The 2016 Summer Olympics kicked off on Friday night with a jubilant, colorful celebration of culture and competition. Held at the Maracanã Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the opening ceremony featured plenty of the country’s famous faces, more than 6,000 volunteer dancers, and one runaway plane. Out of respect for Brazil’s financial crisis, director Fernando Meirelles operated on 10 percent of London’s 2012 budget, but he still managed to put on an impressive — and educational — show. Here are the best (and worst) moments of the night.
BEST: A futuristic countdown
The opening ceremony wasted no time showing off over 100 of its greatest assets: overhead projectors. The countdown to the show was a geographic spectacle featuring a team of perfectly in-sync performers dressed in reflective silver suits, folding and unfolding equally shiny blankets in a choreographed checkerboard as patterns lit up the floor beneath them. None of it should have worked. All of it did.
BEST: This one's for the kids
The singing of the Brazilian national anthem set the tone for an evening focused on community: As singer Paulinho da Viola strummed his guitar, a group of children — each wrapped in a flag — gathered around the flagpole. Some even sat on the edge of the platform as the Brazilian flag was raised. In a night that traded spectacle for heart, the straightforward staging felt just right.
BEST: String trees
In a segment about the history of Brazil, one of the coolest visuals came early, as performers descended from the country’s indigenous people acted out the habitation of the Amazon. The performers interacted with rainforest of ribbons strung on high — until the trees disappeared. It wasn’t the first or last spectacle of the night to carry a message.
BEST: Now in 3-D
No 3-D glasses were necessary for this optical illusion: When the Brazilian land transformed into a metropolis, the overhead projectors made buildings appear to rise from the floor. A group of acrobatic performers sold the trick of the eye by pretending to parkour from rooftop to rooftop, having fun with the act along the way. Don’t look down now!
BEST: The other brother
Brazil issued a challenge to the Wright brothers’ legacy with its celebration of aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont, celebrated in country as the first in flight. Making his case, a pilot in a replica of Santos-Dumont’s plane, the 14-bis, took off mid-ceremony. He might still be up there enjoying the view.
BEST: When she walks, she walks like a samba
Supermodel Gisele Bündchen made the stage her runway in a gimmick-free, unhurried celebration of, well, Gisele Bündchen. As Daniel Jobim performed “The Girl from Ipanema,” the international superstar made the long strut across the stadium toward his piano. It was, as host Matt Lauer pointed out, presumably Bündchen’s last catwalk, and she worked it with a memorable smile.
BEST: Dance it out
After acknowledging the racial, economic, and political lines that divide not only the country, but the world, the ceremony broke down barriers in true Olympic style. Dancers in colorful outfits (and even more colorful wigs) flooded the stage and, at the urging of actress and TV host Regina Case, celebrated diversity. The dance party that followed was a joyful one; the choreography was simple, and everyone in the crowd — including a very enthusiastic Gisele Bündchen — got into it. The overhead projections looked best on TV, but this bit was all about the people in the room
BEST: A dame and a flower
The main ceremony ended by exploring the effects of climate change on the environment, which Meirelles called the “central theme” of the evening. The scientific explanation informed viewers, but the actors moved them: Dame Judi Dench and Brazilian actress Fernanda Montenegro read a poem by Carlos Drummond de Andrade as a young boy nurtured a tree on the stage. The segment was capped off with the news that the athletes will all be planting trees as they leave the city. Now that’s a legacy.
BEST: The Human Family
In a night with a lot of commercials, one stood out. Apple’s new Rio ad featured images of people around the world, set to a reading by Maya Angelou of her poem “The Human Family.” Try not to feel the Olympic spirit as Angelou intones, “We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.”
BEST: The Portuguese alphabet
Because athletes in the Parade of Nations processed into the stadium in order of the Portuguese alphabet, the American Olympic team entered much earlier than usual. Fans waiting for a glimpse of flagbearer Michael Phelps before turning in got a few extra winks tonight.
BEST: Refugees welcome
Cheers filled the stadium as the second to last contingency entered the building: the Refugee Olympic Team. Marching under the Olympic flag, the team — the first of its kind in all of Olympic history — consisted of 10 athletes from Syria, South Sudan, Ethiopia, and Democratic Republic of the Congo who were selected by the International Olympic Committee for their combination of skill, refugee status, and background. President Obama tweeted his support of the team on Friday: “Tonight, the first-ever #TeamRefugees will also stand before the world and prove that you can succeed no matter where you’re from.”
BEST: Rings of confetti
When the floor of the stadium was suddenly filled with people spinning large, mirrored boxes, we knew something was up, but when they sprouted greenery — right on that environmental theme — that collectively formed the Olympic rings, we let out an audible gasp, especially after green confetti erupted from them.
BEST: You're an Olympian, Harry
Lit by former runner Vanderlei Cordeiro de Lima, who was attacked by a spectator at the 2004 Games, the 2016 Olympic torch is a sight to behold. The cauldron is illuminated by a rotating sphere of mirrors, like a Hogwarts spell meeting a Carnival headpiece. Long may it burn.
WORST: The disappearing plane
When the actual replica of the 14-bis left the stadium, viewers at home were treated to its computer-animated flight above the city. But where did the actual plane go? We’ve got questions.
WORST: Too many commercial breaks
NBC’s broadcast of the opening ceremony took its first commercial break as soon as the countdown hit zero. It was a sign of things to come.
WORST: Human exports
Host Matt Lauer twice referred to Gisele Bündchen as an “export” of Brazil. She’s a person, Matt! Look at her dance!