Rio Olympics open with a ceremony both joyous and serious, all with a samba beat
Ahtletes and volunteers look on as children run with bird kites during the Rio Olympics 2016 opening ceremony at Maracana Stadium.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Athletes pack the field as fireworks blast overhead during the opening ceremony at Maracana Stadium.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Michael Phelps carries the American flag as he leads the U.S. team into(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Dancers perform in a sea of green during the opening ceremony on Friday at Maracana Stadium in Rio.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Dancers take the Maracana Stadium floor during opening ceremony for the Rio Olympics.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Joao Rossi parades his Christ the Redeemer hat as he arrives at Maracaña Stadium for opening ceremony of the Rio Olympics.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
A dancer performs a handstand during the oppening ceremony of the Rio Olympics on Friday night.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Fireworks ignite over Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro on Friday at the start of the opening ceremony for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.(Johannes Eisele / AFP / Getty Images)
Spectators arrive to a blue hue at Maracana Stadium before the start of the opening ceremony.(David Rogers / Getty Images)
Dancers perform during the opening ceremony of the 2016 Olympic Games at Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro.(Ezra Shaw / Getty Images)
A woman waves a United States flag during the opening ceremony for the Rio Olympics on Friday.(David J. Phillip / Associated Press)
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and his wife, Yoo Soon-taek, are photographed before the Summer Olympics opening ceremony in Rio de Janeiro.(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)
An Algerian fan waves a flag during the opening ceremony of the Rio Olympics on Friday night.(Jewel Samad / AFP / Getty Images)
Brazilians pride themselves on “gambiarra” — the talent for making something out of almost nothing.
That sort of shoestring ingenuity has become a necessity at the 2016 Summer Olympics, which have been hit with massive budget cuts and one setback after another.
So it came as no surprise that Friday night’s Opening Ceremony had none of the high-tech wizardry that made the opening of the 2008 Beijing Games memorable. Or elaborate theatrical sets like the 2012 London Games.
Instead, organizers turned Maracana Stadium into an intimate party filled with samba music, spinning lights and wild dancing.
“We are very used to this, this makeshift and improvising,” said Fernando Meirelles, the creative director. Borrowing an expression from American television, he described it as “being a MacGyver … in fact, MacGyver-ing rocks.”
If it felt a bit homey at first, things would soon turn serious.
The stadium’s stark white floor served as a blank canvas for images of crashing waves and a verdant forest floor. Twisting, luminescent elastic bands descended from above to signify a time when Brazil was covered almost entirely by trees.
In a country that is home to much of the Amazon rainforest, the ceremony was on its way to making a political statement that touched upon historical slavery, modern urban strife and, most of all, climate change and the depletion of natural resources.
“The fact of the budget is irrelevant when you have good ideas,” executive producer Marco Balich said. “I think it’s also the right thing too for this moment in Brazil, and for this moment in the world.”
Meirelles — a director best known for the 2002 film “City of God,” a crime drama set in Rio’s slums — went a step further, taking jabs at right-wing Brazilian congressman Jair Bolsonaro and a noted U.S. politician.
“Bolsonaro will hate the ceremony,” Meirelles tweeted earlier in the day. “Trump also.”
All of this might seem heavy for a sporting competition, but opening ceremonies tend to deal with aspects of the host city’s history and culture. And Rio 2016 has endured more than its share of troubles.
There has been a national scandal that saw much of the political and business elite implicated in multi-billion-dollar corruption. President Dilma Rousseff has been suspended and is facing an impeachment trial.
As for the Games themselves, organizers have been forced to make hundreds of millions in cutbacks while dealing with the Zika virus outbreak, the Russian doping scandal and worries about raw sewage in coastal waters where sailors, rowers and swimmers will compete.
Yet, as the Opening Ceremony threatened to linger in a somber mood, no such hardships could keep the celebration down for long.
“Stop fighting,” an emcee yelled. “Here’s to diversity.”
In contrast to earlier — when supermodel Gisele Bundchen strolled coolly across the stadium to “The Girl from Ipanema” — 1,500 dancers rushed in, vibrating to an infectious pop tune.
Giant inflatable hands, among the night’s few special effects, transformed from fists into peace signs and a thumbs-up.
From then, the ceremony focused mainly on Brazil’s trademark joy for life and, in another example of turning a disadvantage around backward, the relatively small stadium seemed cozy.
The athletes soon entered to a thumping backbeat, each one handed a tree seedling that will later be planted in Rio.
“Those who don’t know us have doubted,” said Carlos Nuzman, president of the organizing committee, adding later: “We never give up.”
IOC President Thomas Bach said: “Our admiration for you is even greater because you managed this at a difficult time in history.”
Though the crowd booed Brazil’s interim President Michel Temer, attention soon turned back to a Samba beat and the entrance of the torch-bearer, whose identity is always a carefully guarded secret.
The obvious choice would have been soccer icon Pele, who led his country to three World Cup titles. But on Friday he announced that he was too ill to participate.
The honors went to former marathoner Vanderlei de Lima, hardly an international name.
The crowd gave a roar nonetheless and soon broke into song. For these Games, for this Opening Ceremony, that made sense.
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