Saturday, July 28, 2012

NBC Cuts London Opening Ceremony's Iconic Dance Segment by Akram Khan





The plan today includes blogging about last night's London Olympic Opening Ceremony and my experience there. This remains part of the plan, but a detour just occurred at press conference attended at the London Media Centre.

The press conference included a surprising revelation that apparently went missed at a similar press event in the LOCOG (London organizing committee) Main Press Center and International Broadcast Center earlier today. The details is picking up steam online, and here's my contribution to the discussion.

Last night, fans in the stadium and television viewers in the U.K., China and most other corners of the globe enjoyed a moving dance performance serenaded by Emeli Sandé singing "Abide With Me," a popular hymn in the U.K. Like Pavarotti's performance in the Torino opening ceremony, or the drummer session of the Beijing opening, this dance segment was an iconic portion not to be missed.

Folks in the USA apparently missed it, however, as NBC cut this portion from their time-delayed broadcast. For shame!

The LMC session featured Akram Khan, the internationally acclaimed dance choreographer, flanked by Farooq Chaudhry -- a director in Khan's company -- and Alan Yentob of the BBC. Khan was hand-picked by Danny Boyle to create the aforementioned original dance segment to the London Olympic Opening Ceremony, and Khan delivered what I believe is the longest and best dance element to any Olympic opening event. It was beautiful, made all the better with Sandé's soothing voice.

Most of the questions at the LMC press event were standard, and Khan -- who turns 38 on Sunday -- shared some fun facts from behind-the-scenes. For instance, he explained a Goldilocks-like selection process for the segment's 11 year old boy (the first to audition was too chubby, the second was too athletic, but they eventually found a kid who was just right). When pressed by Chinese media asking for comparisons to the 2008 opening ceremony, Khan took the high road offering that each opening ceremony brought out the best of the host nation in its own way.

Khan also talked about the decision to use dust as a key prop (an element instilling a sense of memory) and when asked by this blogger about what Olympic moments may have inspired last night's segment, Khan said he suffered a leg injury and his physical therapist encouraged him to watch Olympians to see how their training might aid in Khan's recovery (Khan noted Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt among those he watched).

Then a surprising question popped up from an American reporter in the room (wishing I caught his name so I could credit him here). The reporter asked Khan for his reaction to the news that NBC did not air the dance segment in the USA.

Khan was silent, then he explained to the room and the reporter that this was the first he heard this news. You could see Khan was upset, stunned, shaken and disappointed all in an instant. But again he took the high road and did not express detailed feelings at first, taking in the news.

At this moment, Khan's colleague Chaudhry said he had just learned the news moments before the press conference and that it was disappointing since their dance company has such a following in the USA.

After fielding other questions, I asked Khan to provide his reaction now that he had 15 minutes to process it. His full response is on the video with this post, and via this link. Briefly, his initial response was, "I feel disheartened and disappointed." Chaudhry added his own take on the disappointment in the video.

After the press event, I asked Chaudhry to comment further and he said, "It's disgraceful U.S. media could make that decision and [I] would like to know why."

It is worth noting that, as shown in the video, neither Khan nor Chaudhry expressed anger during and after the press event. It was more of a downer for which they simply wish to know "Why?"

I asked some Italian journalists in the London Media Center, "What reaction would Italians have if NBC cut Pavarotti from the Torino Opening Ceremony?" and they answered, "That would be bad. A scandal!" I asked the same of a China media journalist who responded, "I think people [in China] would want to know why they did that."

I concur. I would like to know why NBC made this decision (I have a few hunches if anyone asks nicely).

Though it is unlikely a response from NBC will be possible any time soon, I will inquire with NBC about this question and post any response. During the IOC Conference on Women and Sport earlier this year, a very senior NBC producer answered my questions about Olympic broadcast decisions made by the network, and I suspect she has the answer if I can reach her about the Khan question as to why the dance segment was cut.

In the meantime, I am interested in others' reactions to the apparent decision by NBC to cut the dance segment from the London Olympic Opening Ceremony from their broadcast. It is my understanding (though unverified as of this initial post) that NBC also cut a segment commemorating the July 7 tragedy in London (which occurred the morning after London won the 2012 Olympic bid). More on that later.

UPDATE AT 9:40 PM LONDON: There is a post on Deadspin.com with a link to the BBC footage of the Khan segment. As an audience member in the stadium, I can tell you that the ceremony included a July 7 Tribute video on which July 7 victim photos were shown while a Brian Eno track "An Ending (Ascent)" played -- an appropriate selection. This was separate from (though happened to be the transition to) the Khan dance segment. The Khan segment was not related directly to July 7 (the 2005 day on which several Londoners died on the morning after London won the 2012 Olympic bid). Rather, Khan's segment was more about memory, mortality and dreams for which he leaves interpretation to the audience.

Also of note: Khan's dance company will tour the U.S. with stops in New York, Los Angeles, Irvine, Calif., and Santa Barbara, Calif., during October. Visit www.akramkhancompany.net/html/akram_calendar.php for more details.

Photos from LMC by Nicholas Wolaver. Photo of Khan pointing/performing by Richard Haughton via Akram Khan Company. Photos from Opening Ceremony by Associated Press photographers Ivan Sekretarev/AP and Jae C. Hong/AP via DenverPost.com

4 comments:

Murray A said...

At least in Canada, the CTV showed the entire segment and it was beautiful. The faces shown of those "who were no longer with us" were sent in from the public.

Nicholas Wolaver said...

Thank you for the additional detail about the faces. I thought they were some of the victims of July 7. Sitting in the stadium, I also thought it would have been appropriate and fine to also include the Munich 1972 victims as a similar tribute -- they did not have to mention July 7 or the 1972 event by name, but rather do a brief moment (as they did) to say goodbye to all Olympic family or other members lost since last Games. Could be a new tradition for the Games.

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