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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.

WAR AND PEACE

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.

RUSSIA'S AVANT GARDE

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.

UNCLE STYOPA

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.

OTHER HIGHLIGHTS

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.

© 2014 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED. Learn more about our PRIVACY POLICY and TERMS OF USE.

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gapchnca February 08 2014 at 1:47 AM

Things are never perfect, including all opening ceremonies. It was still beautiful and well done. But the announcer was right...St. Petersburg is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I was lucky to spend 3 days there last fall.

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bigred8690 February 08 2014 at 12:53 PM

The people saying that these ceremonies were boring are the same people who think there always has to be fireworks and rock bands like a Super Bowl halftime. The Russians just aren't into that stuff-they are more artistic. My only beef with it is that the production values should have been better. But otherwise it was very well-done and did what all opening ceremonies do--honor the history of the host country and the spirit of the Olympics.

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1 reply
frozenbull bigred8690 February 08 2014 at 1:47 PM

Yes I agree . I especially liked the flying girl at the begining. A good Hollywood stunt guy could have figured out how to do it without showing those cables holding her up.

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emmamndz February 08 2014 at 9:22 AM

Congratulations to Pres Putin and the Russians for such awesome opening ceremony. They should be proud - what history which I have always loved to read. Famous ballets, music, writers, - Good for Russia. Let's stop all the negative reporting.
God bless all the athletes . It will be an experience difficult to surpass and forget.
Emma

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oldalto February 08 2014 at 8:59 AM

I thought it was a very good opening, but way, way too long. Didn't watch the last hour of it, so don't know what happened then. By the time I tuned out, I was thinking Leni Riefenstahl would have been proud.

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njdist5ll February 08 2014 at 4:25 AM

I thought it was a good opening ceremony but it was long in some parts. The host committee did a fantastic job with the opening ceremony to bad the one snowflake didn't open. I would have like to seen what happened when the fireworks blew off from the rings. Good job Sochi

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1 reply
blueeyessing njdist5ll February 08 2014 at 5:04 AM

"I would have like to seen what happened when the fireworks blew off from the rings. "

**************

Me too. They should have just shown the world the rehearsal footage of the rings like they did for Russia, but then they would have been criticized for that.

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endmillll February 08 2014 at 8:52 AM

I thought it was nice and a little different

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marciasand February 08 2014 at 8:38 AM

IT WAS CREATIVE AND BEAUTIFUL. COSTUMES CREATIVE BUT THE PROGRAM WAS ENTIRELY TOO LONG

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Hello, Mary February 08 2014 at 6:23 AM

Notice how they speedily skipped over the brutalities of Stalin and the Gulag.

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jurmik Hello, Mary February 08 2014 at 7:45 AM

Yes indeed, as the treatment of the American Indians were skipped in Atlanta.

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1 reply
Fraginals5@aol.c jurmik February 08 2014 at 8:17 AM

Well, regrettably all over the world native have been killed and oppressed, look at Latin America, the Caribbean and Australia just to mention a few. Those occurred in the 13, 14 century. The killing of millions on the 20th century was only seen by the government of the Soviet Union for over 50 years. No comparison my dear

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Shelby Hello, Mary February 08 2014 at 11:00 AM

They were not "skipped over" any more than the Great Patriotic War was a quick representation.

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jw2160 February 08 2014 at 6:36 AM

I thought NBC's coverage and comments calling communism "the great EXPERIMENT" fits perfectly with their agenda for America. Let' all just remember that during communism in Russia, 20-30 million people were executed because they didn't agree with the state. Yes, let's start with wealth redistribution then we can go on from there . . . . . . ridiculous!

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2 replies
Fraginals5@aol.c jw2160 February 08 2014 at 8:22 AM

It is a SHAME that NBC called the tyranny, oppression and butchery of the Soviet Union "Great Experiment". This is the way they are ignoring the facts happening during this administration and condone all the transgression of the Constitution happening now a days. Are they paid for it?

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supermax52 jw2160 February 08 2014 at 8:37 AM

Correct - try this - http://thetheamericanconstitutionalist.blogspot.com/

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Tom February 08 2014 at 7:51 AM

I couldn't help but notice there was no bust floating across the stage of Ronald Reagan who forced them to come to their knees and crushed them into 7 different nations.

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