By Darlene Ricker
Photo by Diana De Rosa
Who else but the French can turn the floor of a soccer stadium into a magical mystery tour? That’s the only way to describe Saturday night’s Opening Ceremony for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games 2014 in Normandy. From the first horse that swept into the arena to the final cadre of performers, D’Ornano Stadium became a cavalcade of lights and imagery.
With 21,000 spectators, the stands were packed and the energy high for hours as the theme, “Around the World in 80 Horses,” played out. More than 100 horses and 300 people performed while special effects and lighting techniques turned the arena floor into incredibly lifelike backdrops. As one scene morphed into another, you couldn’t help but wonder: Am I really seeing what I think I’m seeing? (Truth be told, it was one of those things you had to witness in person to fully appreciate. The photos that accompany this story can only give a hint of how spectacular the Opening Ceremony really was.)
At first glance the arena looked like a barren desert, and then, before you could blink your eyes, the makeshift “sands” shifted and a village of what looked like white tents appeared to pop up. While I was trying to figure out whether they were real or an illusion, they suddenly turned into shimmering, multicolored structures, each with a unique pattern and design. It looked as though the “tents” were woven of fabrics of different textures – but of course, there were no fabrics because there were no tents. There was only a gateway to the imagination.
Set against a backdrop of inky black sky, the spectacle in D’Ornano Stadium spun a web of wonder as it played with our senses. At times the arena floor seemed to turn liquid and become an ocean, its waves building and advancing toward the bleachers. If you didn’t know better, you’d have sworn you were about to be swallowed up.
These and other effects kept spectators engaged during the program, which showcased the magnificence of the horse and its role in the advancement of civilization. Performances took us on a tapestry of historical turns, from the prehistoric era of nomads and Przewalski’s horse to the Vikings (who ruled the seas from the year 800 to 1066) and on to the story of William the Conqueror and the Battle of Hastings in 1066 (when the Normans seized the English crown). Then the Renaissance arrived, illustrated by a dance of classical horses at a lightshow-created Palace of Versailles – the fabled abode of King Louis XIV (who also built the French National Stud at Le Pin, where the dressage and cross-country phases of three-day eventing will be held later this week).
But the Opening Ceremony wasn’t just a pretext for a history lesson. As time marched on (that concept illustrated by a moving “clock” that appeared on the arena floor, with riders weaving in and out of “time”), the performances took on a modernistic flair, depicting a fantasy world of particle acceleration and time and space travel. There were also some whimsical and intellectual touches, such as a lighting grid that turned the arena floor into a giant black-and-white chessboard. Black and white horses slowly changed positions in the manner that chess pieces would strategically be moved from one square to another.
The ceremony closed with crowd favorite Lorenzo (the “Flying Frenchman”) and his band of Lusitanos, which performed at liberty, completely without tack. The herd galloped into the arena, followed by Lorenzo standing atop two others, each of his feet planted on one of the horse’s backs. From his moving perch, he guided the herd through synchronized moves, looking all the while like he was conducting a symphony orchestra. How he could influence those horses to do exactly as he wanted from afar, without so much as speaking to them, epitomized the magic of the entire evening.