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I came, I saw, I conked out...; HOW KEVIN PILLEY (THAT'S HIM BOTTOM RIGHT) FLUNKED HIS AUDITION FOR THIS WEEK'S ALL-SINGING, ALL-DANCING OLYMPIC OPENING CEREMONY; 'I was suffering from a life-threatening stitch. Even my teeth were perspiring'.

his Friday a cast of 8,000 will be performing at the lavish opening ceremony of the centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia. Singer Celine Dion will headline the show. The 96-piece Atlanta Symphony Orchestra will be there. So will President Bill Clinton and scores of other very photogenic VIPs. But not me.

I wasn't good enough. I failed the audition and the screen test. In the searing 110-degree heat of Georgia's purpose-built pounds 140 million sun-trap I was put through my paces and judged on my athletic ability and natural exuberance by Don Mischer, the executive producer and director of the opening ceremony, one of the biggest events in television history. After a flight lasting nine hours, my audition was meant to last three minutes but lasted barely two.

The annals of the games are filled with stories of records being set and broken. I set some sort of world record when I collapsed in a humid, panting heap midway through my dance routine. The dance troupe Three Deep, who will be first on the bill on Friday, had invited me into their ensemble for a routine called The Swelter.

It was no sweat for them. But, whereas they showed all their agility and natural rhythm, I merely pantomined Two-Step Deep Respiratory Distress Syndrome.

For my finale, I was carried off to the first-aid room by members of the Applejack Precision Cloggers.

"Way to go, man!" someone called to me as I fought for air. Then a face came into view. It was Kenny Ortega, chief choreo- grapher for the opening and closing ceremonies. Kenny has worked with all the greats. He choreographed Dirty Dancing, worked with Madonna on her Material World video and choreographed Michael Jackson's Dangerous tour as well as his routine at the Brit Awards.

He put a consoling arm around my heaving shoulders and gave me a look that said only one thing.

"I think the show will be richer visually without you," he told me. Heartbroken, I sat out the rest of the rehearsal atop an ice chest.

Nothing commands more focused global attention than the Olympic opening ceremony. Not the World Cup, the OJ Simpson trial or the last episode of Dallas. The show's budget is a cool pounds 20 million. Tickets cost pounds 400 but are expected to fetch more than pounds 3,000 on the black market. That kind of cash will guarantee you excellent corporate exposure, a bad view, a nosebleed and heat exhaustion. Atlanta is the hottest place ever to host the Olympics. The cast have it easy. They will be performing at twilight. The athletes have to give their all in tropical heat, with fire services on stand-by in case anyone becomes welded to their starting blocks.

Auditions for the opening ceremony began in November. "We had no problems except a juggling, tap-dancing fire-eater who lost balance and fell over and set fire to the place," says associate choreo-grapher Judy Chambola. She is in charge of the dancers and has charted all their moves for Friday's three-hour show.

She knows exactly where everyone should be at any given time, and if they are not there (heaven forbid) she yells at them through her police loudhailer.

"Number 456 Green! Get back in your Pow Wow Position. Number 743 Blue. It's a Pueblo Indian Eagle Dance not a waltz! East side of the fabric try to look motivated and not like you're working off the waffle and maple syrup you had for breakfast! Come on you guys! Let's get energised! Let's create a dazzling, deeply meaningful and emotional moment. All right!"

I was still suffering from a life-threatening stitch and even my teeth were perspiring. The performers are volunteers. All they get is a certificate, free water, limitless wet towels, the chance of a fleeting appearance on television and no expenses. The oldest cast member is a grandmother of 50. The youngest is five. Nearly all are from Atlanta. 3,001 hopefuls (I was the one!) were not chosen.

"My main worry is being hit by a tornado," said Don Mischer, coming down from on high. "We have a 40 per cent chance of rain. It's never happened before but there is always a first time."

Mischer, a Hollywood-based Texan, has spent two and a half years planning the opening ceremony. He and his 800-strong backroom team have come up with a concept which they believe will reflect Southern culture as well as the message of the games. In other words, people won't laugh.

Fifteen-year-old Courtney was selected to perform in the cere-mony with her close friends, Elaine and Zoe. "I cried when I heard. So did my Mom and Dad, " she said. "It is a great honour and once-in-a-lifetime thing. It's like touching the Olympic torch but a zillion times more exciting."

Matt Gaines is playing a jester, but he didn't look too happy when he spoke to me. "I'm having nightmares," he confessed. "I dreamt that I dropped something at a bad time and the whole stadium went quiet and everyone looked at me. It was horrible."

Matt and his friend Paul both exited left, answering the call for "Stretch Fabric Guys and Priestesses to please go to the indoor track". Drums bashed somewhere behind the scenes. Doves cooed over the sound system. My laboured breathing drowned out everything else. Before I left the stadium, Kenny made me raise my right hand in a vow of silence and secrecy. I declared that: "On pain of eternal damnation and public scorn, I swear by the almighty Olympic ideal that I will not divulge, reveal or in any way give away what I have done, been asked to do and what I witnessed being done around me. Be it to my mother, father, wife or children, I shall not ruin the suspense."

I swore all that. But then I swore a hell of a lot that day. Nobody likes to be put in the shade by Americans.
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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Pilley, Kevin
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jul 14, 1996
Words:997
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