Since emerging onto the international stage just over a decade ago as the creator and producer of the Torino 2006 Olympic Winter Games (for which he won an Emmy award), Marco Balich has overseen some of the most elaborate, most progressive, and most impressive live entertainment productions the world has ever seen.
With a resume that also includes work on the opening ceremony for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games closing ceremony, Expo Milano 2015, the Rio 2016 Olympic Games opening Ceremony, the 2017 Dubai World Cup of horse racing, and countless others, Marco Balich – and his company Balich Worldwide Shows – have over the past decade truly asserted their dominance over the world of international show production.
However, even with that incredible list of accomplishments already under his belt, this Sunday’s Opening Ceremony for the Ashgabat 2017 5th Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games just might be the biggest production Mr. Balich and his company have ever taken on. With nearly 2.5 hours of artistic content, some 7,500 performers, 200 musicians, and 100 animals on hand, 75,000 costume pieces to be worn, and far too many other elements involved to mention here, to most outsiders the Ashgabat 2017 Opening Ceremony would seem to be an impossible project.
According to Marco Balich, however, the Ashgabat 2017 Opening Ceremony is exactly the kind of challenge that Balich Worldwide Shows was built to face.
“In many ways, this is a much more complex show than the opening ceremony for Rio (2016 Olympic Games), which I produced,” Balich says in regards to the ongoing preparations for the Opening Ceremony, “But the people we have working for us are very, very knowledgable people who know how to run the biggest gigs in the world.
“For instance, our costume designer, Sylvia (Aymonino) has had more than 7000 costumes to produce. She’s set up a whole industry here of sewing costumes, making so many costumes per day for three months, all different, with individual measurements and technology inside, and each with its own historical significance. And that’s just one example. It’s a truly incredible effort.”
But once he gets started listing some of the standout talents on his team, it’s difficult for him to stop.
“We’ve got Patrick (Ledwith, Production Director), the man who was able to reprogram an entire tour for (rock band) Iron Maiden in 12 hours after problems with their plane in Chile. Or Francisco (Negrin, Creative Director), who is such a fine soul, with such talent, so precise, very knowledgeable, very cultured, and just a very special person. Or Bryn (Walters, Director of Choreography), who the best of the best and who always performs better on every new project, getting thousands of people to do in a few months what others would not be able to do in a few years.”
Here he pauses and smiles, before continuing, “To be able to work with such creative, capable talents is beautiful.”
While the actual tangible aspects of the Opening Ceremony production are always on his mind, Balich never forgets the principles that guide his hand towards a goal that is much larger than simply executing a successful show.
“It’s always an experience creating a Ceremony such as this,” he explains, “Because with a Ceremony you have the ability to really impact the depths of a society. Whether it’s their customs, or their traditional approaches, or even the language and the history and the culture of the country, it’s always so fascinating at the end how you’ve really gone into depth with every aspect of a nation.
“The Opening Ceremony is something that will stay in the country’s memory for decades. It’s something that can forge a new way for Turkmenistan to be perceived outside of the country.”
As we have spoken we have made a small tour of the stadium, from the Balich Worldwide Offices, out to the stadium field, and back inside to the costume room and sewing area. All along the way Marco Balich is smiling, shaking hands, stopping for hugs and brief words, addressing workers from all aspects of the production by name.
He appears to be a man absolutely in control, even as last-minute changes to the program continuously arise and new issues of concern seem to develop by the minute, and I mention to him that it seems as if he still very much enjoys what he does.
“I still enjoy watching a production come together,” he affirms, “I enjoy going into every department and seeing what we’ve created. It’s truly amazing.
“I think of myself as a very lucky person. I took the decision at the right time those years ago to jump into something with no knowledge of it, but to try to do something important. Through my life I learned how to multitask and how to put together big elements, first with music videos with the band and the cameras and all the pieces, then on to TV shows, which was a bit more complicated, and then on to big events, and finally on to the Olympics, which is the most complex show in the world, by far. And now here we are.”
After speaking about himself for a few moments though, Balich is keen to take it back to the bigger picture as we conclude our conversation.
“Let’s not forget the joy that this ceremony represents for so many people,” he says “This is an important moment, a moment that they will tell their children, and that’s the reason that we do it. From the people who lay out cables for kilometres, to the people doing the cooking, to the people who are just here doing ironing for 12 hours a day, everybody is crucial to making this project happen. While this Opening Ceremony is for the city of Ashgabat and the country of Turkmenistan, it is for all of them as well.”