Students outshine expectations with emotive and heartfelt performance

The 16th Pacific Games Opening Ceremony was by all accounts a roaring success.

From the 500-strong choir and their emotional National Anthem performance, to the seemingly non-stop firework display closing the ceremony, everyone should be proud of their nation.

When the supremely large Samoan flag was unfurled on the grass, taking up nearly half the field, the cheers from the audience were enormous. So too, when the Pacific Games Choir of Samoa sang the anthem’s final cadence, it was like the first gold medal of the Games had already been won.

Speeches from Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi and Pacific Games Council President Vidhya Lakhan were heartfelt, and when Head of State His Highness Tuimalealiifano Vaaletoa Sualauvi II declared the games open, a smattering of fireworks punctuated the moment perfectly.

Opera singer Isabella Moore, in a stunning blue gown sang an uplifting and sweet rendition of O Mio Babbino Caro, a classic piece of music that was an unexpected but beautiful moment in the ceremony.

One thing is for sure. Everyone was waiting for the moment the young students would take the stage, all 2000 of them. And when they finally did, after Ms Moore glided off the stage and the lights went out completely, the excitement broke into the loudest, proudest cheers the crowd could muster.

Under the cover of darkness, the first group of students took their place in formation on the field. A haunting, powerful voice came over the speakers to begin telling the story of Momoli Lauu I Fogaa as expressed by the dancers.

The message, that service brings blessings, was not lost on the more than 2000 high school and primary school students that spent months rehearsing the hour long highlight of the night. They performed with pride and enthusiasm, their moves strong and precise.

Most impressively were their formations, which from high above in the grandstand and on the big screen artfully displayed marks of tatau, and fa’aSamoa. The students, some in just a short week, had mastered the seamless transition from lines to circles, from flower petals to leaves without breaking rank and file.

The students, in different groups, performed a series of dances telling the story of Leatiogie and his father Fe’epo, the blessings of athletes in Samoa and the tale of Christianity’s prophesied arrival on this island’s shores. 

Each dance smoothly transitioned to the next, thanks to the diligence of the students, and the elegant storytelling, taking the audience on a journey that was part allegory, part preaching.

At one poignant moment, the students formed two circles and represented an ava bowl, which the narrators offered to the guests.

The dance itself was a wonderful blend of contemporary fluid movements and the graceful strength of traditional Samoan siva. When the first Samoan song came on, Fai mai o lalo lava o le talie the audience barely contained its excitement as the students launched into siva Samoa.

The mood turned dark and foreboding when the myth of Nafanua and Malietoa began. Two excellent performers, who danced, sang and embodied their characters to the letter told the story together, while the dancers around them formed the shape of a frangipani. 

As Malietoa heralded in the arrival of Christianity, a flood of dancers in white cloth and red belts flooded the field, and a flame was passed around, lighting dozens of torches and illuminating the stage in a completely different way.

Under the firelight and the spell of the dance, the glow of the dozens of smartphones was the only reminder that we were in 2019.

Suddenly, a row of dancers were encircling the field facing the audience, with large crepe fans in front of them that magically changed colour three times as they danced with them. Inside the circle, the torch bearers doused their flames in the grass and the massive crowd of dancers moved again.

The contrasting, yet complementing costumes representing Nafanua’s Samoa and Malietoa’s Christian Samoa represented the unity the dance so hoped to express. The One in Spirit motto shone through, not least when the students successfully spelled out Samoa, and the crowd burst into rapturous applause. 

But the most emotional part of the dance was when it raced into the 21st century, and the grim realities of climate change each nation of the Pacific Games faces.

Hundreds of students dressed in blue carried massive sheets of blue silk across the field, and an impressive, if not slightly comical, inflated va’a sailed across is as the narrator told the audience: “we are Guardians of the Blue Pacific, the home we are called to save.”

“We are on the doorstep of climate change,” the voice continued, and the blue silken ocean spread further, out towards the crowd. 

But the ocean washed away eventually to reveal the flags of each nation, and beautifully painted logos of each sporting code of the games. Out of the existential crisis, a great pride and excitement for the events to come rose.

The night could have finished there, but the work was not done. A gorgeous and uplifting video of the Pacific Games torch relay around Samoa played, and suddenly turned into a livestream as the torch arrived outside Apia Park and the team made its way into the field to wild applause.

It was passed along fantastic sportspeople of Samoa, until it finally reached Samoa’s only Olympic medallist, Ele Opeloge, who triumphantly lit the Pacific Games flame from the torch’s light.

And with that, the Pacific Games are open. The performers are muddy and probably tired, but can be rest assured their nation burst with love for them, under the exploding fireworks display that closed the night.

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