The much talked about opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games featured two of our Starling Singers - Nona Ahamat and Kelly Quintyne.
Nona writes about the experience below, in a fascinating behind the scenes look at the 'Isles of Wonder'.
Words and Pictures by Nona Ahamat
Friday 27th July, 9.57pm: As Gina (our mass-movement choreographer) gives last minute notes and a pep-talk – "Let’s kick this pig!" - through our in-ear headphones, I am clutching a yellow light-up tube like my life depends on it, huddled in entrance 2 of the Olympic Stadium with 400 or so other volunteers.
Three people dressed as nurses come flying past on skates. As the Archers theme tune is played, we all start screaming. We are about to dance in front of Royalty and VIPs, 80k stadium spectators, and an estimated TV audience of a billion around the world...
I was chuffed when Anna & Emily suggested I write a blog post about being in the Olympic Opening Ceremony – after all, the window of bragging opportunity for this sort of thing is limited and I wanted to cram in as much boasting as I could!
However I realise now that Starling Arts played a key role in my Ceremony experience. This post is therefore a 'thank you' to the Starling family as well as a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the preparation of Danny Boyle's epic 'Isles of Wonder'.
The Starling credit is due right at the start of my Olympic journey in October 2011. Two rounds of auditions were held at Three Mills studios in East London, where we were put through our paces in groups of 200 with acting/miming, street-dancing and all round enthusiasm. As a person with a relatively serious desk job, none of these things come naturally to me. Without the confidence-building of two years and four shows with the Starling Singers, I doubt I'd have even auditioned let alone got through!
Rehearsals started in April 2012 (pending receipt of a signed confidentiality agreement from each volunteer). We were introduced to the dream team of Danny Boyle (present at every single rehearsal) and Kenrick Sandy, chief choreographer. We were issued our numbered bibs, and a video-storyboard illustrated the modern teenage love story of 'Frankie and June say Thanks Tim!', the segment that we would be dancing in to commemorate Brit scientist Tim Berners-Lee inventing the world wide web. My group were the modern house party gang dancing to British music from the millennium onwards. YEAH!
Fast forward to late May via much dance coaching, aching muscles, and a costume fitting, and we had left cosy Three Mills for a vast outdoor tarmac area in Dagenham with two stadium arenas marked on the ground. We saw the routines of the other musical eras for the first time (I had mild era-envy as my favourite tunes were in the 80s/90s section). We practiced moving to and from our actual places on the stage, and I was selected to be in one of the light-up tube duets at the start of the scene. We also saw hordes of people dressed in boiler suits slowly dragging bits of turf around, and a bunch of numbered beds. We didn't properly put these pieces together until much later! The secrecy thing was always paramount – even between different parts of the Ceremony it seemed.
This was also the first time that we started to wonder about the weather. First aid folk were handing out sun cream one week as the reality of five hours in the blazing sun caught many people off guard. The following week (Jubilee flotilla Sunday, remember?!) we were issued ponchos, and could barely hear the instructions in our headphones over the pounding of the rain.
Up to this point, I'd sort of viewed this whole thing as no more than a fun dancing jape and semi-legitimate reason to skip the gym. No surprise then that the first rehearsal in the Stadium knocked my proverbial socks off. The Stadium! Should I be concerned that we are the only chaps not wearing hard hats?! Ooh, are the military on security detail selected for handsomeness?! Wow, check out the lights on the seats and the people on wires and the bell and the tree and the hovering helicopter (hang on, why are there two people parachuting out?) and the special section for HRH and the massive flames of the torch!
Even little things like the meal bags reminded us of our goal, as they were Olympic branded and filled with the (appreciated, but eventually monotonous) gastronomic goods of the official Olympic suppliers.
In seemingly no time at all, there were full dress runs with audiences of friends, family and Gamesmakers. These took place at the proper time, so we were doing our thing at dusk - a totally different and electric atmosphere. Especially as we got to practice the full build up beforehand – arriving at 2pm and getting ready/waiting around in the cast holding area past the hockey pitches, a 25 minute walk from the Stadium itself. Audiences were sworn to secrecy too but the non-specific acclaim on Twitter afterwards seemed to confirm what we all suspected – that we were part of something very special that people would enjoy watching as much as we would enjoy performing.
Friday 27th July, 22.17pm: I'm jogging up an aisle at the tree end of the Stadium high-fiving audience members on either side. I'm already thinking how fast it went and how much stuff I didn't consciously notice during my part of the show (false eyelashes irritating me, the nearby presence of Dizzee Rascal, the cameraman on ramp 1). I also consider the fact that Royalty and VIPs, 80k stadium spectators, and an estimated TV audience of a billion around the world now know much more about the Ceremony than I do, as I'd not seen any of the other segments previously.
No matter though. I'd been there, done that and literally got the T-shirt – as well as a glittery costume, my name in the official programme, some new friends and some incredible memories.
Thanks again to Starling Arts for helping me take the first step!
For a behind the scenes look at Nona's rehearsals, check out this YouTuve video!