Olympic welcome and official opening ceremonies from 5-21 Century

With the official opening of the 2012 Olympic games just 2 days away, we’re looking back at how the opening ceremonies have changed from a religious festival to a spectacular fiesta style display today.

The Ancient Olympics were, in essence, a religious festival. The Games were held in honour of the god Zeus and almost all aspects of the athletic events and the rituals that surrounded them were connected with the realm of the sacred to some degree.

See 5 Day One: The opening ceremony (athletics and religion) on Learning Space for more on the opening ceremony in Elis, where the training ground was held and their march of 36Km towards Olympia the day before the start of the Games.  There’s a model of the site of Olympia, half sanctuary, half sports ground compound.

Today it’s a very different picture, with Team GB arriving to a 160-strong group of performers in laying on an elaborate show involving costume, dance and Queen music as national teams are formally inducted to the Village. (Image from London 2012 website)

The Team Welcome Ceremonies are usually more prosaic affairs built around a symbolic exchange of gifts, the raising of the flag and an airing of the national anthem. All these elements are contained in Paul Roseby’s (artistic director with the National Youth Theatre) show, but with added razzmatazz.

“We are the first theatre company in the history of the modern Olympics to be asked to create a real spectacle around the protocol of the team welcomes, ” said Roseby. “We were given the brief to shake it up a bit, get a large cast together and make it very youthful and very British.”

Asked about the reaction from athletes so far, Roseby added: “They have absolutely loved it and some have been dancing along. It’s a party atmosphere… it’s about marking their entry to the Olympics no matter their success rate and saying “you’re brilliant, we love you”.

Find out more about Team Welcome Ceremonies on the London 2012 website.

The 2012 Opening Ceremony will be a parade of all the competing nations along with the highly anticipated entrance of the Olympic flame, which ignites the Cauldron and signals the start of the Games.  People the world over will be watching the ceremony. Danny Boyle, Artistic Director of the London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony, said: “Our Isles of Wonder salutes and celebrates the exuberant creativity of the British genius in an Opening Ceremony that we hope will be as unpredictable and inventive as the British people.”

Personally, I remember being quite uninterested in watching the ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics, and then being glued to the TV in wonder of the spectacular which unfolded before my eyes.  I wait with anticipation to see if  Friday brings the same wonderful feeling.  Will we equal or even surpass them? Let us know what you think.

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About ouartsfaculty

The Arts Faculty of The Open University is a world leader in supported Open Learning, and one of the best institutions in the world for arts and humanities. You can follow us on Twitter @OUArtsFaculty and on Facebook.
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