Sunday 12 August 2012

Standing on Ceremony - Part 1

My first interest in the Olympic Games – and flags – came through the opening and closing ceremonies. As a child I was fascinated by the parade of athletes. I’ve watched the ceremonies develop into the multi-million pound spectacles that seem to be the only criteria by which the games themselves as judged these days.

As with the torch relay it would be impossible to compile a complete list of lgbt participants in the ceremonies, but there are a lot of known names to include. Because of this I’ve split the ceremonies into two. Today I’ll concentrate on the athletes themselves and the creators, directors and designers whose work is integral to the image each games leaves behind.

The first mention must go to the athletes. Virtually all of the lgbt athletes mentioned in my Olympic Countdown have marched with their teams into the stadiums. A handful have had the honour of carrying their national flag either the opening or closing ceremonies. These have been :
John Curry – GB (1976 Innsbruck)
Brian OrserCanada (1988 Calgary)
Blyth TaitNew Zealand (2000 Sydney)
Chris WittyUSA (2006 Turin)
Gro HammersengNorway (2008 Beijing)
Caster SemenyaSouth Africa (2012 London)

As far as I can tell Greg Louganis is the only lgbt Olympian to have taken part in a ceremony in his own right. In the opening ceremony of the 1996 Atlanta summer games he was part of the parade of living Olympic greats. Then there are the athletes who are members of their national Olympic Committees and their guests who have sat in the VIP stand.

Several artistic and choreographic directors have been openly gay, including one former Olympian (Pockar) :
Brian Pockar – artistic director, 1988 Calgary closing ceremony
Dimitris Papaioannou – artistic director, 2004 Athens, all ceremonies
Jean Grand-Maïtre – choreography director, 2010 Vancouver, all ceremonies
Stephen Daldry – overall creative director, 2012 London, all ceremonies.

Just to clarify something – the creative director is in overall charge of the whole evening – cultural section, parade of athletes, official speeches, etc. The artistic director is usually the person who just does the cultural bit in the middle (Danny Boyle’s bit in London 2012 - it was great, but it was muddled and said nothing to me about being British). One mystery to solve is whose idea it was to get the whole stadium (including the VIP box!) to should join in the actions to “YMCA” at  the closing ceremony of the 2006 Turin games!

I’ve already mentioned the 2000 Sydney closing ceremony with its drag queens, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Savage Garden and Kylie. Rather amazingly, all this camp was the work of a straight director, David Atkins. He also directed the closing ceremony of the 2012 Vancouver winter games which featured Mounties high-kicking like a row of chorus girls. Not only that but television commentators remarked on the presence of giant beavers and lumberjack’s choppers with glee!

With the Olympic heritage of Greece it came as no surprise to see Dimitris Papaioannou fill his opening ceremony with well-toned young men, all accurately portrayed as naked. Actually, the performers were wearing “shorts” with fake private parts! With the special place the god Eros has in relation to ancient Greek sport it was fitting that he played a major part in the opening ceremony. Another winged Greek god, Zephyrus, lover of Prince Hyakinthos, featured in the opening ceremony of the 2006 Turin winter games.

But that wasn’t the first time that well-toned, half-naked men have appeared in an Olympic ceremony. Way back in the early days the gay Danish gymnast Niels Bukh brought his world renowned display team to the 1920, 1924, 1928 and 1936 Olympics to give exhibition displays. They didn’t perform at the actual opening or closing ceremonies, but Bukh was treated as a guest of honour by Hitler throughout the games.

When it comes to team uniforms, performer’s outfits or special costumes, the list of lgbt fashion designers is lengthy. A personal favourite was the dress worn by Carla Bruni at the opening ceremony in Turin in 2006. It was a sparkling, shimmering creation designed by Giorgio Armani and inspired by ice crystals. Armani himself has sporting connections as well, being president of the Olimpia Milano basketball team. He also designed the uniform of the England football team in 2003, and the uniforms of the Italian teams for both Turin 2006 and London 2012.

The ceremonies which can be said to have been the first of the big spectaculars was Los Angeles in 1984. With typical 1980s-style gaudiness that only California would have produced gay costume designer Ray Aghayam came up with the gaudiest at both the opening and closing ceremonies.

In 1992 the gaudiness was used more effectively in the surreal carnival-style costumes designed by Peter Minshall (probably a gay designer, but I’ll stand corrected). The closing ceremony included costumes by Harrison McEldowney.

Now that we’ve got the design of the ceremonies in place we’ll look at some of the performers in the next part in this series.

No comments:

Post a Comment