Ah, the Olympic ceremonies: When athletes of the world parade with their flags into the international spotlight, when host countries pay tribute to their cultural heritages and when I (without fail) tear up at the beauty of it all. Ballet doesn’t usually play into the Olympic mix as a sport, but the opening and closing ceremonies are a different story. Case in point(e): Sochi, Russia in 2014 and London in 2012.
Russia’s ballet offering was the longer and more classical of the two. Svetlana Zakharova performed alongside fellow Russian ballet stars, including Ivan Vasiliev and Danila Korsuntsev, in a glittering balletic portrayal of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. When the corps finishes its intricate serpentine patterns, she takes the stage (1:15)—costume glinting, lights flashing—before an audience of millions. If the dancers are nervous, they don’t show it. Zakharova’s unfaltering, delicate grace is the perfect foil to Vasiliev’s knockout manège.
Diana Vishneva also graced the Olympic stage that year in a contemporary number, and Sochi’s closing ceremonies featured the Bolshoi and Mariinsky Ballets coming together for a grand tribute to the Diaghilev era.
Two years earlier, at the Olympic Summer Games in London, British ballerina Darcey Bussell took “firebird” to a whole new level. She came out of retirement for the “Phoenix of the Flame” ballet, the final hurrah (3:03:32) before the extinguishing of the Olympic fire. Look beyond the flashy pyrotechnics; Bussell owns that stage like the legend she is.
Brazil’s balletic tradition is young compared to Europe’s, but plenty of talented artists have come from the South American nation: Ingrid Silva, Nathalia Arja and Irlan Silva, to name a few. It’s hard to say if Rio’s Opening Ceremonies tomorrow will include any ballet. (Olivier Award-winning choreographer Deborah Colker is onboard to direct the dance sequences.) With or without ballet, we’ll be tuned in. Happy #TBT, and go #TeamUSA!