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PREVIEW Rio 2016 set for low-budget, but «coolest» opening ceremony By Alexandra Mayer-Hohdahl, dpa

Europe
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The organizers of the Rio 2016 opening ceremony faced budget and technical limitations of Olympic proportions and had to navigate a tricky political environment. But they are still promising the "coolest show" of all-time.

Rio de Janeiro (dpa) - Samba, tree seeds and MacGyver-like creativity: organizers are promising the "coolest" party ever for the opening ceremony that will officially open the Rio Olympics Friday, despite a low budget and political tensions.

"We [will] really deliver what in my 17th ceremony I can say is the coolest show I ever produced and worked with," Italian executive producer Marco Balich told reporters in Rio on the eve of the event.

"It‘s very right for this moment of Brazil and for this moment of the world not to have a big show-off, opulent ceremony, but to deliver a true message with heart and passion," he added, promising "pure, beautiful creativity from Brazil that will touch the heart."

The show is built around the concepts of environmental protection, diversity and joy, in a country that is renowned for its natural wonders, blend of cultures and zest for life.

During the three-hour show, athletes and spectators - including an expected 45 world leaders - will be handed tree seeds to grow the forests of tomorrow, can dance to the classics of Brazilian music and learn about the importance of tolerance at a time of global political tensions, the organizers said.

But they stayed tight-lipped about some of the most hotly anticipated moments: will football legend Pele light the Olympic flame? Will supermodel Gisele Bundchen make an appearance?

"Couldn‘t we just keep one secret?" movie director Fernando Meirelles said with a laugh, as journalists tried to get more out of the organizers about a poem that will be read out during the ceremony, voiced by actresses Judi Dench and Fernanda Montenegro.

They dismissed, however, reports that preparations were being made to drown out catcalls when interim President Michel Temer declares the Games officially open.

Temer has taken over from Dilma Rousseff, who has been suspended and faces impeachment proceedings later this month - the climax of a Brazilian political crisis that has featured tit-for-tat political feuds and intrigues. But Balich played down the political tensions.

"Olympic ceremonies stay in the memory of the collective world forever, while if you look backwards, you don‘t remember who was in charge ... in Barcelona ‘92 or in Atlanta ‘96, who was the president. You remember the show," he said.

But cash-strapped Brazil has had to keep in check spending on the Olympics, the first to be held in a South American city.

The Rio 2016 opening ceremony will reportedly cost about half of what was spent in London four years ago and a fifth of what the Chinese are believed to have spent on the Beijing Olympics kick-off show.

"At some point, I stopped watching Beijing because I was getting depressed," Meirelles quipped.

Fellow creative director Daniela Thomas said the budget restrictions required the ceremony organizers to resort to "makeshift improvising, being a MacGyver" - referring to the 1980s television hero known for manufacturing devices from whatever he had at hand.

"We have to do with what we have, with the resources we have, but this is not a sacrifice. MacGyvering rocks, MacGyvering is basically pure creativity," Thomas said, telling spectators to expect an "analog" approach rather than expensive high-tech gimmicks.

All the artists performing at the show have agreed to do so at no cost, Thomas said.

The organizers had to contend with technical limitations too.

The emblematic Maracana Stadium where the opening ceremony will take place has narrow entrances and low seating, which ruled out the use of Brazil‘s famous carnival floats or even the setting-up of a stage, Thomas said.

The numbers involved in the opening ceremony are nevertheless staggering: an expected audience of 50,000 people and thousands of athletes, 5,000 volunteers, 500 musicians, 12,000 costumes, 50,000 metres of fabric and 3,000 kilograms of fireworks.

Strict entry controls by the military are foreseen and spectators have been warned to arrive at least two hours before the 8 pm (2300 GMT) start time of the ceremony. The day has been declared a national holiday to prevent a traffic chaos.

After the national anthem, the ceremony‘s spectators will be sent on a giant journey through time, starting from Brazil‘s indigenous population and also playfully portraying modern life in the country‘s favela slums, the O Globo news outlet reported.

"We start in the beginning of life and we wrap up with the future," creative director Andrucha Waddington said. "I think we‘re going to deliver."

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