Rio de Janeiro: Supermodel Gisele Bundchen, trailblazing transgender beauty Lea T and carnival dancers will show off Brazil in its multicolor glory at the Olympic opening ceremony Friday.
Rio has a hard act to follow after London 2012’s alternately humorous and jaw-droppingly sophisticated version.
This opening ceremony, held in a country suffering its deepest recession in almost a century, will be more modest.
Co-artistic chief Fernando Meirelles, who directed the hit movies “City of God” and “The Constant Gardener,” has said his budget is a fraction of the London splurge.
But organizers promise to keep the more than 70,000-strong crowd in Rio’s legendary Maracana stadium and the estimated three billion people watching it on television at the edge of their seats.
If Beijing 2008 was ostentatiously lavish and London quirky, Rio will try to capture Brazil’s amazing diversity, love of music — and talent for fun.
“We want to have the biggest party there has ever been in this country,” co-artistic director Daniela Thomas says.
Dancing through history
No one does big outdoor parties better than Rio — think the annual carnival — and music is at the heart of that.
Along with thousands of athletes parading behind their national flags, as well as a contingent of refugees, there’ll be hundreds of performers from a dozen local samba schools singing and dancing in wild costumes.
Two icons of Brazilian popular music, Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil, will feature. On the more contemporary side, there’ll be rappers and baile funk star Anitta.
Leaks from a closed-doors dress rehearsal on Sunday promise a run through the transformation of Brazil, including a light show to recreate the Atlantic Ocean crossed by Portuguese colonizers, depictions of slavery, a recreation of aviator Santos Dumont’s flight in the plane 14 Bis, and the founding of cities.
Another heavyweight theme in the show, which starts at 8:00 pm (2300 GMT) and lasts roughly four hours, will be global warming and Brazil’s crucial role as home to the Amazon rainforest, reports say.
One of the most famous Brazilians alive — Bundchen, who retired from the catwalk in 2015 — and pioneering transgender model Lea T will provide the glamour.
Bundchen’s role was mired in controversy this week when her scene in the dress rehearsal appeared to show an attempted mugging before police arrive and she forgives the assailant.
Responding to a wave of protest, organizers angrily denied ever having depicted an assault. A well-connected columnist in Globo newspaper said the crowd misinterpreted what was meant to be a skit about a street vendor, not a mugger.
In any case, Bundchen, who struts out to the classic Brazilian hit “Girl from Ipanema,” will be safe on Friday. “There will be no robbery,” a spokesman for organizers told AFP.
Lea T, a transgender woman who has broken into the mainstream fashion industry, is billed as being the first trans person to have a major role in an Olympic opening ceremony.
Born to Brazilian soccer player Toninho Cerezo, who was part of the national team between 1977 and 1985, Lea T told the BBC that she wants to embody Brazil’s diversity.
“Brazil is vast and all this diversity, in one way or another, needs to be represented in an event like this,” she said.
It won’t be all smiles and samba.
Brazil is going through a major political crisis. The elected president, Dilma Rousseff, is suspended and likely to be ejected from office in an impeachment vote after the Games end.
She has refused to attend the ceremony, saying she will not accept “a secondary role” while her former vice president Michel Temer, now acting president, presides.
Temer is expected to say no more than one line or so declaring the Games open, but even that risks booing from opponents in the crowd.
“I am totally ready” for heckling, he said.
Outside the stadium, security will be heavy in case of demonstrations by groups supporting Rousseff.
As for the A-level attendance, US President Barack Obama will be among the many heads of state keeping away. According to O Estado de Sao Paulo daily, the total of world leaders will be the lowest in 16 years.
One thing the rehearsal did not show is the lighting of the Olympic cauldron.
The identity of the lucky person carrying the Olympic torch — which has completed a 300-city relay — to ignite the cauldron is also a mystery.
The big favorite is football legend Pele, probably the most famous Brazilian of all.
However he never played in the Olympics and NBC, the US network with exclusive broadcasting rights for the United States, suggests that organizers should look at Brazilian marathon runner Vanderlei de Lima.
De Lima was leading in the 2004 Athens Olympics when a spectator ran out and grabbed him. He ended up winning bronze and forgave his attacker, earning plaudits for his humility.
Olympic organizing committee spokesman Mario Andrada says there’ll be plenty of surprises Friday.
“We didn’t show even 20 percent,” he said.