A Cork choreographer is part of a team of creatives tasked with making sure the London 2012 opening ceremony is one to remember.
Dancer Darragh O’Leary left Mayfield for London in 1999 and since then career highlights have included touring with Mamma Mia! But helping to make Danny Boyle’s Olympic opening ceremony vision a reality is his biggest challenge yet.
With just days to go, a total cast of over 8,000 people under his watch and an estimated global audience of four billion, he is eerily calm about what lies ahead.
So just how did he land the job choreographing the opening ceremony?
“I work with a team called Mass Movement and I had a few friends working on the Olympic team already,” he said. “They asked if was interested in coming in for an interview, so it was a case of who you know and of course, what you know. A couple of months later, here I am working on the Olympics, the biggest show on earth this year!”
But he’s not alone in having to manage a cast of 8,000 volunteers.
“There are 29 of us on the team – choreographers and directors,” he said. “Some, maybe half, have worked on these ceremonies before – that’s their speciality, they go from Winter Olympics to the Summer Olympic to the Commonwealth games. Then they brought in 15 or 16 choreographers and teachers who work in London, so this is my first. It’s been incredible to see something of this scale being brought together the organisation is mind blowing.”
He added: “The majority of the cast is made up of volunteer performers and they are the people who keep us going. The weather for the last two months has been really bad and we have to rehearse outdoors, and these volunteers come back time and time again and they have so much energy and enthusiasm.
“They just want to be in the opening ceremony! I met my first Irish volunteer the other day from Ballinlough in Cork – she’s in one of the big segments we are rehearsing. We don’t get a chance to interact with everyone but we try to speak to as many as we can and she had the thickest Cork accent.”
But despite the mammoth task of showing casing what Britain is about to the world, Darragh says he’s not as nervous as you would expect.
“There are definite nerves because the world will be watching, but it’s also this really odd thing at the moment because we are in the Olympic Stadium and even though it seats 80,000 people, it feels very intimate,” he said. “Even when it’s full of people I don’t think it will feel real that the show is being broadcast to millions of people…that hasn’t sunk in yet.”
So what can we expect to see on opening night?
“The whole thing is to try and keep everything a surprise, so everything in the Olympics is on a need-to-know basis,” he said. “The more we can keep a secret, the better chance we have of it not leaking, we just want it to be the biggest surprise. The public may think it’s going to be one thing but it’s going to blow people’s socks off.
“As artistic director, Danny Boyle is producing an epic ceremony – the public haven’t got an idea of what’s coming. The volunteers have all signed a confidentiality agreement, but unfortunately there has been the odd leak and you do get helicopters flying over the stadium to take photographs, but they don’t tell you anything…”
On the night itself Darragh will be in the Olympic stadium along with the rest of the team dotted around troubleshooting.
“Everyone is focused on making this a success, he said. “The idea is not just for everyone to have a great experience, but to make the best work. We have all been given enough time; we’ve known the deadline for along time so it’s controlled nervousness!
“The biggest part of the show is the Parade of Athletes, with 10,000 athletes on the field of play ready for the lighting of the cauldron, so all of my team will be on the ground negotiating the complexities of that. We never get to rehearse with those athletes so we have to find a way to get them all in, in a very pretty way! Those are the kind of things hopefully the camera won’t see.”
And once the Games are over, what’s next? A stiff drink perhaps?
“A lovely holiday in the sun,” Darragh laughs. “Then I’m heading home to start work on the pantomime in Cork for Christmas. It’s close to my heart as I auditioned for my very first Everyman Palace panto when I was about 14. I realised I could dance and then kept dancing, then trained and started to work professionally. Now it’s come full circle.”
The name of the Olympic Opening Ceremony show will be Isles of Wonder and the worldwide broadcast will commence at 9pm, on Friday, July 27.