would have been a great show!

  25. Reasonably fair critique. I seriously couldn't give a good goddamn what the Twitterverse thinks…about anything.

    I hope the opening ceremonies meet with most of the punditry's approval . I can't bear any more scolding about how disappointing we are. It sends me into a shame spiral.

  26. What you missed that we got from the TV was Brian Williams stating the perfectly obvious ("This is a big puppet bear") on CTV and Alexandre Despatie on V telling us how special it is to be an olympic athelete.

    It was a beautiful ceremony. I don't know what is worse though, that they didn't invite Celine Dion and Arcade Fire, or that they declined the invitation.

  27. 'About this very Canadian inability to make a freaking decision, the less said the better'

    As a Canadian who wasn't born, or raised in this country, i have always been puzzled by Canadians who seem very consevative in many ways, yet have a equally strong attachment to liberalism. I've yet to come across a convincing expanation – until now! An endearing if ocassionally annoying national trait.

    Have to disagree with Paul on the anthem though…a talent i'm sure…but it did nothing for me.

  28. I was singing along in my living room, and it was a little out of sync, but worked nonetheless. I wished more people at the event would have sang.

  29. Well I see the usual malcontents have to find somehting to tear apart and use to denigrate which was indoubtably one of the most heart touching, eye stunning, meaning laden opening olympic ceremonies I have ever seen. By far and away the that young lady who sang the anthym was truly brilliant (and I know my music) she could front for me and my guitar anyday. The moment of silence for the luge fatality was almost intimate and in a way bonded all of those who were there and then when the canadian team came in the entire crowd started to rise up off their seats and there was such a feeling that I have never in all my 56 years ever experienced in canada – I have direct experience of all olmypic games since Montreal and there is no doubt that when all is said and done this will be the best ever – and no doubt about it – click away thumbs down folks – I feel sorry for you.

    • We don't agree on many things I think psiclone, but I'm with you on this one. I'm torn on the anthem a bit only because I think I might have liked a more traditional tempo with 60,000 people all singing along under the dome, but the performance by Nikki Yanofsky was stunning nonetheless.

      Still, the reaction here does seem typically Canadian. No one craps all over Canadian efforts like Canadians (which brings to my mind how great and appreciative the NBC coverage was, both pre-ceremony and during, while the CTV coverage…)

      • C'mon, the ability to be self critical or poke fun is a sign of security not insecurity. Overall i thought it was well done and on occasion moving. But i certainly don't share psiclone's over the top reaction. Proud to be Canadian yes sir!

        • "the ability to be self critical or poke fun is a sign of security not insecurity"

          I guess I can agree with that.

          Allow me to amend my statement: "No one securely craps all over Canadian efforts like confident Canadians".

          • lol You win…for now.:)

          • :-)

            Keep in mind too that I've been on Facebook a good deal today, so I've been disheartened because while many of my friends LOVED the show, a fair number are really crapping all over it, in what I see as a very "I'm too cool for school" way, so my reaction to the comments here (and my reaction above is to the COMMENTS, not so much to Mr. Wells' original post) is really tempered by that sour experience.

    • Why is it when someone dares to express an opinion that is different from your own,they are malcontents?

      I was not impressed with last nights ceremony;guess I'm a malcontent :shrugs: According to vancouver2010.com

      "Opening and Closing Ceremonies are unique, large-scale celebrations capturing the spirit and personality of our city, province and COUNTRY, and are a celebration of the world's greatest athletes"

      What was presented in my opinion (yes,I know,I'm a malcontent) was poorly conceived and delivered little of what had been promised.To top it off ,the responsibility of of creating a uniquely Canadian show was left to an Australian! Would it not have been more appropriate to enlist the services and expertise of an ACTUAL Canadian?!?? Guy Laliberte' comes to mind.But hey,what do I know? Guy Laliberte' was actually born and raised in Canada.As for his qualifications,I dont' know,does being the founder/creator of Cirque de Soleil not qualify him?

      Last night was a miss.What a shame it is that the world was in on this amateurish debacle.Truly embarrassing.

  30. Great writeup.

    I don't think I've ever seen a more seamless integration of Canadian Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal culture in a public event. You really got a sense of how uniquely Canadian that combination is. It was awesome.

    • I thought the aboriginal element was awesome too…a proud moment for them, and us. Sadly some who disagree are currently smashing parts of Vancouver up…still a way to go i suppose.

