By Amanda Wicks
Brazil proved they know how to throw a party when the opening ceremonies of the 2016 Rio Olympics kicked off Friday night (August 5). The creative minds behind the event aimed to do things a bit differently than past host countries. As important as it was to tell Brazil’s story—and that certainly comprised the majority of the hour-long display—they also wanted to send a unifying message. Creative director Fernando Meirelles (known for the 2002 film City of God) said he and his team wanted to celebrate diversity and in turn celebrate the world.
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Rather than go with a big performance, Meirelles tapped singer-songwriter Paulinho de Viola to sing the Brazilian national anthem. He accompanied himself on an acoustic guitar with a string orchestra behind him. Shots of the crowd showed many in the audience singing along.
From there, 6,000 volunteers began sharing the history of Brazil through an eye-popping, colorful array of costumes, dancing, special effects and more. Meirelles worked with award-winning Brazilian choreographer Deborah Colker (Cirque du Soleil) to design the musically and physically adventurous narrative, which spanned the country’s musical history, from indigenous rhythms all the way to 2016 via 12-year old female rapper MC Soffia.
Relying on a special effects floor designed to transform that one-dimensional platform into something three-dimensional, volunteers began by showing the birth of the rainforest and the changes that occurred once explorers arrived to clash with the native population. The country didn’t shy away from its past, including a powerful segment that looked at the arrival of the slave trade and the damaging effect it had on captured Africans.
It was all meant to highlight the country’s ethnic and cultural diversity. As the announcers noted, Brazilians can be cultural cannibals, since they excel at taking bits and pieces from many cultures and weaving it into their own fabric to create something wonderful.
The story transitioned from past to present when a beaming Giselle Bündchen walked her last catwalk across the stadium floor while a pianist played the classic Brazilian song, “The Girl from Ipanema.” Without any pause, once Bündchen reached the end and gave the crowd a big kiss, the floor became a colorful disco while dancers—dressed all in white with baseball caps to boot—celebrated on the rooftops of a makeshift city designed to look like Brazil’s largest, São Paulo.
Another famous singer, Elza Soares performed briefly before an energetic samba began and overtook dancers who were dressed in colorful giant afros. The broadcast’s director couldn’t help cutting to Bündchen in the crowd, where she was dancing her butt off and having a grand time.
The ceremony transitioned from a party to a more serious message about global warming and climate change once the creative team reached modern-day Brazil in their story’s timeline. Meirelles said of the focus, “This is the core of our ceremony. We’re going to show here how climate change is affecting all of us, and how our world is at risk because of climate change.” It was a powerful way of using an international platform to hold the world accountable for a problem that affects every country.
Even though Brazil’s creative team didn’t have nearly the budget of host countries in years past, they still shared a memorable display that brought together all the disparate threads of the country into one magical moment. It achieved a bright and hopeful tone that set the stage for the two weeks of competition to follow.