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A cultural guide to the Sochi Opening Ceremony

MOSCOW (AP) -- Wondering about some of the Russian culture featured Friday in the opening ceremony of the Sochi Olympics? Here's a guide to the history, literature and art that made up a big part of the show.


For most, this enormous book is more doorstopper than showstopper. But many Russians, who grew up reading Leo Tolstoy's epic saga in school, know the story and its most famous scene - Natasha Rostova's first ball - by heart.

Bolshoi Theater prima ballerina Svetlana Zakharova played Rostova, a young debutante in 19th-century Russia who is desperate to be asked to dance at her first ball. It's love at first sight when the handsome Andrei Bolkonsky, played by Danilo Korusnetsev of St. Petersburg's Mariinsky Theater, approaches.

But their love proves cursed: Prince Bolkonsky is later injured on the battlefield by Napoleon's invading army, and eventually dies in Natasha's arms.


The ceremony highlighted the young artists who took the country by storm after the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. Breaking away from what they called the decadence of traditional painting, the group pioneered a style influenced by industrial design and communist ideology.

The show made references to Kazimir Malevich, whose angular, almost sculpture-like paintings and famous black square were a loud rebuke to traditional painting. It featured Alexander Rodchenko, a groundbreaking photographer most famous for his dramatic pronouncement that `Painting is dead,' and El Lissitzky, who pioneered propaganda as art.

After Stalin came to power in the 1920s and started to crack down on the arts, many of the country's energetic young artists fled the country or were killed.


There couldn't have been a better part for former boxing heavyweight champion Nikolai Valuev, who towers at 7-foot-1 (2.16 meters), to play then the giant police officer Stepan Stepanov - Uncle Styopa for short.

Uncle Styopa is one of the country's most beloved children's tale characters, with the steel jaw and thick neck of most Soviet-era heroes.

In the ceremony, he walks around town punishing neighborhood hooligans, helping lost children find their mothers, and even saving a hardened Russian babushka, who is standing on an enormous chunk of ice doing her laundry when it breaks off and floats down the river.

Uncle Styopa was also a winter athlete in the show, dazzling fans by dashing to first place in a speedskating race. At the finish line, a little girl clambers to the top of airplane stairs so that she can reach up and hand Styopa her teddy bear as a prize.


Russia has long prided itself on its contribution to classical music and dance, and so the fanfare wouldn't be complete without a rendition of Swan Lake, Pyotr Tchaikovsky's famous classic. The performance by Mariinsky Ballet dancer Diana Vishneva took a modern turn, illuminated with LED lights.

Anna Netrebko, a renowned operatic soprano, sang the national anthem, accompanied by the Russian State Symphony Orchestra, conducted by the shaggy-haired Yuri Bashmet, one of Putin's most avid admirers.


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lida February 08 2014 at 11:47 PM

I like show, it was nice music, ballet, very well organized. I feel sorry that part of the show was cut for us and we didn't see all of it. We just can see it on pictures. Also instead of explanations, it was a lot of negativity, they were trying to assure us that a lot of bad things around there - not clean water, no heat in the rooms, not finished hotel rooms, etc. ......
I think Sochi looks beautiful, a lot of modern contractions, a lot of lights. It's really not big city, it's just resort, so don't compare to other big cities. And Russians look happy. And I like their uniform. And about uniform for German athletes -?????

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klasakt February 08 2014 at 11:20 PM

Maybe if we studied actual history instead of the PC version, people in this country today might have understood the symbolisms of the opening ceremonies. I liked them. They left out a lot of their "bad" history, but than again, this is not a history class. They were trying to put your best foot forward for your country.

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Blanche February 08 2014 at 9:02 PM

I thing the best opening Ceremony was when the Olympics were in Spain. The Sochi Ceremony was very interested

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bikenmiles February 08 2014 at 8:36 PM

Sorry rest of the USA... but living close to the Canadian Border means that the local Cable TV monopoly does rebroadcast Canadian TV which means that the Opening Ceremonies were:
--1) - Broadcast LIVE during the MID-DAY and rebroadcast twice after that.
--2) - The Canadians did a FANTASTIC job of explaining each segment of the extravaganza.
--3) - But on the down-side, the Canadian bradcasters made sure they were interviewing Canadian Olympians when Team USA marched into the stadium.

--4) - Except for the "to be expected USA snub" I will always watch the Canadian network over NBC/ABC/FOX for the opening ceremony

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RRRRPR February 08 2014 at 3:48 PM

Very interesting to read - NBC may have broadcast the Olympics but there were no sensible explanations during all the performances. Had I not found this page with information I would still be oblivious to what they meant to portray. I am weak on Russian history!

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Pamela Philbrick February 08 2014 at 3:10 PM

This was the most unconnected, uninspired, and boring opening I have ever seen.

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RRRRPR February 08 2014 at 3:50 PM

Hi - I believe if NBC had presented this program with a knowledgeable announcer -- telling the story behind the performances, including that brave little girl - it would not have been the show that it was.
Otherwise you are more than correct - made very little sense.

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tony February 08 2014 at 7:05 PM

They spent the whole time, putting down Russia. Instead of explianing the show.

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screwjet February 08 2014 at 2:27 PM

It was so murkey. It could have been produced by Tim Burton.

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bgatlake February 08 2014 at 1:27 PM

I thought it was boring. But after China everything will look boring.

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bsulzberger February 08 2014 at 1:17 PM

Beautiful opening. The star ballet segment was outstanding as were the usual necessary fire-works for the less arty.

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Straightdeck February 08 2014 at 1:15 PM

Read War and Peace and you will understand the Russians better.

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klasakt February 08 2014 at 11:26 PM

Or Dr. Zhivago or Anna Karenina or Brothers Karmozov ..... Russia has a history beyond the Soviet Union period. Unfortunately we no longer teach kids in this country anything but PC history.

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