Olympic riff

Something unusual happened last night, some 30 million BBC viewers  watched a Performing  Arts event live on TV as did a billion more throughout the world. While we’re used to major sports events attracting large numbers of viewers very rarely do we see a Performing  Arts event promoted so heavily.  OK so it was the opening night of the Olympics, it was our Olympics,  and the level of anticipation, with Danny Boyle in charge, was feverish; but really it was the flim flam, the razzle dazzle before the   serious stuff of competition began today.

Why do major sport events  attract so much attention. Perhaps because there must always be  winners and losers, because Darwinism denied by some is evident for all to see  as the strongest, fittest and fastest survive and  triumph (but not always), because success is measurable  and comparable with local, national and global champions and records.  And through television we can all participate and engage collectively as a group  in the triumphs and the failures, the raw emotions exposed by competition, and the anticipation of what might have been if… And of course as everybody knows sport has associated benefits such as improved fitness, mental health and all round well being.

So lets look at the flim flam, the razzle dazzle of last night. Superficially when reduced to its component parts it merely comprised music , dance, speech, drama and enormous  sets . But on closer examination it offered several  things  of which sport can only dream.  First of all creativity,  despite the spoilers could anybody anywhere predict what was in Danny Boyle’s imagination and of course imagination appeals to the imagination. When was the last time we saw something genuinely creative in sport; sports are governed by rules and within these parameters  the predictable becomes the norm, but there are no such boundaries to the imagination.  And even more remote in sport, particularly professional sport, humour. “Good evening Mr Bond” combined both imagination and humour, the last known example of which in sport (albeit unintentional) was the Zairean free kick against Brazil in 1974. But perhaps most importantly of all, inclusivity. Sport creates a hierarchy, if we’re good we progress to the next level, higher and higher until we reach the world stage and finally we stand on the podium. Last night we saw children and adults, the partially abled and disabled, men and women  sharing the same stage at the same time; the performing arts are both  individual and pluralistic with something for everyone. But the sum of collaborative effort  is greater than its individual parts, and what we witnessed last night transcended performing arts as it entered our collective consciousness just as on some very rare occasions sport does too.  But the routes are very different.

Which brings me to my point, at last.

The performing arts and culture per se contributes more to the UK economy than sport. We’re world class in the entire range of performing arts. Maybe we should be investing more in the performing arts from the school up, it makes for a better investment return and when was the last time someone fixed a performance of King Lear.  Perhaps the fortnight of Olympic action should have culminated in the ”Isles of Wonder” ceremony , in excellence and  in what we do best.





  • keano10

    Depite Mick’s earlier eulogies about the ceremony, there has been a fair amount of criticism levelled at the ceremony. The first half hour and more was unbelievably tedious with a set that looked like something out a badly designed play at a village playhouse. The industrial revolution theme was proverbially flogged to death with mass sequences that were so out of sync, that at times it was completely embarassing.

    The Bond scene has some humour to begin with but ended in an un- coordinated and it took ages to finally get around to promoting their rich musical heritage. Danny did ok but there were a few glaring ommissions – No Oasis during the 90’s section?? Barely forgiveable seeing as they were the iconic sound and lasting influence of the entire decade.

    This was a budget restricted ceremony and boy could the creaks be heard at times…

  • Another view on the Olympic distraction from politically incorrect and inept and corrupt financial systems meltdowns …….. http://www.dollarvigilante.com/blog/2012/7/28/the-weekend-vigilante-july-28th-2012.html …… which haven’t gone away and are in fact deepening and strengthening for the paradox which delivers their complete destruction if systems managements decline and/or ignore really novel and virtually free noble help, …. which between AIRock and a Hard Place in CyberSpace is Anonymous Invisible Assistance ….. which Holywood can plausibly deny is nothing at all to do with them, which is their problem highlighted in spades for all in intelligence communities to see.

    Although unless anyone would claim to have a controlling handle on the present emerging situations and burgeoning anomalous events, it is wise to remember to never forget that intelligence folk in empty intellectual property glass houses do not throw stones, for secret 6 is not better than secure 5 with the Cheltenham doughnut hub, another great source of grand imaginative disappointment. And those three would have you believe they are the world’s finest at what they would do behind the scenes for all to follow and react predictably to.

  • Maybe we should be investing more in the performing arts from the school up….

    I would agree. There is some variation in the standards of performing arts in the schools across Northern Ireland. Unfortunately, the varation usually boils down to the abilities of a few teachers, rather than the equipment and other stock which is used by the students.

    The biggest problem with the Grammar school system is institutional prejudice. No matter how good students are at performing arts, academic excellence is paramount and performing arts are generally “extra-curricular.” Yes, a student can study music or drama GCSE and “A” level at a the school. Unfortunately, the grammar school student is unlikely to treat those subjects as more than side subjects. Such a view will tend to be reinforced by the student’s parents who are likely to consider a career in the performing arts as too risky.

  • Keano 10

    I thought the spectacle worked, overall the images were instantly memorable and there was plenty of supporting detail.

    Seymour Major

    Don’t necessarily disagree about the institutional prejudice however the schools just could be in the wrong. Against advice one of mine took a fourth subject which was non academic, Moving Image Arts, the school preferred just the three academic subjects. In reality his offers, all from top universities didn’t exclude MIA, indeed interviews concentrated on MIA. The universities were impressed by credible evidence of creativity and imagination delivered by good project management and people skills which MIA entails.

