A Guide to the Sochi Olympics Opening Ceremony Insanity

By Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan on at

Whether you're watching for the noble pageantry or to mock the outlandish getups forced upon the athletes, the opening ceremonies are always the best part of the Olympics. Here's what you should watch out for—besides the bathrooms.

Whatever goes down in Sochi's Fisht Stadium, it's going to set the tone for the rest of the games. This is a chance for Putin to reclaim his beloved pet project from the flames of public opinion, and the pressure is definitely on. We know he's a big fan of "world music" and live wrestling—can we expect either?

The Budget

Sochi officials have refused to comment on the price tag of the ceremonies—but given the incredible £31 billion cost of developing Sochi for the games, it's likely to be significantly higher than previous games' ceremonies. For reference, Danny Boyle's opening ceremony program in London cost about £26 million, while the total cost of the London games was a mere £8.7 billion. If that ratio is anything to go by, we'd be looking at roughly £91 million to produce the show.

A Guide to the Sochi Olympics Opening Ceremony Insanity

Workers prep scaffolding for the ceremonies. Image: Joe Scarnici/Getty.

The Director

Andrei Boltenko, a Muscovite director who runs an eponymous entertainment production group that specialises in TV events, is the man in charge of producing the ceremony itself. But even Putin, apparently, has been showing up for rehearsals.

A Guide to the Sochi Olympics Opening Ceremony Insanity

Putin and the mayor of the Olympic Village share a private joke. Pascal Le Segretain/Getty.

The Choreographer

Boltenko invited LA-based choreographer Daniel Ezralow to take on the performance that will open up the games. Ezralow is one of the biggest names in the business—he choreographed the Beatles show Across the Universe and Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.

Ezralow's style is irreverent and often funny—often focusing on the bodies of one or two performers. So it'll be interesting to see how his style translates to a performance that involves thousands of people. Here he is, dancing with a baby:

A Guide to the Sochi Olympics Opening Ceremony Insanity


The Show

Though it's supposed to be top secret, a picture of the performance is starting to come together. It seems to follow the course of great moments in Russian history—presumably excluding the darker points. But in an interview with the LA entertainment blog The Wrap, Ezralow hinted that it won't be all fireworks and smiling children, either, saying that the show would "identify the dark aspects of different centuries, and also see the positive."

A big portion of the show will focus on Russia's glut of great classical composers and dancers. At the closing ceremonies in Vancouver, a Russian ballet troupe performed a dance to the third movement of Tchaikovsky's Symphony Pathetique in the traditional preview put on by the next host country.

One interlude is reportedly inspired by the 1910s and '20s, when Russia was at the forefront of the Modern age. An illicit picture tweeted from within the dress rehearsal showed a stage set with Soviet Constructivist-style backdrops, hinting that a major section of the show will involve a Broadway take on Russia's early avant-garde:

Nearly every Olympic Opening Ceremony has had a big, crazy finale moment. Last time, it was snowboarder Johnny Lyall leaping through the flaming Olympic rings. This year, it's likely to feature a Russian athlete—but we don't know much more than that.

The Performers

Again, we don't know much, other than that there will be lots of them. There will be thousands of Russian performers involved in the show, including "a choir of 1,000 children" on "a stage with floating cathedral domes, glowing magical horses, buildings, trains and bridges," according to ABC.

There will be a few headlining acts, too. One intriguing rumour suggests that tATu—yeah, remember those two!?—might be involved, which would be hilarious and incredibly weird given Russia's deplorable anti-gay propaganda laws. Russian violinist Yuri Bashmet, conductor Valery Gergiev, and ballerina Ulyana Lopatkina are also expected to take the stage. Gergiev is one to watch—he's a hero to many classical music fans, but human rights activists have criticised his support of the anti-gay laws put in place by Putin—a close friend of his.

Another rumour: That Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman to fly in space, may be somehow involved, along with Vladislav Tretiak, the star goalie of the Soviet Union's Olympic hockey team.

Of course, the most important performers, by far, will be the pyrotechnicians setting off the giant fireworks display that will wrap the whole shebang up. If you want to spoil the surprise for yourself, here's a video of the recent pyrotechnic dress rehearsal:


The Politics

Plenty of world leaders will be in attendance, but look out for the absences, too: Barack Obama won't be there, after announcing in December that both he and Joe Biden wouldn't be travelling to Sochi. It's the first time in almost 15 years that a US president hasn't appeared at the games, and it points to the rising tensions between the two countries. Also bowing out: French President Francois Hollande, David Cameron, and German President Joachim Gauck.

Do look for Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, though. The beleaguered Yanukovych is due to visit Sochi this week to attend the opening ceremonies—but his trip is also a foil for a meeting with Putin. Ukraine, of course, has been embroiled in violent protests over Yanukovych's apparent closeness with Russia and move away from the EU. It'll be interesting to see how much we hear about the meeting.

Here's another interesting tidbit, though you may not see any evidence of it on TV: The American ski and snowboarding team has reportedly hired a private security team to provide additional protection, which will surveil and accompany athletes around Sochi. The Navy has also moved two ships to the nearby coast, just in case.

The Building

The £337 million building designed to house it all is Fisht Stadium. Though Fisht is the primary stadium for the games themselves, its designers--the US-based sports venue architects at Populous and structural engineers at Buro Happold--designed it so that it could offer "studio conditions" for the opening ceremonies.

A Guide to the Sochi Olympics Opening Ceremony Insanity

A Guide to the Sochi Olympics Opening Ceremony Insanity

Image: Getty/Streeter Lecka.

That means a polycarbonate roof that can be used as a screen for projections, as well as massive hangars at each end that will be used as staging areas for the thousands of athletes and loads of equipment that must be moved quickly into the arena.



We would be remiss if we didn't answer the most important question of all: When do the Olympic Opening Ceremonies start?

The show begins on Friday, February 7th, at 8pm Sochi time. Coverage begins at 15:30 on BBC2 – with the ceremony proper expected to kick-off at 16:14GMT