Gangwon Winter Youth Olympics opening ceremony to focus on youthful potential, energy

Yang Jung-ung (R), executive director of the opening ceremony for the Gangwon Winter Youth Olympics
Photo credit: Yonhap

When Yang Jung-ung, executive director for the opening ceremony of the Winter Youth Olympics in Gangwon Province scheduled for Friday, began preparing for the show, the keyword for him and his staff became "youth," not "Olympics," YONHAP reports.

Yang, a veteran theater director who served as executive producer for the ceremonies at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, didn't want to put on a lavish, over-the-top show that typically defines Olympic Games for grown-ups. Instead, he wanted to present a ceremony of a more modest scale, which he believes would be in line with the youthful concept of the competition.

"For the Olympic Games for adults, the opening ceremony is created to help promote a national brand and does so in a large scale," Yang said at a press conference on Thursday in Gangneung, an east coast city that will jointly stage the opening ceremony with PyeongChang, just west of Gangneung, next Friday.

"We've tried to stay away from massive, ostentatious production," Yang added. "It will be a low-key ceremony."

Oh Jang-hwan, the ceremony's executive producer, expanded on that point.

"For the Olympics, the opening ceremony is essentially a showcase for the host nation, but we will be focusing on youth in our ceremony," Oh said. "Rather than pushing a peace discourse or displaying a national vision, our story will be about supporting young people's dreams."

To that end, both Yang and Oh said they recruited regular teenagers, instead of professional actors, as their performers. The show will feature K-pop stars, though not A-list names like BTS or BLACKPINK.

"We went mostly with groups that were formed within the past year or so, but not some of the well-known acts," Yang said. "We wanted to highlight their potential."

K-pop artists include Lun8, tripleS, Ash Island, and Leenalchi.

One big name act for the ceremony will be the Ambiguous Dance Company, who has performed with the British rock band Coldplay. But the dance company will put on a show with amateur teenagers, not seasoned dancers, in a collaborative performance.

"We will have some professional performers on one hand, but we will also have plenty of amateurs," Oh explained. "With the Olympics, having an engagement with the local community is important. We gave priority to people from Gangneung and Gangwon regions when we were selecting performers."

Hwang Ji-young, producer of the show, said the story of the ceremony will center on a fictional, Gangwon-bred girl named "Woori," which translates to "we" or "us."

"It will play out like a fairy tale. We gave her that name to signify the way everyone will come together here, transcending nationality, ethnicity and religion," Hwang added.

According to Yang, the ceremony will weave a "simple story" of Woori dreaming of becoming an astronaut, and then meeting her future self in the universe.

"'The Universe' is the central concept of the show. We will try to express limitless potential of the youth through space," Yang said. "The theme of the ceremony will be 'Let Us Shine,' showing young people discover stars shining inside them as they grow up."

The ceremony will take place simultaneously at Gangneung Oval, the speed skating venue in Gangeung, and at PyeongChang Dome in PyeongChang. Athletes will march into the oval, and Yang said the runway-like stage will be installed in the middle of the rink, with athletes' stands on either side to keep them close to the action. PyeongChang Dome will mostly feature performances, with artists such as Hwasa, Kim Tae-yeon and Hori7on.

Splitting the opening ceremony is an unusual arrangement, and Oh said there's symbolic significance to having the ceremony in those two places.

"Residents of PyeongChang really wanted to have the ceremony in their town, and we wanted to highlight the way the legacy of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics has carried over to the Winter Youth Olympics," Oh said. "PyeongChang hosted a successful Winter Olympics, and Gangneung is the mecca of ice sports. We believe having the ceremony in the two places will greatly help increase interest in the Youth Olympics across Gangwon Province."

Yang said, in addition to the live-flame torch, the ceremony will feature a digital torch -- a first for the Youth Olympics, Yang added.

"In line with sustainability of Olympic Games, we will be using cloud computing to keep the torch aflame 24 hours a day," the executive director said.

The three officials all said they hope their ceremony will inspire youngsters around the world to dream big.

"We want them to realize that each and every one of them is special," Yang said. "We want them to see that they are all shining stars on their own, regardless of their results in the competition."

Oh said he attended the opening ceremony for the previous Winter Youth Olympics in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 2020. As great as the show itself was, Oh was pleasantly surprised by the youthful exuberance of the athletes in attendance.

"The energy level from those athletes was off the charts," Oh recalled. "And that was really what made that ceremony so great. I've told my colleagues here that if we can bring out the same energy from athletes this time, our ceremony will be a success. I would ask young people never to underestimate their own energy and power."

Hwang, who has been working with about 90 young, amateur dancers, said their impressive progress over the past couple of years can send an important message to other youths.

"At first, they were pretty awkward. But they've improved by leaps and bounds," Hwang said. "I've been telling them our goal is to make the audience wonder, 'Are these kids professional dancers?' And things have been going extremely well. I hope we'll be able to tell the story of young people challenging themselves and harboring big dreams."

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