As the delegates arrive in Mauritius for the 63rd FIFA congress, rehearsals are taking place at the Swami Vivekananda International Convention Centre (SVICC) for tonight's gala performance, and FIFA.com has been behind the scenes to preview some of the backstage atmosphere.
The rhythms of drums and dancers' feet pulsate into the empty conference centre as the performers run through their final rehearsals. With around 700 artists and production staff working on the performance over just two-and-a-half days, David Bloch, the Executive Producer and Creative Director for the opening ceremony, puts his troupe though the their paces. Bloch is no stranger to producing FIFA Congress opening ceremonies, having created the stage show in his homeland of South Africa at the 2010 FIFA Congress, which coincided with the start of the FIFA World Cup™ of the same year.
“Working on a theme for this performance has been different to the experience in South Africa, where we wanted to highlight the local culture” Bloch explained. “Mauritius has so much cultural and racial diversity that it feels like many countries in one. So we will bring traditional Mauritian folk singing and dancing and all of the influences from Africa, Asia and India as well as the natural elements of fire, earth, water and air. It gives it the show a real carnival feel.”
To reflect this multiculturalism, Bloch has brought together local and globally-known performers. One the most famous singers on the island, Mauritian vocalist Linzy Bacbotte, co-wrote the song for the opening ceremony, 'Welcome to Mauritius – Share the Love!' Bacbotte has been singing for a quarter of a century and is known for her mix of the traditional rhythms of Sega and the laid back beat of Reggae to form 'Seggae'. She says she was honoured to be invited to open the FIFA Congress.
“Yes, because we are completely football obsessed” she said, before enthusing about her favourite squad, “It's my daughter's team. She's nine years old and plays FIFA grassroots football. She's a striker in her school football team. I was so impressed when I went to see her play for the first time – she had pure passion for the game. She's like the Messi of her team! Grassroots has really touched the kids here and its really made the parents come together - its a real unifier.”
Another Mauritian artist in the performance, Veronique Zuel-Bungaroo, is also known for her fusion of musical styles. Classically trained abroad in opera, she combines this with Sega and feels she is bringing opera back to the island. Thrilled to be involved in tonight's performance, she sees parallels between music and football.
“They are both art forms and they both play such an important part in the identity of our nation since independence,” she said. “Although we don't have a national team recognised internationally," she added. "we all support football and watch it all the time.”
With their formative years spent at the famous Cirque Du Soleil, the two Russian performers and firm friends, Victor Moiseev and Dima Shine, bring a dynamic acrobatic flavour to the gala. Moiseev, who comes from a long line of Russian circus performers, describes his unique show as horizontal juggling, and is no stranger to the football field, having spent a year in the ranks of Spartak Moscow's junior team from age ten to 11.
“I wanted to become a footballer when I was young, of course - everybody did. But I was also performing and traveller and I grew up in the performing world so I was working as an artist, so I had to choose - and I loved performing more for audiences than I loved anything else.
It's a sentiment echoed by his friend Dima Shine, who is currently still working with the Cirque Du Soleil in Las Vegas. Shine, whose real name is Dimitry Bulkin, is still a little tired after a 30-hour journey to get here and will be flying back to the US immediately after tonight's performance. He performs a balancing act combined with acrobatics and believes that, like in football, the discipline of his art is in the concentration and strength involved in being a sportsperson.
He says the beautiful game reminds him of his European heritage. “I miss football because these days I'm mostly in America and not in Europe any more, so I'm really happy to experience all this for FIFA,” he said.