Calgary Olympic Closing Ceremony Choreographer Kevin Cottam Finds Lessons in McMahon Stadium for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games
The 1988 Calgary Winter Olympic Games was my first Aha realization of what “legacy” can mean. I had been honoured to be chosen to choreograph and direct the closing ceremonies. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I embraced it, every nerve racking and ecstatic moment. The production and creative team who I worked with were exemplary. We equally gave from our hearts and souls and received back, if not more, from this experience.
Have you ever walked on a beach and left footprints in the sand? When you are looking back at those footprints behind, you see that they are also coming toward you. That is what legacies are like—leaving footprints in the sand. No matter what we perform, do, or say, we are leaving footprints. Those footprints may physically be lost when the water passes over them, like cleaning the slate, but they remain in your heart and the hearts of others, forevermore.
I invite you to experience those footprints with me as I recreate this special moment in time and realize the power of legacy.
Imagine a chilly winter’s evening as you sit in the open-aired McMahon Stadium, Calgary, Canada, which filled with 60,000 people, including most of the Olympic athletes. The sound of partying is in the air: the human wave circulates the stadium; 60,000 candles flicker like stars in the night; the Olympic flame blazes and dances above the stadium; and in the middle of the stadium is an ice surface the size of two Olympic ice rinks. The stadium feels as if it is going to levitate and take off into space. The energy is electrifying. The performers, the many amateur skaters from ages three to seventy, sit nervously in tents and dressing rooms, waiting their time to skate into the stadium. The ceremonies begin with grand aplomb.
An hour before the start time, with butterflies in my stomach, I made my way to the backstage tents and dressing rooms to thank the performers all for their dedicated work. I encouraged them to complete this once-in-a-lifetime experience, one which they would never repeat again.
The nervousness in the air was palpable, ferociously mixed with incredible adrenalin and patriotism. They knew the force of the nation was with them, as well as their own personal achievement. It was now or never, no turning back on their personal legacy they would leave for themselves, and be part of a bigger legacy for generations of sportsmen, Canadians, and people worldwide. This legacy would ultimately come in the form of sport venues, community spirit, national honour, personal successes and emotions, and much more.
When we had begun the rehearsal period six months earlier, I told them, “I do not know what you can expect to feel, but it will be something you have not experienced in your life before and perhaps will not again, but the power of this will last with you. Your legacy to Calgary, Canada, the athletes, and the Olympics will be felt not only by yourself, but others for a long time to come.”
The fanfare music began, the announcer welcomed everyone, and the show commenced with one skater skating into the stadium with the Olympic flag, preceding the flags of others countries following. Once those skaters hit the ice, I had never ever seen them perform to such precision and brilliance. The crowd went mad, and the stamping of feet on the bleachers resounded through the night air.
They were apprehensive, as most had never performed in their lives and, definitely, never on such a large ice surface in front of so many people. Can you imagine the rush of adrenaline when they entered the stadium to the incredible sound of the audience? I have no idea how really was for them, it is one of those moments beyond words. But I felt, sitting high above in the sound booth, a total heat rise inside my body of euphoria intermixed with some nerves, of course. It was an incredible sensation throughout my body and my heart.
The ceremony continued for almost two hours and with many different production numbers and the obligatory protocol elements woven seamlessly together with the creative performance. When the show was over and the audience left, many skaters hung around on the ice not wanting to leave. I rapidly made my way down to the ice to celebrate and thank them for such an amazing accomplishment.
Their bodies were dancing with smiles, radiating from the deepest place in their hearts. As we hugged and gathered together, the most common statement to me was, “You were right, you could never have prepared us for this moment of ecstasy.” That was part of the legacy I wanted to leave for them. It was the incredible moment of success, self-achievement, and contribution to a nation’s honour.
Every one of those skaters who went on the ice that night, returned to the dressing rooms a changed person on so many levels. You could see that their hearts opened up, perhaps more than ever before. Their starry eyes were big, shiny, and happy, and a resounding rhythm danced throughout their bodies.
They performed better than they ever thought they could. Many said to me that when they stepped onto the ice in the stadium and saw the candles flickering and the ecstatic noise of the audience, they thought they would faint from the excitement. They knew deep inside what this incredible moment in time meant for them, Calgary, Canada, and the world. Throughout their whole bodies, minds, and souls they had given and received so much.
The closing ceremonies was a momentous event in my life and for all the performers, assistants, and technical and creative departments. Our mandate was to give the world a show they would remember forever. That was our combined legacy.
Legacy doesn’t necessarily have to be left behind by only by famous people such as Martin Luther King or Gandhi, or a CEO or politician. You can leave multiple legacies all along the way of your life, or be part of other people’s legacies. You can create legacies as a parent who has a child or as a writer, as well as someone who is part of great philanthropic events.
Have you ever considered this thought? We are all creating legacies. We are leaving something behind that will touch others in many different ways, tangibly and intangibly. Having a legacy in mind or being conscious of what you want to leave behind is a great place to begin. This can give you a greater purpose and direction for you want to do or reach for in life.
When you have set a legacy of intention for a project, your children, your work, and/or your life, you can use it to energize, motivate, and spur you to great heights. Having a legacy in mind and working from the heart sets a well-informed direction toward achievement. Yes, sometimes life gets in the way, but that should not be the determining factor to what you want to achieve.
Why wait to leave a legacy till when you are dead; why not experience it along the road of life? What are your many legacies? How would it feel if you made it a living, conscious entity while you are still so vibrantly alive? Aha!
When I came on board the Olympic ceremonies team, I was made aware of the legacy that the Calgary Olympics wanted to leave for the athletes, sport, the city, and its people, wherever they came from. The official organizing committee had their own overlying bequest for the Games, as does the official charter of the Olympic Games. There is inheritance on all levels.
I needed to determine my legacy for the Games as well. My legacy was to give my performers, my team, Canada, the world, and athletes a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I wanted to receive the fulfillment of having accomplished such a large feat. I wanted to be proud to be Canadian and proud of my performers and team. In fact, it was the first time in my life I actually felt pride of being Canadian. This changed my life.
The results of a common legacy brought cohesion, mission, and purpose to everyone’s work, which was for the common good of all, no matter how many conflicts and disagreements happened along the way.
Even to this day, many years later, whenever I meet someone from this event, we are instantly reconnected from the heart and transported back to those amazing last moments of the ceremony, when kd lang rocked the socks off the whole stadium to “Turn Me Round.”
When the dust finally settled and all the athletes and tourists had left the city, we began to realize the legacy that was left throughout Calgary as a result of the Olympic Games. Even today when people recall the Olympics, it is proudly remembered with incredible smiles on their faces, as the memories have woven into their lives. The footprints are alive and well.
This article is an excerpt from Kevin Cottam's "Mother's Pearls...27 Aha Moments of Realization." Get the book at http://www.trafford.com/Bookstore/BookDetail.aspx?BookId=SKU-000166373 or find out more about Kevin at www.kevincottam.com