Saturday 15 September 2012

Standing on Ceremony - Part 2

On 12th August I looked at the ceremonies of the Olympic games and the people whose creative input made them distinctive. Today we turn our attention to the lgbt main performers.

The inclusion of well-known singers and performers has become expected. Of all the main lgbt performers only k d lang has appeared at two different Olympics. In Calgary 1988 she sang “Turn Me Around” at the closing ceremony, and in Vancouver 2010 she sang “Hallelujah” at the opening ceremony.

Staying with Vancouver, the enfant terrible of Canadian Celtic folk-rock, Ashley MacIsaacs, fiddled his way through a sequence with other folk-rock fiddlers, incongruously following a sedate dance sequence set to music by gay composer Samuel Barber. Thankfully Ashley wore shorts under his kilt and didn’t unintentionally “flash” live in front of a world-wide audience of millions – perhaps he’d learnt his lesson after flashing live on a late night tv show in 1998!

Recently the Olympics have had specially written songs to celebrate the games and these have often been performed in the ceremonies. The most famous with lgbt connections is “Barcelona” by Freddie Mercury. As mentioned before, Freddie died a few months before the opening ceremony in which he was to perform, robbing the world of what would have been an amazing performance. Twenty years later at London 2012 Mercury was finally given his place in the Olympics, albeit on film, at the closing ceremony. Members of Queen reunited to perform “We Will Rock You” with lead vocals by bi singer Jessie J., who performed several songs as well.

For London 2012 several song-anthems were written, including one by Sir Elton John written in collaboration with Pnau.

Whilst most pop singers are often reserved for the closing ceremony only one has been chosen to sing the host city’s national anthem – Lance Bass with the group N’Sync at the closing ceremony of Salt Lake City 2002.

The closing ceremony parties have had several lgbt performers, including Ricky Martin in Turin 2006 and Darren Hayes with Savage Garden in Sydney 2000. Of course, it was the Sydney closing cermony which also treated us to Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and 50 drag queens.

Some criticism was directed against George Michael for plugging his new song at the closing ceremony of London 2012. But all of the artists benefited financially from their appearances, most of them re-releasing songs that they featured in the ceremonies. Why single out George Michael? It should be pointed out that the British press has been steadily turning against George Michael over the past few years.

The Pet Shop Boys appeared in their customary eccentric outfits at the closing ceremony, designed by young gay designer Gareth Pugh (I want one of those helmets! Perhaps I can come up with a giant origami version). They also performed at the celebration in front of Buckingham Palace on 10th September surrounded by 800 British Olympians and Paralympians. All 3 of the lgbt athletes were present – Carl Hester, Lee Pearson and Claire Harvey.

The Pet Shop Boys outfits lead nicely on to the British fashion section of that ceremony. Alexander McQueen’s designers came up with a gold dress worn by Kate Moss. Of the other showcased designers only Stella Tennant wore a dress by a gay designer, Christopher Kane. (Stella belongs to one of the UK’s “gay dynasties”, with Stephen Tennant, Anthony Asquith, and Lord Alfred Douglas among her grandfather’s cousins.)

There must be hundreds of other lgbt performers, dancers and singers at the ceremonies. I’ll mention just one - Franklyn Singley. He appeared in Salt Lake City 2002 as assistant choreographer for the cultural section at the opening ceremony where he also performed in costume as a coyote. In the closing ceremony he was a dancer accompanying Gloria Estefan. Franklyn is notable as being half of one of the first African-American ice dance teams. He has also won a gold medal in figure skating at the 2006 Chicago Gay Games, and a gold and silver at the 2010 Cologne Gay Games.

At the opening ceremony of London 2012 members of London’s Out to Swim club, one of the most successful swim teams of the Gay Games, were performers in the industrial sequence.

London 2012’s commitment to diversity was illustrated most clearly in the opening ceremony of the Paralympics. The whole theme was centred around challenging people to think beyond what they see, with Stephen Hawking paraphrasing Oscar Wilde’s famous words “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars”.
Sir Ian McKellen, that great Queen of British acting, took the central dramatic role of Prospero from Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”. After encouraging the character of Miranda to explore the universe and all it has to offer Ian/Prospero joined a group of “demonstrators” carrying a placard bearing the word “Equality”.

Music by lgbt composers have often featured in ceremonies, and the Paralympics had 3 pieces at significant points. At the opening ceremony Benjamin Britten’s arrangement of the national anthem was used. David Took danced to Antony Hegarty’s “Bird Gerhl”, and the ceremony closed with the iconic gay anthem “I Am What I Am” from “La Cage Aux Folles” written by Jerry Herman (iconic gay anthem “Over the Rainbow” was sung at the 2002 winter games closing ceremony by Harry Connick jr.). The London Gay Men’s Chorus formed part of the choir during a sequence celebrating Sir Isaac Newton.

With future Olympic games it is certain that the ceremonies will continue to be spectacular and memorable. But in terms of the best ceremony from a gay angle no-one will ever beat the Sydney 2000 closing ceremony.

Since this article first appeared a lot of new information has been revealed and new research has been carried out. This article should be seen as a mere snapshot of the information known at the date of its publication. Several facts may now be outdated or inaccurate.

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