      • I guess my thinking is that what made it cool was that there didn't seem to be "them and us", just "us": Canadians, with all our Aboriginal and pos-Aboriginal culture in full display.

        • getcha.. maybe i wasn't paying as close attention as you, it didn't strike me that way.

  31. I do hope the young singer who went all “Mariah” on the national anthem goes on to win Canadian Idol.

    • I have a feeling Nikki Yanofsky would never be allowed on Canadian Idol even if for some strange unfathomable reason she wanted to be.

      Once you've headlined a few times at the Montreal International Jazz Festival, performed at Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center, collaborated with Herbie Hancock and Will.i.am, already have the most downloaded single in Canada, and are about to release your first solo album (produced by a 14-time Grammy winning producer and including writing collaborations with Jesse Harris, Ron Sexsmith and Feist) in order to kick off your upcoming international tour – Canadian Idol would be just a BIT of a step down.

      • For that lame bit of CanConnery, a lateral move at best.

        • You stay classy Dave.

          • "In order to stay classy, wouldn't I have to be classy in the first place?", he asked. And then burped.

  32. "Phallicy one: First Nations Chief's are heads of state? Hardly!"

    Actually, unless the people at CTV were mistaken, the leaders of the four Nations are given temporary head of state status for the duration of the games.

  33. Anyone read Ouzounian's diatribe in the Star today? Basically ripped the entire production apart from start to finish. Me thinks it has something to do with the fact that Vancouver is not spelled T-O-R-O-N-T-O

    What a whiner.

    • Could also have something to do with the fact that large portions of it S-U-C-K-E-D.

      • Methinks it could have to do with the fact that Ouzounian doesn't work for the Globe and was not pressed by CTV bosses to fake a thumbs-up.

  34. What could have attracted this sort of comment to a Wells thread?

    • Thank You! excellent article – it is strange to see what the yanks thinks of us when the topic isn't some poitical difference beween our respective right and left – well done! .. I like the part about canada being the only one to ever have the nerve to put a poet on stage – never thought that – well done NY Times.

  35. Definitely a great (but long) opening, although apart from kd lang's tuxedo, the female singers' outfits looked like posh grad dresses. And the crippler shoes are not practical when one needs to move around on a large stage.

    Funny, I haven't seen anyone mention the conservative family values part of the show. "I Believe…Miracle…Devil…Hallelujah."

  36. Like Homegrownvanny I didn't recognize myself in this ceremony. For one thing there was less French in Vancouver than in Beijing, even though the official language of the Olympics is also one of the two official languages of the host country. I have nothing against professional hockey and basketball greats, but this being the Olympics I'd expected to see two great olympians, like Gaétan Boucher and Cindy Klassen, light the torch. The rest was OK. I liked k d lang.

    As for Ô Canada, if Canadians want jazz for a national anthem, write one. The Routhier-Lavallée is a patriotic anthem, to be performed at an upbeat tempo, reflecting that thy arm is ready to wield the sword, carry the cross and protect our homes and our rights.

  37. Not sure how the confusion in the VIP box looked to the rest of the world but I couldn't help wondering if there was some type of last minute boycott on the part of the Native leaders as the Governor General officially arrived. If not, one wonders just how long it takes to get all those feathers in place. In any case, that moment looked very embarrassing indeed.

    • Their transportation was delayed. It really had nothing to do with the VIPs (I believe it DID have something to do with protesters).

  38. Nice review. Guess you had to be there. Art by committee tries to ‘put everything in', assuming it's like consensus – or achieved through simple aggregation of information. But, not unlike the inability to decide on who should light the torch, the act of ‘adding more' merely decreased the effect. What one chooses to leave out is equally important; the inability to distill is what made the ceremony fail.

    I had to stop watching at “fall”. It reminded me of the obligatory grade school art class – sponge-stamped “leaves” or paper cut outs dropped dutifully on construction paper (not that someone couldn't do something beautiful with this – either in terms of references or materiality). It was the excess of niggling small scale symbolism, and the absence of larger metaphor which ruined it (traditional fiddlers, yes – and we have to show that we're young and hip, so we dress them in some bizarre decades ago punk). The signifiers started piling up so thick you needed Olympic sized Canadian Tire leaf bags to clear the stadium yard.

    The totems looked like fast food outlet give aways. The sense of scale seemed wrong and static, no counterpoint, or distance, between the programmatic text and what was unfolding. Did we really need Samuel Barber? What about Glenn Gould – maybe even his "Idea of North", instead of some of those "readings".

