Rio Olympics opening ceremony highlights Brazil, environment
RIO DE JANEIRO -- There's nothing like the unique Brazilian vibe -- and the opening ceremony for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro will see no shortage of samba, culture, diversity and history as the South American nation proudly showcases its traditions and environmental wonders.
Millions of television viewers from around the world are expected to watch the three-hour ceremony Friday night, which comes as the country is reeling from political and economic turmoil.
Since the event won't able to avoid the issues that are gripping Brazil -- a president facing impeachment, a deep recession and environmental threats -- organizers made sure that global warming and the environment, especially the country's magnificent Amazon rainforest, are important parts of the Olympic opening ceremony.
"The world is very tense and so is Brazil. We are also willing to tell the world to stop attacking our home. The world is threatened because of global warming. We are calling for action," said Fernando Meirelles, one of the directors of the show.
Samba and pop music singers are expected to perform, including Grammy award winners Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil. Supermodel Gisele Bundchen will also be on hand.
But the climax of the show, the lighting of the cauldron, depends on whether Brazil's most famous athlete -- soccer star Pele -- appears. He said this week he was invited to take part, but business deals were stopping him from doing it.
The cauldron was designed by American sculptor Anthony Howe, who told The Associated Press he was inspired by life in the tropics. There will be two cauldrons in Rio, one at the Maracana soccer stadium that is hosting the opening ceremony and another open to the public in downtown Rio.
The cauldron in central Rio is expected to be lit by a runner after the opening ceremony is finished, Howe said.
The floor of the stadium will be a vast stage for projections, a substitute for more expensive structures in a nod to Brazil's economic troubles.
In all, 4,800 performers and volunteers will be involved in the show, which is built on three basic pillars of life in Brazil. Those are sustainability, particularly re-forestation; finding joy in life and in being Brazilian; and the idea of "gambiarra," the quirky Brazilian art of improvising repairs using whatever parts are available.
"Smile is the approach the Brazilians have toward life," said Marco Balich, the executive producer. "Brazil is not a grand nation. They're saying in this ceremony, we are who we are, with a lot of social problems, a lot of crises in the political system, etc."
Space limitations in the Maracana also curbed the creative possibilities for the show. The stadium does not have typical Olympic dimensions -- there is no track. The only Olympic events it is hosting are soccer matches.
NBC will broadcast the opening ceremony on a one-hour tape delay because it wants the entertainment spectacle to be shown completely in U.S. prime time. Rio is one hour later than Eastern time.
Unpopular interim Brazilian President Michel Temer is expected to attend the opening ceremony. He will be replacing his ally-turned-enemy, suspended President Dilma Rousseff.
Fewer heads of state are expected than usual Friday night because of Brazil's current political crisis. Rousseff's impeachment trial is expected to end after the Olympics ends on Aug. 21, which leaves the country with two presidents until then.
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