From Beijing: The Opening Extravaganza -- Conceptual and Political Art; No Chinatown Dragons

This is an Olympics which needed an opening ceremony strong enough to match the politically-charged atmosphere surrounding the choice of China.
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The Beijing Olympics are off with a bang. Red and white fireworks criss-cross the stadium as the crowd cheers.

two thousand eight men beat on large square drums. White lights flash off the drums with each beat.

A young girl in red steps forward and sings the Chinese patriotic song Five Stars as the crowd waves tens of thousands of red national flags.

The guard raises the main standard as the military band play the national anthem. The majority of the audience is clearly Chinese as a good part of stadium is chanting along to this not-very-catchy tune.

Now the birds nest stadium goes dark and a white scroll emerges from the center. As it unfurls the letters are made up of dancers in black. Pilobolus would be proud.

This ceremony is clearly going to focus on Chinese themes -- this is not an international mosaic but an exploration of how and why China got to where it is today.

Zhang Yimou, the creative director, is veering off-piste from past opening ceremonies. Gone are the tacky, shiny costumes and trite melodies. In this display, BAM meets Beijing, or rather crashes into it.

Now the ceremony take a bend towards conceptual art. Dancers dressed as quills move onto the floor as book-like structures undulate in the center of the stadium. I will leave the surprise here to your viewing.

This display quickly morphs into five hundred dancers who each hold a blade of a magnificent fan.

As the blades come together they depict the Chinese fleet of the 1400's which is reputed to have sailed to Africa and beyond.

And now five hundred dancers in yellow run into the stadium only to burst into dazzles of white light as a large globe rises from the center as Lang Lang plays on a white piano. Cirque de Soleil has arrived.

Two astronaut dancers launch in the air. Clearly a reference both to the exploration in Chinese history as well as the Chinese ambition to conquer space.

The display is topped off with two singers, Liu Huan and Sarah Brightman, singing from atop the globe about "one family" as the dancers flash pictures of children.

This token "we are world moment" seems out of place in this catalogue of Chinese history, art and ambition.

Outside the stadium, there is a military feel as young soldiers in crisp uniforms march about. Helicopters hover overhead in south central LA style.

This is an Olympics which needed an opening ceremony strong enough to match the politically-charged atmosphere surrounding the choice of China.

Bush 41 and 43 are here as is Hu Jintao and dozens of other heads of state. The air is thick and humid. The pollution blocks the sky.

All this just emphasizes that the choice of China was political despite the fact that this is a rather poor venue and climate for world-class sport.

Zhang Yimou has delivered a work of art that attempts to encapsulate all the myriad strains of new China, but no one performance can possibly accomplish this goal. Now let's see what the politicians do with this art.

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