By Patricia Lee Sharpe
It’s the traditional gesture, a feel good image with which to conclude an opening ceremony for the Olympic Games. We’ve seen it so many times: the dove of peace, tossed to the winds, flying free and out of sight. Peace and freedom. Goals all the more valuable for not being easy to attain.
And so, at the 22nd games in Sochi, Russia, after a dreary three hours of clever theater machinery used to ponderous, pretentious, discombobulated and at times historically dubious effect, it was time (at last) to close the business by releasing the dove of peace.
The vehicle was a ballet, its choreography crudely based on the dance form for which Russia is justly famous, and (inadvertently, I have to believe) this finale gave us (at last) a perfect illustration of today’s Russia. I wonder if this revelation was apparent, at the time or later, to Russian President Vladimir Putin who was, of course, in attendance. As for me, I can only wonder at how clever but blind choreographers can be.
Let me describe the costumes. Think of pale blue lampshades made entirely of fine long fringe-like strands. Fitting over the head, hanging down to the dancers’ knees, the apparatus was held in place by the dancers’ unseen arms. When the dancers twirled, the fringes flew out into daisy-like discs. Quite lovely actually. When the motion stopped, the fringes fell back, loosely, limply, almost completely concealing the forms of the dancers. And so, after some space-filling choreography, which is to say, after every few moments of exhilarating freedom, the doves were re- caged.
So sad. Too much like real life. But I kept my hopes up as the dance went on. Surely, I thought, as the dancers began to twirl again, these doves will escape. They will all go free.
Soon, indeed, the prima ballerina showed the way to liberation. Spinning, cage flying out and open, she allowed the lampshade apparatus to fall to her shoulders. Her beautiful face emerged, and the cage—how wonderful!—had turned into wings. She was free. She was liberated. I felt so happy for her and expected, in a moment, all the other doves to emerge. I’d see all their beautiful faces and they, too, would fly off on pale blue wings.
But no. When the music stopped and the twirling was over, the cages fell shut and all I could see were feet. In the end, only the prima ballerina was free to hold her head high, look us proudly in the eye and receive our applause.
Isn’t that a little like Russia today? Putin soars. Everyone else cowers.