    I'm amazed to learn that we had to pay someone from another former colony to travel Canada for two years to tell us who he thought we were. Despite his travels, Atkins appears to have taken his cable and harness flight right over Quebec – a place, ironically, that excels at precisely this kind of spectacle. One wonders what Cirque du Soleil or Robert Lepage might have done instead.

  39. "too much Aboriginal claptrap" is right…Also, what about the dreadful neckbeard "poet"?

  40. The producers hired to present Canada to the world failed to project the majesty of this beautiful, expansive land! Where were the visuals of our gorgeous geography? Instead we projected disconnected, non cohesive visuals to the world. The Cirqe could have put on a much better program.

  41. "Canadian cultural events are at their least inspiring when they feel like the rote and dutiful ticking off of boxes on a checklist. Oh look, aboriginal drummers. Oh look, a Celtic fiddler."

    The problem with Canadian international celebrations and July 1st fêtes is that they are too predictable. I can picture a floor director screaming, "Bring on those FN peoples! And where are those friggin' fiddlers?"

    My issue with these celebrations is that they create an illusion of Canada that doesn't exist in my daily life. From my vantage point in Toronto, I rarely encounter an Aboriginal person. If I do, he or she is just another invisible visible minority. That person is just another ethnic Canadian indistinguishable from the mélange of other Canadians. The only fiddlers I see are those who perform within the confines of a broken yellow lined rectangle inside one of many Toronto's subway stations.

    No, I did not see the real Vancouver, the real British Columbia, the real Canada, or the real world during the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics. I only saw an illusion.

    • First of all this is a big country – did I see Toronto in the opening ceremonies…? Not really. Do I care? No. Overall, the opening ceremonies did a stunning job of capturing the complexity of this country in a very multi-genre artistic way.

      That said – haven't seen a fiddler in Toronto? Try going to the Beaches Jazz Festival. Or check out Dr. Draw who does multiple performance in Toronto ever year.

      Also – there is an aboriginal high school and aboriginal centre in Toronto – granted they are east of the DVP – but it's here. This is a big city and a big country and just because this Canada doesn't exist in your "daily life" doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

  42. couldn't they come up with something fancier than a truck to get Gretzky to the cauldron? I thought that it looked a little cheap.

    having said that, k.d. lang made my night. she was amazing.

  43. The people of China didn't complain that there was no Cantonese, Shanghaiese, or Fujianese in the Beijing 2008 opening ceremony–only Mandarin (as well as French and English). Then again, one would not want to be a complaining Chinese citizen. One complaint is one too many.

    • The Chinese people didn't complain because complaining gets them thrown in jail.

  44. No that I'm complaining, but is there a reason that this post is at the top of Blog Central above other more recent posts, or is something stuck?

    • It looks like somebody set a sticky tag on Paul's Olympic Opening Ceremony post without meaning to, so it's stuck at the top of the Blog pages.

      If someone could report this post (can I report my own?) perhaps that'll get it editor's attention so that they can fix this.

  45. By the way, try not to get all HYSTERICAL about it!!!111!!

  46. I watched it a second time on NBC and they did a much better job of explaining what was going on.

    My thoughts are that the national anthem should have been more up tempo for a celebration of this nature. I also did not know what the hell the Samuel Barber adagio was about – this is fuenral music. I love Joni Mitchell but the scene was about the prairies and her song is only metaphorically about clouds and aside from the fact that Joni is a prairie native, I did not see the connection.

    Finally, what someone above called the “neckbeard poet” – I thought he was an utter disgrace and an embrassment to Canada. If that is what passes for my “identity” – stereotypical cliches and some all redeeming virtue found in saying “zed” rather than “zee” – then I would rather not be known as Canadian. Fortunately I have learned in 61 years the true measure of our country and it is not in the tripe he spewed.

  47. No one seems to mention the biblical "Rapture Scene" When the dancers were motioning back and forth to illustrate a quick vibration (dna change) and their ascension followed by the red devil horned violinist and dancers happy to be left behind on earth. What the …..? Who thinks of these themes? Why biblical? Is it because 2012 is approaching?? Hmmmn….

  48. Hi Brammer

    "Crouching Tiger, Hidden National Identity"

    …..You kill me Wells!

    PS: Duct tape is for things that move (but shouldn't). This situation called for WD40.

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