February 10, 2006

Fellini and Ferrari usher in Winter Games

By Elizabeth Piper and Jane Barrett

TURIN (Reuters) - From techno beats to string quartets,
Turin's Winter Olympics opened on Friday with hundreds of
dancers drawing spectators on a glitzy trip through Italian
history, with a nod to Botticelli, Fellini and Ferraris.

Rollerbladers, red flames shooting from their helmets, sped
across a stage. Cows danced and men in lederhosen played
alpenhorns while the Stadio Olimpico built by Italian dictator
Benito Mussolini in 1933 rocked to modern beats.

But it was a red Ferrari, symbol of Italy's postwar
industrial power, that stole the show, screaming on to the
stage completing five tight turns as fireworks shot into the

Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi opened the Games and
IOC President Jacques Rogge encouraged athletes to play fair.

"Please compete in a spirit of fair play, mutual
understanding and respect and, above all, compete cleanly by
refusing dope," he told athletes massed around him center

"Our world today is in need of peace, tolerance and
brotherhood. The values of the Olympic Games can deliver these
to us," he told a crowd where U.S. first lady Laura Bush and
Cherie Booth, wife of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, sat
side-by-side among monarchs, heads of state and other

For the first time, eight women carried the Olympic flag.

Oscar-winning actress Sophia Loren, the epitome of Italian
beauty and style, was joined by Chilean writer and activist
Isabel Allende and Wangari Maathai Kenya, the winner of the
2004 Nobel Peace prize for her environmental work to promote


Marco Balich, executive producer, said: "We worked around
the passionate way the Italians approach things, good and bad.
The way they drive, the way they eat, the way they dress."

It was passionate -- certainly when Kenya's one competitor
and Italy's team entered to all but a standing ovation -- and a
celebration of sport and all things Italian. Hundreds danced in
their seats, rang cow bells and waved torches as athletes
marched to 70s and 80s music on to the stage.

Spectators gasped when volunteers dressed in blue, green,
yellow and pink, formed the shape of a ski jumper, equipped
with jet-black skis. Inching across the stage, the volunteers
made the jumper hunch up, jump and then slowly open up on

The Italian theme, racing through Dante to futuristic art,
heralded the entrance of eight past Italian Winter Olympic
champions, who relayed the torch between each other.

It was a surprise choice to send Italian former cross
country skier Stefania Belmondo to light the flame.

The athlete, who recently gave up competitive sport to have
a family, carried the torch to spark a volley of fireworks that
traveled up a spire to light the Olympic cauldron.

That followed a reading of Dante's "Divine Comedy" and a
gilted fairytale scene of opulent dining and fanciful
characters in carriages reminiscent of Italian director
Federico Fellini.

Men and women in powdered wigs ambled around
Renaissance-style geometric gardens. Tall princesses in huge
skirts surrounded the stage, their skirts lifted to reveal
girls swaying on small swings.

Soft music accompanied the portrayal of Sandro Botticelli's
"Birth of Venus," when Roberto Bolle of La Scala Ballet School,
burst on the stage to a techno soundtrack.

Bolle, more used to portraying princes in the "Nutcracker"
or "Swan Lake," wore a white bodysuit and an orange Mohican and
danced with the statue of Futuristic Man by Umberto Boccioni.

Acrobats in silver climbed a vertical net to form a dove.
Yoko Ono called on all to spread the word of peace before Peter
Gabriel sang her husband John Lennon's "Imagine."

Only showman tenor Luciano Pavarotti could finish it all
off with a flourish, singing "Nessun Dorma" before massive
curtains fell to draw the ceremony to a close.