China’s Zhang Yimou Will Be the First to Direct Both Summer and Winter Olympic Games Ceremonies

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Acclaimed Chinese director Zhang Yimou will mastermind the opening and closing ceremonies for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games, state media said Friday.

Rehearsals for the performances are currently underway, but given the shadow of COVID-19, the spectacle will be more curtailed than initially envisioned, reports cited Zhang as saying.

In 2008, Zhang regaled the world with carefully orchestrated seas of performers all drumming, twirling or chanting in unison at the ceremonies he directed for the summer Games, an event China saw as a key milestone marking its arrival on the world stage.

This year, however, the Feb. 4 Beijing 2022 opening ceremony will be dogged by the ongoing pandemic and continued outcry from detractors calling for a boycott over China’s human rights record, with the U.S., Australia, Britain and Canada all deciding not to send their typical retinue of diplomats.

Zhang said the show will depend more on technology to impress than sheer coordinated manpower, featuring 3,000 performers — far fewer than the 15,000 who participated in 2008’s extravaganza.

“The scale and duration [of the ceremonies] have been cut, and there is no longer a large-scale theatrical performance segment,” said Zhang. “We’ve significantly reduced the number of performers, and [instead] use technology to make [the stage] less crowded, but not empty. Technology and new concepts will make it feel full, ethereal and romantic.”

The opening will fall on the first day of spring, and Zhang said he has brought the “positivity and optimism” of the season to bear in the performance. He teased that the Olympic Cauldron will be lit in a way “unprecedented in the over 100-year history of the Olympic Games,” without revealing further details.

The opening ceremony will seek to “showcase the beauty of nature, of humanity and of sports,” Wang Ning, the head of the Beijing Winter Olympics Opening and Closing Ceremonies Working Group told CCTV, describing a sense of “responsibility” to give strength and hope to the pandemic-ridden world.

The performance will run less than 100 minutes long due to COVID-19 and the cold weather.

Of the extensive preparations, Zhang admitted: “Given the backdrop of the pandemic, it’s been very difficult, but we must complete the task and live up to the nation’s expectations.”

The Oscar-nominated director known for his films “Raise the Red Lantern,” “Hero” and “The House of Flying Daggers” has seen his career intertwine with China’s Olympic ambitions for decades.

As early as 2001, Zhang, now 71, directed an official promotional short film to help Beijing make its case for the 2008 games, whose ceremonies he masterminded. He made another in 2014 to help the capital win its bid to host in 2022. He also directed eight-minute handover performances at the closing ceremonies of Athens 2004 and Pyeongchang 2018.

One thing, at least, has made this year’s preparations a bit easier than back in 2008: earlier access to prepare and practice in the 80,000-capacity National “Bird’s Nest” Stadium itself.

“In 2008, things were really strained, and they only gave us access at the very end. This time, they’ve handed it over to us very early on, allowing us to properly transform the space, install equipment, debug technical issues, and so on,” Zhang said.

Zhang is about to become the first person in the world to have designed the opening and closing ceremonies of both a summer and winter Olympic Games.

For his good fortune, he thanked a rising China.

“It hasn’t happened before in history. It’s only been possible for me to become the director of ‘double Olympics’ because China’s development and rise in status gave it the ability to hold two Olympic Games in such quick succession,” he told state broadcaster CCTV.

“The motherland is only able to host two Olympic Games in such a short period of time because it is strong and powerful. I’m very fortunate to be appointed once more as chief director, and am very excited that I can once again contribute to my country, and once again take on such a challenging job.”