    Takes the pressure off a little if you have a non academic A level included in your A Level offer for an academic degree.

  • andnowwhat

    Apparently, many foreign viewers were at a loss as to what was going on.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Good article, Articles, and I would agree, just as you need the grass roots sports developement grass root creative arts should also be developed, which is much more diverse that we realise, some of it verges on sports, others such as writing can be a very private experience. Religious events, marching bands, Irish language, rural traditions, are all areas where Northern Ireland excels, far greater than that it does in any sport. It dosn’t have to be be arty farty, and I think the very diverse opening cerimony displayed that, a little for everyone, personally as an historian I loved the opening section best. As for foreign viewers, they was enough of common interest to keep them on board, hopefully the bit they didn’t understand will make them look it up, and take an interest in the country more. The Eastenders theme was a perfect in joke example.

  • It’s over, so let it go (though I thought it fitted the bill nicely. And we’re promised the closing do will be as good0.

    A question to those with sharper eyes than mine: in the quick historical flick through past Olympic posters, was the 1936 one missing? [See http://olympic-museum.de/poster/poster1936.htm%5D

  • If the Orange Order were to put themselves in the hands of a world class event manager/ creative, and crucially not march where they are not wanted, then within ten years they could have a world class festival with ticketed opening and closing ceremonies. A cross between the Edinburgh Tattoo and the Thanksgiving Day parade. If they were to choose to house themseves at the Maze they could have permanent stands to watch the Tattoo.

    And all funded by the taxpayer

  • Mick Fealty

    Can I say that my eulogy consisted of being impressed even though I am no fan of spectacle (which is usually aimed at taking your eye away from the real messages)…

    That said, I’d really be interested in taking this discussion on to G+ Hangout… where we could open it up in a few interesting ways…

    I might have a Scots contributor to such a debate… anyone else got other suggestions as to who we might invite?

  • Hold on a mo! When Mick Fealty @ 10:55 am casually drops in which is usually aimed at taking your eye away from the real messages, is he allowed to do that?

    OK: he’s il capofamiglia in these parts, and we petty men merely his foot-soldiers, but … still. [Irony alert!]

    The way Mick’s clause came across to me was a bit — well — a bit Aidan Burley. If that’s not the case, what were “the real messages” last Friday?

    I thought the prime intents were to be inclusive — even populist, to avoid the militarisation of Beijing (which seemed to irritate the Disgusteds of Tunbridge Wells), to entertain, to reference London, England, the UK, youth, continuity — and change (and approximately in that order)… you name it, it was in there somewhere.

    Giving Branagh (depping for Rylance), as Brunel, the Caliban speech for the thematic opening was a stroke of multiple incongruities, and genius. You heard it, but did you hear it? Did it register? —

    Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
    Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
    Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
    Will hum about mine ears; and sometime voices,
    That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
    Will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming,
    The clouds methought would open, and show riches
    Ready to drop upon me; that, when I waked,
    I cried to dream again.

    Let’s not be too petty. I’ve never seen a theatrical performance which went pat-perfect. The knack is to cover it up. Equally, the reviewers usually overlook the error, the dropped prop, the laddered stocking, nor the subtle recovery. And equally, too, from my experience, the audience relish more the way other cast members disguise any fault, any miscue and “drying”. Otherwise it’d have to be “Take two!”

  • Mick Fealty

    I’m an in-the-round man Malcolm, the Orange Tree or the New Vic is more my space than the Cottesloe… (well, the Olivier yes, if it is 1997, and McBurney is doing Brecht’s Caucasian Chalk Circle)..

    Ordinarily, there is no space for spectacle in the round and the words must work for their attention all by themselves…

    Whilst technically this in an in-the-round stadium Boyle’s was a production for the small proscenium screen… And for me the words, whilst well enough, did not quite add up to the meaning on the page…

  • Mick Fealty @ 11:48 am:

    You are absolutely right: this went beyond “in the round” and became “Circus, Circus”, with high wire acts ‘n all. Still, I’d diffidently suggest that up-rooting a tree and releasing hundreds of Morlocks, or a swarm of flying Poppinses, or erecting seven chimneys (with integral Fred Dibnah) is pretty close to spectacle. And impressively so (I had to suffer an architect wondering about the smoke-stacks: “How the hell did they do that?”)

    Let’s be careful here. We don’t want to venture into Albert-and-the-lion territory:

    They didn’t think much of the Ocean:
    The waves, they were fiddlin’ and small,
    There was no wrecks and nobody drownded,
    Fact, nothing to laugh at at all.

    Had this been the Paris variant, we could have had a gen-you-wine guillotine, doubtless with a leggy chorus line. Think what we missed.

    I note you also acknowledge that the main audience would be seeing this inside a typical 40-inch bezel (the small proscenium screen). Allegedly it worked very well on big public screens, as in Haggerston Park.

    Did the words get crowded out? Perhaps. I stand by my view on the Caliban speech: the other Stratford’s Bill had to be in there somewhere; and using the Gaunt speech from Richard II would have been too, too predictable. Rowling and Neverland? Hmmm …

    I see something involving BMX bikes got lost on the final cut. Hence the inchoate Romeo & Juliet on text messages.