05 December 2006

The Opening Ceremony - finally

Amazingly, it's done. It's a few days now since the Opening Ceremony, and we are all zombies. Its hard to imagine regaining the energy to put on the Closing Ceremony, which is in under two weeks, with this level of exhaustion running through the company.

Ideally I would have been writing for the last few weeks leading up to the big night, and then immediately after. In reality I worked 10:30am - midnight for 2 weeks straight and by the time it was over, there was nothing left for reflection. But I had yesterday off, and despite feeling like the shell of a man, I do have some time tonight, and I thought I should get some thoughts down before it's too long since.

So about 2 weeks before the Ceremony I officially got a gig as Show Photographer. Until then my show roll was managing a tent of 500 Arabic men volunteers, miles from the action. Much to the chagrin of at least one of my fellow tenters, I was released to roam where I wanted, watch the entire Ceremony rehearsals, go into any room, on any level, to get shots. Lots of people never saw more than a few snippets of rehearsals and most saw nothing of the actual night.

On the day of the night, it rained. In fact it had rained on and off, and been windy for most of the week. It just doesn't do that in this country, this is the desert, and there are generally only one or two days of rain a year. For months we have fantasised about rain, and the whole office would run outside to stare at a cloud. But on that day, it really came down and for hours. There was the feeling that the show might not go on, or get stopped midway if there were safety concerns.

In the end it stopped for most of the show, but the high winds prevented some of the more interested flying elements from being used, which was a great disappointment. It did absolutely bucket down straight after, stranding hundreds of volunteers and athletes in the bus mall.

So i got around the field of play black zone, up into the seats, backstage into make-up rooms, back of house to cast holding zones, inside vomitories as cast entered or exited, everywhere where I could get the best shots.

And then, when I knew it was time, I joined the Prince as he readied himself for his performance. This was the second night I had spent backstage with the Emir's son, hanging out and taking photographs. Mohammed is an 18 year old kid, a champion equestrian rider (he's on the Qatar national team at the Games), and is a lovely guy. Despite being second in line for the throne and in theory probably one of the wealthiest people in the world, he's a very down-to-earth, fun, kind guy. And he had a hell of a performance to pull off on the night.

For those who missed it, he entered the field of play through a chamber in the ground, inside an elaborate 'sun stage', saluted his father the Emir, then rode his horse up a very long and steep ramp to the top of the stadium, where he lit an enormous cauldron. Despite his skill, many rehearsals and a very well trained horse, he almost didn't make it. The horse lost momentum at the top, it stumbled and almost fell. I was right up there basically standing next to him as this unfolded, screaming as a snapped off, will him on. It was highly dramatic, and doesn't bare thinking about had he actually fallen from the horse.

But he made, the magnificent cauldron, which is an Islamic flavoured atom design, rose and his torch lit it. The rings spun, the flame burst, the crowd cheered and the Games were open. Very exciting, and I felt particularly involved having got to know Mohammed over two nights, and being right up there in the action.

Then the rain started as everyone fled the stadium for the transport. This time it really came down, like a Sydney winter rainstorm. The gutters filled up (no drains in this country), the sand turned to mud, and everyone scrambled for cover. After downloading my images at the office I caught a very full bus home, and soon joined the party downstairs.

You've never seen so many relieved people. Faces I hadn't seen in weeks were there, all having finally pulled off the thing they have been working on for so long. Some people have been here for two years, just working on a single segment. One night, one performance, and it was over, hallas. It was great fun, but Gen and just couldn't maintain vertical positions for long and crashed by about 4, with the party still cranking.

I woke up the next morning, as I had for a week before, singing the theme songs from the Ceremony, and my dreams full of the lights, colour and characters. I was one of only a handful of people in at work that day, sorting my images from the night before. It was a real struggle to go back to those images, that I actually so wanted to forget at that point.

But I had yesterday off, and slept in before cycling into to town for the first time in daylight hours in what must be months. It was cool, and really windy, which gave the city a completely different feeling from any other time, when its hot and dusty. It seemed like there was no-one around and I could barely make out a single spectator at the cycling road race finish line as I went past. I got some nice photos that I have wanted to get in daylight hours for ages. See Flickr.

In the evening I went to a disappointedly badly attended meet-and-greet organised by the NSW and Victoria Sports and Events Secretariat - the idea was to create a network of Australians with the organisers of the upcoming Beijing Olympics, Delhi Commonwealth Games and Guangzhou Asian Games organisers. Unfortunately it seemed only Australians were there.

Work today was a struggle - I just can't turn my brain on. The office was full of people again, everyone who had been camped over at the stadium was back. Closing rehearsals started in earnest. I really need to get my energy back and get involved, considering Closing has so much more of my own content in it. Maybe just one more sleep....

Right now I just want to go home. It's less than 2 weeks now till Gen and I scarper for Oman, then less than a week after that we are on our way home. I can barely wait, I'm over being away.

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