What Does It Take to Choreograph the Olympics' Opening Ceremony? (Spoiler: A LOT.)

August 7, 2016

As of today, the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, Brazil, are well underway (helloooo, endless hours of gymnastics-watching). And although dancing isn’t an official sport (not quite sure how we feel about that…), the opening ceremonies are the perfect place to highlight it on the world stage. The opening ceremonies usually draw inspiration from the host country, highlighting national or cultural dance styles. In Rio that meant over-the-top Carnival-esque costumes, super-bright colors and tons of samba, thanks to Brazilian choreographer Deborah Colker.

A scene from the massive dance party that was the Rio opening ceremony. (Photo via the Rio 2016 website)

The New York Times
caught up with Colker before and after the ceremonies to learn about her process, and more importantly, to get an answer to the first question on everyone’s mind: What actually goes into producing such a massive show?

For starters, Colker choreographed over 3,000 volunteers and 114 professional dancers for the ceremonies. Despite her background working with Cirque du Soleil, it was by far the biggest show of her career. Colker told NYT: “Early on I did five workshops and hired people in different styles and areas, which enriched the vocabulary a lot. I started planning a year and a half ago, and the first small workshops were about a year ago. Slowly, I built my team. I started working with the volunteers on May 27. Every weekend, 10 am to 9 pm, and during the week as well.” Dang.

(Photo by Doug Mills/The New York Times)

And her vision for the dancing? “I wanted everything to bleed together,” Colker says. “Like here in Brazil, where everyone is surviving and sharing together. Samba, funka style specific to Rio, born in Rioand passinho, which combines breakdance and hip hop and maracatu, from northern Brazil. I mixed all of this.”

(Photo by Doug Mills/The New York Times)

Colker also gave the featured dancers some room to create their own art: “I told them I wanted to work with their experiences, but I wanted it to reflect their personalities. This is so important, because this is real street art.” She even included a few field trips in her choreographic process: “I went twice to a place called Parintins in the Amazonian jungle, close to Manaus, to lead rehearsals,” she said, for a section highlighting Brazil’s indigenous culture.

Our fave moments? That awesome parkour section where dancers climbed around and flew over imaginary walls and platforms (that were actually just projections), and the super-fun and energetic samba dance party that ended the show (featuring select dancers and drummers from all 12 of Rio’s famed samba schools).

We’re thinkin’ Colker nailed it. “I’m relieved and happy and proud,” she says.

Check out her full interview here. Talk about some major #MotivationMonday inspo…

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