August 02, 2016, BY Paula Cogan Myers

Professor Paula Davis, theatre & dance

Q: Why is the artistic performance during the modern Olympics opening ceremonies an important tradition?

A: Millions of people all over the world watch the Olympics opening ceremony. Starting the games this way provides an opportunity for the host country's artists, culture experts and government to communicate carefully crafted notions of identity, nationalism and cultural ideals to a vast international audience. Often, this starts before the games, in the way the ceremonies are described. You can see this on rio2016, which says that the opening ceremonies will feature "a thrilling fusion of Brazilian culture set to the rhythms of the country's vigorous musical styles." In addition, it brings many people together to participate in the games. This year, more than 6,000 volunteers are dancing in the opening ceremonies to share Brazilian culture with the world.

Q: Who is involved in planning the opening ceremonies?

A: Some artistic directors have been engaged in several opening ceremonies. Brazil's will be the thirteenth time American live-event director Steve Boyd is part of the creative team. Others are brought on specifically to represent the highest artistic achievement of their country, such as the Oscar-nominated Brazilian film director Fernando Meirelles (City of God and The Constant Gardener), who is one of this year's creative directors, or Italian fashion designer Moschino, who designed the Alps-themed dresses decorated with snow, pine trees and tiny lit houses for the women who led each team for the Parade of Nations during the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino.

Q: How are history, culture and national identity expressed through this type of artistic expression?

A: Folk music and dance as national signs and symbols of identity are often utilized in opening ceremonies. The presentation of fiddlers and dancers in the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Olympics or the spectacular use of 400 drummers and nearly as many Greek bouzouki players performing the traditional dance music Zembekiko for the Athens opening ceremonies in 2004 are great examples. Interestingly, the 1984 opening ceremonies in Los Angeles included a local folk dance ensemble in ethnic costumes to represent the perceived international sensibility of Los Angeles and the greater U.S.

This summer, it will be interesting to observe how Brazil uses its opportunity to present itself to the world. Look closely at how traditional aspects of culture are interwoven with modern sensibility by artists, designers, directors, choreographers, composers, musicians and performers to create a spectacle that is both artistic and political in what can be termed an invented tradition.

Read more answers about the Olympics here.

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