Dancers light up the Bird's Nest during the opening ceremonies in Beijing. (Mike Hewitt / Getty Images)
Even with the intense buildup and hype surrounding the Beijing Olympics, the opening ceremonies did not disappoint. They were everything spectators and reporters have come to expect from the Chinese. Innovative. Filled with technological feats. Uniquely and boldly artistic. Precise organization down to the last detail. There were plenty of surprises throughout and fireworks that would put any Fourth of July display to shame.
A few highlights:
- Countdown with Fou drummers: To start the ceremony 2008 drummers welcomed the world. The Fou, an ancient Chinese drum that dates back to the Xia and Shang dynasties, lit up every time they were banged upon. As a result, the drumming created a synchronized lighting display that left the crowd ooohing and aaahing and primed for what was to come.
- Human brushes: A giant, traditional Chinese scroll opened in the center of the stadium. Dancers twisted and turned on the scroll surface creating a scroll painting as they went. The performance was meant to represent Chinese art, culture and history, as well as remind the audince that papermaking was one if ancient China's great inventions. The hour long staged performance before the parade of nations was a tour de force of Chinese history. And surprisingly, what could have come across as tedious and dry was anything but. The perfect example of that was the movable type performance.
- Movable type: To celebrate movable-type printing, another one of ancient China's four great inventions, a grid of Chinese characters mounted on top of box-like structures took center stage. The moveable type bounced up and down before spelling out the words for "Harmony" and "Peace" in Chinese. The characters then transformed into a computer keybord an artistic depiction of the Great Wall. At the end, the keyboard sprouted peach blossoms.
But the biggest suprise came at the end when it was revealed the keys were operated by 897 performers. Up until that point, the keyboard movements were so precise and well coordinated it was easy to assume it was controlled by a real computer. It took the keyboard performers 10 months to master their jobs.
- The finale: A giant globe rose from the center of the stadium and, in some ways resembled an ancient pagoda top. Then, 58 performers who seemed to defy gravity ran around nine rings on the globe. Again, it took 10 months of training to seamlessly pull of such moves. The performers on the lower half of the globe ran downward to sustain the effect. A total of 14,000 performers participated in the Opening Ceremonies, including 9,000 Army members and another 600 to organize fireworks displays.