Tokyo 2020 Olympics: no mass choreography, fewer athletes at the opening ceremony

Tokyo opening ceremony rehearsal

The Japanese Self-Defense Force (JASDF) aerobatic team, the Blue Impulse, wrote Olympic rings in the sky during training ahead of the official opening of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics in Japan on Wednesday.
Image credit: Reuters

Tokyo: Forget the mass choreography, huge props and cornucopia of dancers, actors and lights associated with an Olympic Games Opening Ceremony. Tokyo’s grand opening on Friday will have none of this splendor or grandeur.

Instead, it will be a smaller-scale affair, a “sobering” performance, said Marco Balich, longtime executive producer of the opening ceremonies, and now senior advisor to the executive producer. of the Tokyo ceremonies, in an interview.

“It will be a much darker ceremony. Nevertheless with a beautiful Japanese aesthetic. Very Japanese but also in tune with today’s feeling, reality, ”said Balich, who was in charge of the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

“We need to do our best to complete these unique and hopefully one-of-a-kind Olympics. “

The increase in COVID-19 cases in Tokyo has cast a long shadow over an event which, having already been postponed last year due to the pandemic, will now take place without spectators.

Japan decided this month that participants will compete in empty venues to minimize health risks.

So far, there have been 67 cases of COVID-19 infections in Japan among those accredited for the Games since July 1, when many athletes and officials started arriving.

It also affected the Opening Ceremony, as not all of the athletes were in the team parade, as many arrive just before their competitions and leave shortly after to avoid contact as much as possible.

Instead of over 10,000 athletes marching through a crowded stadium as usual, the team’s parade will be smaller, in a largely empty Tokyo Olympic Stadium bar, a few hundred officials, and with rules strict social distancing.

“There will be several hundred stewards to guide the athletes for the parade. The opening ceremony will be somewhat unique and will focus only on the athletes, ”said Balich.

“This (pandemic) has consequences, of course. Mass choreography is obviously not happening, because of COVID-19, ”he said.

“The number in Rio was 12,600 athletes and officials at the parade. I’m afraid there will be less this time. This already gives a serious distance between the athletes in the stadium, ”said Balich, who also produced the ceremony for the 2006 Olympic Winter Games in Turin, among others.

“The Japanese team must struggle between how to promote their aesthetics and combine the fears and worries associated with the Olympics with infection and disease.”

The public is widely concerned about the safety of hosting the global sports spectacle amid the pandemic, and many Japanese fear that the Olympics will turn into a mass-market event.

“I think the great achievement of the creative team at this ceremony is that they were able to accept the empty seats as a fact and stay focused on the athletes,” said Balich.

“It will be very meaningful, far from the grandeur of previous ceremonies. The time is now. It’s a great effort. A very truthful, honest ceremony, nothing wrong. “

“No smoke and mirrors. These will be real things that will happen today, ”he said.

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