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Olympic Opening Ceremony Kicks Off In Brazil


The opening ceremony for the Rio Olympics has been a swirl of dance, music and a vintage biplane flying through the stadium and seeming to soar out over the city. And, of course, there's the athletes Parade of Nations. NPR's Melissa Block is in Rio, watching the ceremony. And she's with us now. Hi there.


MCEVERS: So we should explain that you are way ahead of us of knowing what's going on. NBC, the U.S. rights holder for the Olympics, tape delayed the ceremonies by an hour in the East. It'll be four hours delayed here on the West Coast. So tell us what we missed.

BLOCK: OK, so spoiler alerts to everybody listening because we do have a jump on you from here in Rio. We have seen a lot of exuberant dance, as you would expect, from - everything from samba, to funk, to native dance, even a bit of twerking. We saw supermodel Gisele Bundchen embodying "The Girl From Ipanema." Although, Kelly, I have to tell you when I picture that tall and tan and young and lovely girl walk to the sea, I am not picturing her in silver lame and stiletto heels. But that's just me.

There is also - I mean, on a totally different note, a really strong environmental theme to this ceremony. There was a really somber portion, showing the dire effects of climate change on the planet and sea level rise. There were maps showing Dubai and the Netherlands getting swallowed by the sea. And as part of this green theme, every athlete in this Parade of Nations is being given the seed of a tree - 500 different native species of Brazil. They're pressing those seeds into soil in capsules. And those capsules are supposed to be planted after the games in one of the Olympic venues to become a new forest.

MCEVERS: So the Parade of Nations, is it still going on?

BLOCK: It is still going on. We are up to - let me check - it was Switzerland a minute ago. And I have to tell you, there was a great moment a few minutes ago. South Sudan just entered Maracana Stadium. There are two new countries who became officially recognized by the Olympic Committee this year - Kosovo is one, South Sudan another. And went the South Sudanese flag bearer came into the stadium, he pumped his fist and did a little dance. And you could they are really excited to be here for the first time.

It's worth noting that there are a number of athletes who are going to compete later on in the games, in the second week, who aren't even here in Rio yet. So they're obviously not taking part in this parade. And there are also some athletes who compete early - you know, this weekend, who aren't marching in the parade because this is a really long night to be on your feet, and they want to preserve their strength.

MCEVERS: I understand organizers had drastically cut the budget for this opening ceremony. What led to that?

BLOCK: Right. Well, you know, Brazil is in a severe economic crisis. It's been undergoing a terrible recession. And one of the creative directors of the ceremony, the noted film director Fernando Meirelles, said that look, when we started we were rich. And then we had to cut, cut, cut. We had to get rid of some of our toys, as he put it. He also, though, put it in perspective. He said, look, when 40 percent of the homes in Brazil have no sanitation, you can't really be spending a billion reals for a show.

And they've actually used the term MacGyvering in terms of how they're approaching this. In other words - and I have to confess, I've never seen the show - but I gather the idea is that this is a secret...

MCEVERS: Oh, yeah.

BLOCK: ...Agent who improvised - you know better than I.

MCEVERS: Absolutely.

BLOCK: Who improvises with - I'm revealing my ignorance here - improvises with everyday items, fixing big problems, you know, with makeshift fixes. I have to say, it looks pretty great. If they're MacGyvering, they're doing a really a good job.

MCEVERS: Quickly, what's still to come tonight?

BLOCK: Legendary singers Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil. Interim...


BLOCK: ...Brazilian President Michel Temer will pronounce the games open. He has said he does expect to be booed. But he quoted a Brazilian writer who said that at Maracana Stadium, even the moment of silence gets booed.

MCEVERS: That's NPR's Melissa Block in Rio de Janeiro, covering the Olympics. Thanks so much.

BLOCK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As special correspondent and guest host of NPR's news programs, Melissa Block brings her signature combination of warmth and incisive reporting. Her work over the decades has earned her journalism's highest honors, and has made her one of NPR's most familiar and beloved voices.

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