An explosive opening to positively the biggest and most anticipated Paralympics ever. London sure wasn't shy to welcome the Games back to their spiritual home - honouring the fact throughout the ceremony itself with nostalgic videos, special guests and references to Dr Ludwig Guttman and Stoke Mandeville hospital throughout.
Before the show began, a diverse collection of Gamesmaker volunteers in brightly coloured retro tops, purple sun visors and matching trainers welcomed you to the Olympic Stadium with an apple – only for this to be explained later as the world’s biggest ‘apple crunch’ to be made during part of the performance. The park itself now only dons to the Paralympic Agitos emblem, and special venue modifications makes the events even more accessible, in keeping with the spirit of the games.
The resounding theme of the ceremony was to enlighten, be courageous, be inclusive and proclaim 'I Am What I Am' and a huge effort was made by the organisers for that to be understood by everyone. An audience of 80,000 was encouraged to learn the phrase in British Sign Language for later in the show and fantastic free audio description and regular subtitles on the screens were available to those who needed them (having a listen in myself often added another layer of understanding to the proceedings, with an informal tone and plenty of humour).
As a countdown to the ceremony begins, an inspirational film of four Paralympic journeys plays on the big screens – each showing the emotion and excitement, trauma and struggle gone through to be there on the night. It ends with Eva Loeffler, daughter of Ludwig Guttman making her arrival to the games by flying in a plane showering fireworks over the stadium in a spectacular entrance to the Games.
No other than the inspirational Stephen Hawking starts proceedings on the ground by taking centre stage to rapturous applause. This was to become the tone for the evening – a warm, receptive, largely British crowd very proud to be there to welcome the world. As far as you could tell, this wasn’t a secondary games at all – the sense of excitement perhaps even greater since our most recent medal haul in the Olympic Games just weeks ago.
The Big Bang, as described many-a-time by Dr Hawking ensued with a dramatic and colourful spectacle featuring pyrotechnics, moving to a fun umbrella dance to a remix of Rihanna’s appropriately titled ‘Umbrella’, featuring disabled aerialists trained at Circus Space and dance company Flawless. The arena welcomes Miranda, the central character inspired by the heroine of Shakespeare’s The Tempest and her guiding star, played by Sir Ian McKellen, encouraging her to look at the world with a sense of wonder – set to a rousing opera of curiosities, rights and adventures of life. She, sat on top of a multi-coloured globe in a wheelchair takes to the skies as Her Majesty The Queen enters the stadium for the national anthem, signalling the entrance of competing Paralympians. The Spirit in Motion DJs set an up-tempo soundtrack to their arrival before ParalympicsGB enters to ‘Heroes’, air cannons and multi-coloured tickertape.
‘Spirit in Motion’ the song of the games welcomes 166 competing nations to the stadium before Lord Sebastian Coe (Chair of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games) and Sir Philip Craven MBE (President of the International Paralympic Committee) continue the ‘homecoming’ proceedings with a series of speeches. The Queen is given the honour of opening the Games officially and the Paralympic flag rises towards the south of the stadium, next to the unlit Paralympic cauldron.
The character Miranda and a huge volunteer cast re-emerge to explore the Ceremony’s twin themes: reason and rights in ‘Brave New World’. In the spirit of enlightenment, a large open book displays the text of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Dr Hawking reminds us of the importance of knowledge and soprano Elin Manahan Thomas beautifully sings ‘Eternal Source of Light Divine).
Five disabled cast representing Paralympians from the five continents gradually fly into the centre of the stadium to unite for the ‘Navigation’ scene of the show. A large yacht, an illuminated blue whale and a spectacular float representing our position in the universe all float into the arena, but a storm ensues. The float catches fire repeatedly and a dancer on top, dressed in a large black circular cape dances with it alight on the edges - the yacht is submerged and more disabled aerialists from four flying canopies do a spectacular routine above the choppy seas.
‘Gravity’ honours Newton’s famous discovery as Miranda lands in the middle of a maze of books amidst a formal 17th-century garden where she finds an apple. A huge apple descends from the roof to make its indentation on the literature – at the same time everyone in the stadium is encouraged to take a bite of his or her apple too before a spectacle of gravitational, levitational choreography creates a visual feast of flying apples.
Sir Ian McKellen summons Miranda back to the here and now, reminding her that the greatest adventure lies ahead during ‘Collision and Empowerment’ – a carefully choreographed expression of the issues disabled people face today. The cast wave placards, acrobats sway on large poles and ‘Spasticus Autisticus’ by Orbital plays in an buoyant routine, with further contributions from Dr Hawking - ‘transform perception of the universe’. A huge inflatable representation of the marble Alison Lapper Pregnant sculpture is formed on top of the mound of literature that has been assembled, proving resilience and radiating positivity.
A flood of illuminated (what could only be described as red tents) flood the stadium and line between the athletes, ready for the presence of the Paralympic flame. Royal Marine and double amputee Joe Townsend flies graciously from the Orbit tower 350feet up and into the stadium, he himself a future Paralympic hopeful for Rio 2016, with fireworks depicting the three Paralympic colours red, blue and green swirling above. The flame is passed to current ParalympicsGB five-a-side football player David Clarke as it crosses the field of play towards a cauldron similar to that of the Olympics, already unveiled. Britain’s first ever Paralympic gold medallist Margaret Maughan awaits ready to light it, to a standing ovation, before petals representing every competing nation form one harmonious flame and the London 2012 Paralympic cauldron.
Beverly Knight presented the finale to the show with ‘I Am What I Am’ being sung by everyone in the stadium using British Sign Language with lights, glitter balls and fireworks to rival the Olympics. The complete cast of thousands make their way to centre stage one final time to form a huge Agitos, proud of the statement they have made and ready to cheer on our hopefuls in the Games during the coming one and a half weeks.
Article and photo provided by Chris Snelling @chrissnelling
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