14 September, 2017 (11:54)
We’re just days away from the start of the Ashgabat 2017 5th Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games, the biggest sporting event to ever come to Central Asia. With well over 6,000 athletes and team officials on hand to represent 65 delegations from across Asia and Oceania, all set to compete in 21 sports over the course of 12 days of events, Ashgabat 2017 is truly a monumental undertaking and a momentous occasion for Turkmenistan and the city of Ashgabat.
A sporting event the size of Ashgabat 2017 deserves a suitably monumental celebration to introduce the Games to the world, and the Ashgabat 2017 Opening Ceremony promises to be all of that and more. In fact, with some 7,500 performers, 200 musicians, 75,000 costume items, 100 animals, countless hours invested in development and rehearsal, and a two hour-plus runtime, the Ashgabat 2017 Opening Ceremony could go down as one of the greatest opening shows ever produced.
Enter Francisco Negrin, Creative Director for world-renowned production company Balich Worldwide Shows, and, as the Director of the Ashgabat 2017 Opening Ceremony, the man in charge of all of it all.
“I don’t know this for a fact, but we think this is the longest Games-type ceremony ever,” Negrin says with a grin when asked about the scope of his undertaking, “Usually there’s an hour or an hour-and-a-half of artistic content, and then there’s an athletes parade. Here at Ashgabat 2017, there’s about two or two-and-a-half hours of artistic content. Which is a massive, massive length of show to stage, with a huge amount of people.”
Negrin conceptualized and wrote the initial treatment for the show himself, eventually expanding and adjusting the program in collaboration with the Turkmen government and the various directors who lead departments like choreography, music, digital projection, and many more.
“What’s important on a show this big is that you have to delegate so much – even from the creative side – to the different departments, because there’s just so much to do, and sometimes it’s very specialized,” Negrin remarks when asked about how he maintains control of such a massive project: “For instance, the mass choreography, there’s only maybe three people in the universe who know how to do it, and for that here we have Bryn Walters, who is amazing. So, the delegation is not difficult, but you have to make sure that everybody stays within the plan to ensure the integrity, the emotional impact, and the rhythm of the show.”
While much of the specific content of the Ashgabat 2017 Opening Ceremony is a closely guarded secret, Negrin was able to give us some hints as to what to expect from the show.
“When we first started this project and were speaking with the Ministry of Culture to gain ideas, one thing that was highlighted to us was that, throughout the country’s history, the Turkmen people have had the strength to endure their hardships and to rise again,” he says, “There is this great Turkmen poet Magtymguly Pyragy who predicted the Turkmen nation would rise one final time and become a very powerful nation. The President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov believes that that time is now, and that is the idea that the show is premised on, this idea of rising up.”
When asked for more of a hint of what’s to come on Sunday night, Negrin reveals some information about one of the segments that those watching the rehearsals have pointed out as perhaps the most exciting.
“People always talk to me about the ‘Sport Comes to Ashgabat’ segment,” he says, “First the performers representing the martial arts athletes arrive, followed by the other sports performers, some flying into the stadium before reenacting the pictograms of the sports with incredible mass choreography and very inspiring music. This for many people will be one of the most impactful pieces.”
It has been nearly a three-year journey for Francisco Negrin and the Balich Worldwide Shows team in developing and producing the spectacle that will be the Ashgabat 2017 5th Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games Opening Ceremony, and on Sunday evening at the Ashgabat Olympic Stadium the hard work of many thousands of people will finally come together to bring that show to the world.
Though Negrin doesn’t want to spend much time looking back when there is still work to be done before the show, he is able to reminisce on some standout memories in the journey towards the production on 17 September.
“I must say that when I first saw our thousands and thousands of performers come into the stadium, that was kind of a, ‘My god, what have I gotten myself into?’ moment,” he laughs before continuing, “But also it’s been remarkable to realize the sweetness and the sense of humour and warmth of the Turkmen people. As soon as you scratch the surface here you realize the warmth and the soul of the nation, and you realize that’s what the show we’re putting on is all about.”
The Ashgabat 2017 5th Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games gets underway at 20:17 on 17 September, 2017.