Friday, 9 May 2014

Medal Quest : Another Ozzie Opening.

Tomorrow night the 3rd Asia-Pacific Outgames in Darwin, Australia, begins with a lavish opening ceremony. We've become used to such things in recent decades. As I write this I'm deprived of my research. Both my PC and laptop with back-up file died on my lest weekend Rather than leave a gap in the schedule I'll fall back on my print material and archives and look back at a previous Australian opening ceremony, Sydney 2000, and what were undoubtedly the campest and gayest of all Olympic ceremonies.

I've mentioned these ceremonies very briefly before (here and here), particularly the closing ceremony, so today we'll have a closer look at the opening ceremony in celebration of tomorro night's event.

First of all a word about the organisation of Olympic ceremonies. Each ceremony is made up of several segments - usually: a welcome, arrival of dignitaries, several cultural segments, athlete's parade, Olympic flag raising, official speeches, and finally the lighting of the cauldron. In overall charge is the Director of Ceremonies, and next in line is the person most often recognised in reference to ceremonies, the Artistic Director (e.g. Danny Boyle for London 2012). Each segment is allocated to a second director with the Artistic Director having the final say on what is included. The Artistic Director may often direct some segments personally.
Director of Ceremonies for Sydney 2000 was Ric Birch, with David Atkins as Artistic Director. Neither men are gay, but throughout the opening ceremony there were many lgbt people who helped to create the spectacle.

Acting as overall Choreographic Director was Doug Jack, one of the greatest figures in Olympic ceremonies. Doug had been involved in Olympic ceremonies since Barcelona 1992 when he was chosen by Ric Birch (the Barcelona consulting director) to create the marshal role at the athlete's parade, and to direct the welcoming segment. Like David Atkins, Doug had several other people under his supervision who worked on the choreography of specific segments for Sydney 2000. Once again Doug directed the athlete's parade and also choreographed parts of several other segments (including the segment pictured above).

Moving from overall responsibility to the separate segments the most significant lgbt contributor was Ignatius Jones. Philippine-born Ignatius had lived in Sydney since 1963 and was a singer and performer before becoming an events organiser. Ignatius got the ball rolling in Sydney 2000 by directing the welcoming segment featuring 120 horsemen, and the arrival of the dignitaries and the Australian national anthem.

Ignatius and David Atkins became a formidable creative team and they were responsible for the ceremonies of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics. Ignatius also directed the opening ceremony of the Sydney 2002 Gay Games.

Later in the 2000 Olympic ceremony the Australian-based dance troupe the Tap Dogs provided a raucous and vibrant segment involving many sparks and industrial construction. Segment director was Tap Dogs co-founder Nigel Triffitt (1950-2012). Who would have thought when Tap Dogs was created in the 1990s that tap dancing could be so macho? Openly gay Nigel was the person who created the factory/industrial concept for the other co-founder Dien Perry, who acted as Nigel's Tap Choreographer for the Sydney 2000 segment.

The climax of the opening ceremony was the lighting of the Olympic cauldron. Most people will remember the event - Kathy Freeman standing in a pool of water with the torch in her hand as the cauldron rose above her and shuddered to a halt! This caused several moments of dread for David Atkins, but more so for the cauldron's segment director, Richard Wherrett (1940-2011).

The segment began with the entry of the torch into the stadium. The first torch bearers were two legendary Ozzie athletes, Betty Cuthbert being pushed in her wheelchair by Raelene Boyle (who came out in her 2008 autobiography). All went well until the cauldron was lit. Apparently, the computer which controlled the cauldron's movements decided to reboot itself and there was nothing anyone could do but wait. To Richard it must have seemd like hours. He and David Atkins probably gave a huge sigh of relief when the cauldron was finally in place. For David Atkins history was to repeat itself in Vancouver 2010 when one of the 4 supporting legs of the Winter Olympic cauldron refused to rise into position.

The Sydney opening ceremony was to be the pinnacle of Richard Wherrett's career. The hitch in the cauldron didn't really blight what was a magnificent opening ceremony, and was an appropriate final event for Richard to direct. Fifteen months later he died of an AIDS-related illness.

While it would be impractical to show footage of all the various contributors mentioned above, this video shows the contribution made to the opening (and closing) ceremony by another lgbt designer, Peter Morrissey.

And finally, good luck to everyone at the Asia-Pacific Outgames.

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