Monday, 12 September 2011

Haere Mai

I’ve never been a fan of opening ceremonies – I find them shallow spectacles, lacking in substance and too politically correct to actually be entertaining. I am anxious about the complete cock-up London will make of the Olympics (the sheer weight of necessary cultural touchstones will doubtless sink the enterprise), however, so I watched the opening ceremony of the Rugby World Cup with interest, and a couple of girlfriends and a bottle of two of bubbles.

It began with a karanga (the Māori call at the start of the pōwhiri – the official welcome) which was spine-tinglingly beautiful, and her frock was pretty cool too, although not ‘o for awesome’ as the commentator opined (that’s actually a Kiwi in-joke based on an intellectually challenged comment by a boxer with a left hook and a bad haircut). As she emerged from the swirling mists projected onto the central oval stage (which incorporated Scenic landscapes with Air New Zealand design motifs), she resembled the lady of the lake.

Which was apt, as it happened, as next-up appeared boats on wheels that appeared to glide across the stage representing the city of sails. The Mysterious Minx pointed out that they had holes in them and probably wouldn’t catch the breeze all that well (she’s a Sagittarius and disturbingly pragmatic). This would not have been felicitous considering the hammerhead shark graphic that proceeded to circle across the projected screen. Following the recent death of a bodyboarder due to a shark attack at a popular Western Australia surf spot, perhaps this was specifically intended to intimidate the trans-Tasman competition?

We were then treated to a thundering haka with columns of fire and red and gold flashing lights that recalled the violently geological formation of this land. The Fudge Princess mentioned that there was ‘a bit too much bum’ for her liking and that the ‘star jumps’ were ‘a bit out of time’. She claims Māori descent so is officially entitled to her opinion.

Next a small lad clad in the red and black strip of Canterbury protected a very large rugby ball from about 100 burly blokes as he negotiated scrums and tackles with the assistance of flying harnesses, bendy try-lines and some dodgy manoeuvres. I was taking notes as I fully expect the All Blacks to make use of these methods to win ‘the prize’ – represented here by a sort of gilded cage type affair. He approached the ‘mystery guest’ at the head of a ladder of top-try scorers. Jonah Lomu materialised as the embodiment of the world’s worst kept secret and encouraged the young Jeff-Wilson-look-a-like to ‘do it for Christchurch, my friend’. It was actually quite emotional and well-executed.

Not so the World in Union, which was beautifully sung but marred by drums, ukuleles and ‘freestyle’ dancers who looked like your drunken aunts and aunties at a wedding. The problem with mass participation performances is that they either look like the Nuremberg Rally or a complete shemozzle. This was the latter.

Old ‘smile and wave’ (or John Key as some people like to call the Prime Minister of New Zealand) smiled and waved and hoped that having a rugby world cup on his watch would make up for his political absence, and then the IRB dude came on and spoke both Māori and English with ridiculously improbable accents to declare the games officially open.

People called to each other on conch shells (I liked the one on the lighthouse even if the ever-practical Mischievous Minx pointed out, ‘You wouldn’t really be able to hear that’) to signify the start of the fireworks. I had heard great things about these – they were going to represent pohutukawa, kowhai and kiwis. Perhaps it was the coverage, but they looked like a damp squib.

The out-of-tune accompaniment on the recorder (or ‘squeaky tube’ as my dad used to call it, with justification based on this evidence) didn’t help, and the remote-control dancing container lifters were like something out of one of Peter Jackson’s early B-Movie attempts.

Outside the stadium, there were folk attempting Spiderman antics on the side of tall buildings, and a pipe bandon the Domain illuminated by the lights of the Auckland Museum, who could at least play in time. I’m not being fair – that bit was remarkably affecting for someone who moved 12,000 miles to get away from bagpipes!

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