(BBC) Akram Khan upset over NBC Olympic ceremony snub

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Choreographer Akram Khan has said he is upset his Olympic opening ceremony tribute to victims of the 7 July London bombings was not aired in the US.

Khan said he felt "disheartened and disappointed" NBC cut the segment which featured him and 50 dancers perform to Abide With Me, sung by Emeli Sande.

Instead, NBC aired an interview with American Idol host Ryan Seacrest and US Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchGlobalizationHistoryMediaMovies & TelevisionSports* Economics, PoliticsTerrorism* International News & CommentaryAmerica/U.S.A.England / UK

13 Comments
Posted July 29, 2012 at 4:15 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. Teatime2 wrote:

There was nothing wrong with your work, Mr. Khan. I saw a video of it and it was very poignant. There is everything wrong with American media. The same group that has given the world “Snooki” and, yes, Ryan Seacrest. Maybe your segment would have been deemed “American worthy” if some chicks in low-cut tops randomly danced across the floor or a gangsta shot up half of the dancers for no apparent reason.

Relatedly, have y’all noticed that many of the written articles totally ignore the hymns so beautifully sung by the little children in the beginning of the ceremony? Danny Boyle framed Britain as a Christian country and this was lost on the American media.

July 29, 9:32 pm | [comment link]
2. Pageantmaster ن [Repent Justin Welby] wrote:

#1 Teatime

have y’all noticed that many of the written articles totally ignore the hymns so beautifully sung by the little children in the beginning of the ceremony? Danny Boyle framed Britain as a Christian country and this was lost on the American media.


Spot on.    I have been thinking about the opening ceremony, and it is clear to me that it wasn’t a question of a few hymns - two sets at least.  No - the whole thing was Christian.  Not necessarily in a standard form, but that of William Blake, and in particular his poem ‘Jerusalem’.  The clue was in the emphasis on the film ‘Chariots of Fire’ by that other Christian visionary, Colin Welland, and its overtly Christian message.

Consider the scene at the start: a green field with a green hill at one end [Jerusalem, the holy hill?] on which the flags were planted by the national flagbearers, ascending it one after another.  On an 18th/early 19th Century pre-industrial green land, there were sheep, people walking about, playing cricket, generally looking like contented bucolic types:

And did those feet in ancient time.
Walk upon Englands mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!

Then came the Industrial Revolution, the turf was torn up, massive building was undertaken and steel mill towers rose out of the whole directed by top hatted Victorian industrialists.  Peace and tranquility was replaced by downtrodden hopeless industrial workers covered with coal dust and laboring away:

And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Then channels of fire were poured and spread into rings, which the workers then hammered like molten steel.  Only at the end did the point of this become apparent when the mill towers sank back into the ground and the molten rings were lifted into the sky to become a fiery set of Olympic rings and volleys of rockets fired into the sky.  Then came the rather ethereal and beautiful winged figures on bicycles out of darkness which rose into the sky.

Bring me my Bow of burning gold;
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!

What happened then?  Quietly the industrial landscape had retreated and the grass had returned.  The Olympics were opened: the flag was taken to the holy hill, Jerusalem and taken by a party of flagbearers all of whom had been involved in the fight for justice, peace or liberty [Mohamed Ali, Rita Shakrabati of the pressure group Liberty, and Doreen [I think] Lawrence who had fought for justice for her murdered son and for a change in policing.  The flag was then collected by the guard and raised on the holy hill.  Then the torch arrived and instead of being handed to one runner, it was passed on to a group of the next generation [the passing on of the baton, the legacy, the fight], past the holy hill and than taken to the petals each team had brought in and now forming part of a huge structure of stems which when lit individually raised to eventually become one united flame.

I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In Englands green & pleasant Land

So the theme was that of the possibility of restoring peace and justice in the land. 

