Costume, 'School fish', fibreglass/styrene/medium density fibreboard/ aluminium/ plywood/ polyethylene foam/cloth, designed by Dan Potra, made by Fleur Burrows, Toni Ascroft, Will Sumpter, Debra Gardner, "Creatures of Desire" Studio Sydney used in 'Deep Sea Dreaming' Sydney 2000 Olympic Games opening ceremony, Australia, 2000
This fish costume has significance in material culture due to its role in the opening ceremony of the 2000 Olympic Games, an important event in the social history of Sydney and NSW. It has the potential to communicate in exhibitions and publications about the Sydney Olympic Games and has historical significance in its design, making, use and in the cultural meanings ascribed to it.
Described by the NSW premier Bob Carr as 'the greatest spectacle Australia has produced', the opening ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games took place at Stadium Australia, Homebush Bay on Friday 15 September 2000.
The opening ceremony was the subject of much public expectation. After years of controversy and insecurity around issues like Ric Birch's infamous kangaroos on bicycles (from the Atlanta closing ceremony) and the recruitment of American musicians in a proposed marching band for Sydney's opening ceremony, it was perceived as a test of Australia's cultural competence. Could Australia deliver a modern, sophisticated performance or were we to embarrass ourselves?
The overwhelmingly positive public response to the opening ceremony inspired a sense of relief among Sydneysiders. In the upsurge of goodwill and excitement (which began when the torch relay arrived in Sydney) the media dropped its negative attacks on the Games' organisers and embraced the extraordinary spirit that had gripped the city. The public had finally claimed ownership of the Games. Cynicism melted away for two weeks as locals revelled in the rare carnival atmosphere.
The opening ceremony had anthems, speeches, oaths, flags, a marching band, pop singers and a parade of the athletes from 199 competing nations. However the daring conceptual sequences ('Deep Sea Dreaming', 'Awakening', 'Nature', 'Tin Symphony', 'Arrivals' and 'Eternity') will be remembered as the ceremony's great imaginative works. Each segment commenced without interruption, following on from the last to form an overall narrative. The purpose was to project a national image to a worldwide audience, to form the world's vision of Australian culture. This image embraced tolerance, social progress, multiculturalism and reconciliation, as well as nature, history and creativity. Designed to stimulate emotional responses from the audience, these segments delivered a refreshing mixture of youth, naivety and larrikinism.
The creative team comprised 13,000 artists and performers, including designers, choreographers, circus artists, costume makers, set builders and painters, singers, composers, writers, arrangers, dancers, musicians. Even more than the high quality costume design, choreography and music, the props were talking points, with the Endeavour tricycle and the Ned Kelly horse attracting the most attention.
After the horses from the 'Welcome' segment left the arena, the first narrative sequence, 'Deep Sea Dreaming', began. The 'hero girl', played by the 13-year-old Nikki Webster, skipped onto the arena in a pink sundress. She applied sun cream to her nose, stretched, lay on her beach towel and dreamt of the ocean. Her dreams afforded the director of this segment, Meryl Tankard, the opportunity to transform the stadium into a deep ocean. 11 cables were used, strung 45 m above the arena across the 111 m space between the grandstands on either side. The hero girl soared high above the arena in a special lift harness, swimming and somersaulting through the ocean, among giant sea creatures. Translucent jellyfish drifted past her, and then various banner fish, sea-dragons, an eel, a mantaray, a ground-based worm, a nudibranch, a Spanish dancer, squid, lion fish, even a fearsome barracuda. Of the 800 people involved in this segment, 150 were schoolchildren taking the part of a giant school of fish. This object was worn by one of these children. The hero girl was sucked slowly downwards among a swirling mass of fish until white-ochre spirits took charge of her and carried her to the stage where the tribal dancer Djakapurra Munyarryun, the Songman guided her through the following segments of the ceremony.
Dan Potra, Sydney, 1999 This costume (more like a wearable prop) was designed to be worn by children and used in large numbers to simulate schools of fish on the coral reef floor. They had to be light in weight and comfortable enough for the performers to run in 'schools' and turn quickly. Vacuum-formed high impact styrene was chosen for the head and a simple body shaped with fibreglass rods, worn like a backpack, made up the body. The early designs of this costume were reduced in size due to the size of the performers. The length of the body was designed to whip around as the performers ran around. The length of the tail section was 1.2 m. The number of fish required to make up the 'schools' of fish was originally 400. There were two schools of different colours. The budget required the simplest of design. The first prototype used a polystyrene carved head with shoulder straps and a simple plywood backpack with fibreglass rods as the frame for the body. The head shape was changed slightly and carving of the mould for vacuum-forming started.
Ceremonies prop makers Fleur Burrows, Toni Ascroft, Will Sumpter, Debra Gardner, "Creatures of Desire" Studio, Sydney, 1999-2000 The head is high impact styrene, vacuum-formed over a medium density fibreboard (MDF) mould in two halves. The two halves were trimmed and pop riveted together before painting. An aluminium flat bar was added to the back of the head where the abdomen made contact with the head. Four harness points were attached the head to the back pack via quick release clips. The body backpack is plywood, padded with polyethylene foam. The adjustable shoulder straps cross the chest to secure the costume during running and quick turns.
Two 6mm fibreglass rods were fixed at top and bottom meet in a plastic connector at the tail fin. The sewn body material was stretched over the fibreglass rods and stapled to the backpack. The dorsal fins are supported by bent 6mm aluminium tubing connected to the spine at point of fin meeting body, sewn into the from edge of the fin. The tail's pleated material is supported by a 4mm fibreglass rod fixed to the tail connection. The arm fins are pleated material held at the elbows by 4mm fibreglass rods fixed to padded plates attached to the elbow by elastic and black nylon web sleeves. Two 6mm fibreglass rods fixed at top and bottom meet in a plastic connector at the tail fin. The sewn body material is stretched over the fibreglass rods and stapled to the backpack. The dorsal fins are supported by bent 6mm aluminium tubing connected to the spine at point of fin meeting body, sewn into the from edge of the fin. The tail, pleated material is supported by a 4mm fibreglass rod fixed to the tail connection. The arm fins are pleated material held at the elbows by 4mm fibreglass rods fixed to padded plates held onto the elbow by elastic and black nylon web sleeves.
Sydney 2000 Olympic Games opening ceremony, 'Deep Sea Dreaming' segment, Stadium Australia, Sydney Olympic Park, Homebush, 15 September 2000. The school fish were played by 150 children. This costume was worn by one of these children.
Made for and owned by the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games, and donated to the Powerhouse Museum after the Games.