“We have a responsibility to lessen the stigma of Paralympic sport being an alternative to Olympic sport. It isn’t. To be honest, it will be a lot more interesting, and the Olympic folk are going to be damn jealous.”
Hidden among the corridors deep beneath the Maracana Stadium, a bunker has been created for more than 400 staff working on the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Dozens of rows of tables, people discussing in English and Portuguese, and security guards keeping a strict eye on those entering and leaving, protecting some of the best-kept secrets of Rio 2016.
A pineapple and a bra – both made of paper, origami style – lie on the desk of one of the Paralympic show's creative directors, while on the computer screen of another, a mass choreography scene being performed in the dark. In a locked room, a model of the Maracana is being used to test projections. But suddenly the creative team arrives, and the snooping must stop.
“Working here together has been a very rich exchange,” says Flavio Machado, executive producer of the Paralympic Ceremonies, adding that 20 per cent of the people involved are from abroad, with a wealth of experience in large-scale events. “We have the best professionals in the world, in pyrotechnics, projection, people who have already done more than 10 ceremonies, who know what can go wrong. It’s a learning experience that will stay with the Brazilian team, it will be a legacy.”
‘The Olympic folk are going to be jealous’
Internationally renowned Brazilian artist Vik Muniz is one of the creative directors alongside writer and playwright Marcelo Rubens Paiva and designer Fred Gelli. For Muniz , the Paralympic Opening Ceremony offers great freedom in terms of invention.
“What we will have a lot of in the ceremony is a mix of people with an impairment and those without, and you won’t be able to tell between them,” he explains. “We have a responsibility to lessen the stigma of Paralympic sport being an alternative to Olympic sport. It isn’t. To be honest, it will be a lot more interesting, and the Olympic folk are going to be damn jealous.”
One of the few details of the almost three-hour show that has already been revealed is the live samba segment, made up of renowned Brazilian sambistas Maria Rita, Monarco and Diogo Nogueira among others. The intimate performance will come after an initial grand-scale opening four minutes. Paiva explains that the samba segment is part of a tribute to the invention of the wheel.
“It is one of humanity’s most brilliant creations, a necessity for a large majority of people with an impairment to get around and to play sports,” Paiva says. “And when we thought about the wheel [roda in Portuguese], the idea for a samba performance [roda de samba in Portuguese], which is the soul of Rio de Janeiro, came straight away.”
A fusion of Las Vegas, Broadway and opera, the ceremony will also have a bit of MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), one of the leading institutions for technology in the world, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the USA. Artist Muniz visited the laboratories there a few times and, with the help of Brazilian designer and artist Paiva Coelho, created an entire segment that explores the concept of visual perception. “He developed the equipment that will be used in a mass-choreography of 400 people. It will be a great visual effect,” says Muniz.
Paiva, aged 57, and a wheelchair user since he was 20, said that his main concern is avoiding being tacky.
“There are a lot of shows featuring people with impairments that are just cheesy. Ours won’t be. It will be of the highest level and tasteful. And we are not going to present anyone as an archetypal super-hero,” he says.
“Because a person with an impairment is not a super-hero, he is a normal guy who is trying to get by just like everyone else. There won’t be anything that seems forced.”
Muniz, whose studio in Rio has hosted the directors meetings, believes that the performance of the Brazilian athletes will help the nation’s morale.
“The current situation is so complicated, politically, socially, that it will be incredible to see a number of individuals who people wouldn’t expect taking our country forward, demonstrating a strength that people didn’t believe they possessed,” Muniz says remembering how Brazil came seventh in the medal table at London 2012 and is targeting a top-five finish in Rio.
But what about that bra and pineapple? Well their explanations were just as mysterious.
“What has the pineapple got to do with the bra? Well that’s just for those who go to the Opening Ceremony to find out,” teased Muniz.
Sport fans from around the world can now buy their Paralympic tickets for Rio 2016 from authorised ticket resellers (ATRs)
The IPC’s Global ATR is Jet Set Sports, and Rio 2016 tickets and packages can be purchased on the CoSport website.
Residents of Brazil can buy 2016 Paralympics tickets directly from the Rio 2016 website.