But it is not simply a question of getting rid of the intervening worldly industrialised and oppressed world, it is much more complicated than that and the key is in William Blake and the multilayered meaning of his world view.  What is the point of the children in beds, the innocents and the childhood alternative worlds of storybook heroes and threats, Mary Poppins and the nightmare Dementors?

It is a Blakean theme, that one starts with a state of Innocence, a passive good state but not one that goes anywhere, then things happen, one gains the knowledge of good and evil, power as in The Tiger, and corruption and out of that Experience comes Wisdom, the ability to differentiate between them and for the world to be mature and restored.

So I would say it is a very strongly Christian themed ceremony, but much more deeply it is a Blake-inspired vision by someone who has gone into and studied ‘Jerusalem’ with some care.

From what I can gather Danny Boyle was raised a Catholic and was an altar boy although it is not clear that he identifies as a Christian.  But the story he told is a Christian story of a Christian country and with a Christian vision of the history and the future of that country, and for that matter the world, seen through the eyes of William Blake.

That is my best guess, anyway.

July 29, 10:43 pm | [comment link]
3. Pageantmaster ن [Repent Justin Welby] wrote:

Yes, I think the above analysis is along the right lines.  I have just read this 2005 interview with Boyle. 

He knows his literature and it is clear that there is a lot there.  I suspect if one looked carefully at the whole of the opening ceremony that nothing is there by chance, but has meaning in the Danny Boyle scheme.

What an interesting man; I hadn’t realised, and very deep.  I am going to have to have a think about his other films like The Beach and what is going on there as a morality tale - there is probably a key to that as allegory as well.

July 29, 11:33 pm | [comment link]
4. Teatime2 wrote:

Well done, Pageantmaster! I did my graduate work on Blake and his influences in writing, “Jerusalem.” Without boring anyone here, part of my thesis addressed Blake’s interest in a movement founded by C of E clergymen called mythological syncretism. Blake turned some of their hypotheses on their heads, though, and went one step further—Blake came to believe that all myth, from the beginning of time, served to prepare the world for the Gospel of Christ. That makes a heckuva lot of sense, if you think about the progression and parallels of myth over time.

Anyhoo, I loved the way Boyle got to the soul of Britain and her people and I wish I could have seen the ceremonies in their entirety. What I did see was so inspiring and magical. It really stuck with me. The only thing that didn’t work very well, IMO, was the vignette involving the two teens. But, again, I may have been seeing it plucked out of context, thanks to our stupid TV network.

July 30, 12:09 am | [comment link]
5. Terry Tee wrote:

Thank you PM for your exegesis of the opening ceremony.  To my shame I missed many of the connotations, and I am the richer for your analysis.

July 30, 4:41 am | [comment link]
6. Pageantmaster ن [Repent Justin Welby] wrote:

#4 Teatime
You probably know a good deal more about Blake than I do then I do.  What is amazing is that none of the commentaries I have seen so far in the press pick up on the Blake connection that threads through the ceremony.  The commentators are all seeing it as a disconnected but clever history of Britain.

Given that Boyle’s theme given to Amran Khan was ‘mortality’ which was used for a memorial to the victims of 7/7 here in London and perhaps death being a theme in Blake’s ‘Experience’ then it may be that there is another point to the “vignette involving the two teens”.  Love is very much a theme of Blake so I am really not sure that we can take anything we watch as unconnected to Boyle’s vision of the whole.

#5 Terry Tee - I see the whole ceremony can be watched on BBC Sport here but I think only in the UK.  Teatime, you may be able to find it in the US on one of the networks or BBC America.

So far I have spotted quite a few hymns - ‘Jerusalem’ at the beginning, ‘Guide me O thou great redeemer’ and that is before the later performance of ‘Abide with me’ in the pastoral scene before Kenneth Branagh playing Brunel recited Caliban’s vision from The Tempest and its promises of ‘riches’ from the land led into the Industrial Revolution.

Extremely clever.

