Baku, May 8, AZERTAC
The 4th Islamic Solidarity Games officially kick off on Friday with a keenly-anticipated Opening Ceremony at Baku's Olympic Stadium.
Catherine Ugwu, Director of Ceremonies and Executive Producer, is no stranger to the Azerbaijan capital, having performed the same role at the 2015 European Games - although she insists that this year's show will have a very different flavour.
"We have worked really hard to make the ceremonies distinctly different," she explained. "Both have taken Azerbaijan as a starting point, but whereas with the European Games we very much looked to the West, this time we very much look to the East."
Ugwu and Artistic Director Nathan M. Wright - who have been collaborating since 2006 - have been busily preparing the ceremonies over the past 18 months.
No fewer than 5,000 people have worked on the two-hour Opening Ceremony, which will feature 2,200 local volunteer performers. "It's a very visual, content-driven show," Ugwu promises.
Ugwu has over 20 years' experience in delivering spectacular large-scale events - including the ceremonies at the London 2012 Olympics - yet despite working in such varied locations as Canada, India, the Middle East and Europe, Azerbaijan is the only place that has tempted her back a second time.
"This is the one place that when they asked me to come back, I said yes immediately," she said, while Wright agrees that Baku is "like a second home now. The people here are amazing."
Friday's Opening Ceremony will therefore be another celebration of both Azerbaijani and Islamic culture, with Ugwu stressing that "one of the main things that has informed our ceremony is Azerbaijan itself."
The 4th Islamic Solidarity Games promise to start with a bang, then, as Azerbaijan aims once again to display its capacity to host elite-level sporting events, and take another step towards the dream of one day welcoming the Olympic Games after two failed bids.
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