- 5 Aug 08, 05:14 PM
I've just been to the opening ceremony.
I have to keep much of what I saw under my hat as it was an "embargoed" dress rehearsal, of which only 30 seconds of quite general footage has been released.
Since a Korean TV crew filmed a bit of Saturday's rehearsal and stuck it on You Tube (they have a few goes at it to get it right), the Chinese Olympic officials have been very jumpy.
But I don't think I'm giving too much away if I tell you this...
It was all you would expect from a performance directed by film director Zhang Yimou, maker of films such as Hero and House of Flying Daggers.
Featuring thousands of perfectly-choreographed Chinese men and women, it was an immense demonstration of power and unity - exactly the message the Chinese government is trying to convey to the world about its country, and with a sweeping soundtrack to boot.
One particular sequence near the beginning took my breath away with its noise and ambition, a people on the rise.
In parts, it reminded me of those old muscle-flexing displays at old Soviet tank rallies.
The Chinese fans seemed only too delighted to cheer or clap or start a Mexican wave when requested to do so by the volunteers stationed in the crowd.
And while all the Chinese people were merrily snapping away on their mobile phone cameras outside the stadium, I did not see one being used inside the stadium (obeying official requests presumably).
It is almost inconceivable to think one could stage a full Olympic opening ceremony rehearsal in front of 40,000 British people, and not expect photo and video sharing sites to be thick with digital shots from it within minutes.
But the Chinese are very obedient people it seems... I couldn't find anything on Flickr after this evening's performance for instance.
After the ceremony was over, the slightly uncomfortable military feel continued, as banks of dancers retreated in left-right platoons across the plaza in front of the Water Cube.
And fleets of sleek black cars with blackened windows were on hand to instantly whisk away dignitaries.
Those looking for surprises in the ceremony may be disappointed - though our rehearsal did not include the lighting of the cauldron or the fireworks and all parts were played by stand-ins, so who knows which celebrities will appear?
But for China-watchers looking for how the country would portray itself to the world, it is fascinating stuff.
Organisers said it would portray thousands of years of Chinese history - though I have to admit some of the imagery was too subtle for me.
Of course, they only have so much room for manoeuvre as many segments of the ceremony are enshrined in the Olympic constitution (which is probably why it goes on for so long) - the parade of athletes, the last stage of the relay and lighting of the flame, the 'artistic routine', the Olympic flag, the IOC president's speech... and the release of doves.
Those hot on Olympic history will know this, but at Seoul in 1988, the doves were released before the flame was lit - and some were promptly burnt to death when they alighted on the rim.
The practice was changed to release the birds afterwards - but apparently this time the order may be reversed.
Crispy dove anyone?
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