July 30, 5:20 am | [comment link]
7. Pageantmaster ن [Repent Justin Welby] wrote:

Going on a bit, the building of industrial Britain is depicted as the building of Milton’s Pandaemonium, Satan’s capital in Hell in Paradise lost before the poppies and the pause to remember the fallen of two world wars.  The clear reference is to Blakes theme of the loss of Innocence to Experience and to the Biblical ‘Fall of Man’.

July 30, 5:45 am | [comment link]
8. Karen B. wrote:

I saw references to how Blake’s poem undergirded the ceremony in some article, but it could have been the UK press.  I forget what I read when.

I only caught snippets of the opening ceremony via the internet, but loved what I saw.  I also listened to part of the soundrrack via iTunes, and I was so moved by the 4 nations children’s choir and the hymns they sang, especially Bread of Heaven. 

And I’m still chuckling about James Bond and the Queen (what a great sport Her Majesty is!), and Mr. Bean and Chariots of Fire… (though I’m also praying that many might be moved to watch Chariots of Fire again and to consider the life and witness of Eric Liddell…!)

July 30, 6:28 am | [comment link]
9. Pageantmaster ن [Repent Justin Welby] wrote:

#8 Karen

Looking through google this morning, I can see some references to the Blake symbolism of the first scenes.  here is someone who had a similar take to mine above but from a more left-wing perspective.  Interesting, I take it that it is less superficial, and there is this strange undercurrent of youth running through from the ‘NHS’ scene where the children are in Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital.  Then there is the Amran Khan section above where a child is brought quite threateningly by a figure who appears to be Death, but who in the end embraced the child and lifts him up.  As Al Shaw says in the linked article “Jerusalem articulates an alternative vision of England - one shaped at every level by the mysterious presence of Christ”.

I think the Blake allusions from Doyle may well undergird almost everything he set out last night.  Perhaps it will provide plenty of material for academic speculation in the future, or indeed for Pseuds Corner!

Anyway, it has given us all something to think and talk about.  There was no way we could beat the Beijing drummers, so this was definitely something different, and I enjoyed it in its own way, though I am not sure that to many outside the UK they were anything other than perplexed by it all.

July 30, 7:00 am | [comment link]
10. Pageantmaster ن [Repent Justin Welby] wrote:

It also has to be said that what went on in the Opening Ceremony was somewhat Anglo-centric and little to do with the Olympic Games, sadly an increasing trend, and nothing to do with the competition which is going on this week.  It was quite spectacular in places and entertaining, but I hope we will be forgiven for concentrating quite so much on ourselves, and on our in in-themes and what it has to be said was as much a socialist aspiration as anything to do with the Games or the current state of the country.

July 30, 8:31 am | [comment link]
11. Teatime2 wrote:

Pageantmaster,
Again, I’m working with incomplete knowledge of the entire opening ceremony because of our awful TV coverage, but in thinking more about your points, perhaps the teen love segment has something to do with the Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience motifs.

Blake and his contemporaries feared the loss of creativity and Imagination that would come with Man’s disconnection from nature, presided over by his enslavement to industrial advancement. It would be interesting to analyze the songs, placement, and choice in relation to Innocence and Experience. The Innocence is apparent by the decision to begin with the hymns. And Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” asks many of the same questions Blake did and cries out from a place of disillusionment.

July 30, 3:15 pm | [comment link]
12. Teatime2 wrote:

Sorry, forgot to say that closing with McCartney ends with a clear Song of Experience. I just wish Paul chose a better song. With no slight intended toward Sir Paul, I would have loved to have seen Elton John in that spot or SOMEWHERE singing “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” or “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.” Bowie would have been a good choice, too, with “Changes.” I did like that they included Bowie’s “Heroes,” though.

July 30, 3:23 pm | [comment link]
13. ember wrote:

“I was brought up a very strict Catholic and I don’t practice anymore or anything. I kind of call myself an atheist, I suppose - although quite a spiritual atheist, I hope.” — Danny Boyle

July 31, 12:54 pm | [comment link]
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