Flame-lighting ceremony performers experience the ancient past at Olympic birthplace.

Ancient Olympia, Greece— The sound and movement of ancient Greek music and dancing are unknown. A new rendition of the old performance is shown worldwide every two years. The Olympic Games' birthplace in southern Greece is still revered.  

The Paris Olympics flame-lighting event on Tuesday will feature 48 actors who were chosen for their likeness to ancient adolescents in statues and other art. Details of the 30-minute show are refined and kept secret until Monday's public rehearsal.

They  were granted rare weekend rehearsal access at an Athens Olympic indoor cycling track. The volunteer Olympic athletes take poses from ancient vases while riders race around the banked cycling oval. Head choreographer Artemis Ignatiou obsesses over repetition.  

“In ancient times there was no Olympic flame ceremony,” Ignatiou noted during practice. "My inspiration comes from temple pediments and vase images because no movement or dance from antiquity has been preserved," she remarked. “Basically, we join those images. Everything in between is ours.”  

Every two years, Olympia hosts the Winter and Summer Games, where the sun's rays illuminate a parabolic mirror to create the Olympic flame and start the torch relay to the host city. The 1936 Berlin Olympics ceremony has priestesses. An actor plays the high priestess and dramatically asks Apollo, the sun god, for help before lighting the torch.  

Music, dancing, new costume colors, male performers called “kouroi” and minor style additions to honor the Olympic host nation have been incorporated over the decades. Complexity has increased disagreement, exacerbated by social media. This year, performers' outfits and tunics resembling ancient Greek columns have drawn criticism. Faultfinders termed it a harsh break from the ceremony's grandeur.  

Organizers hope the costume would make a good impression at Olympia's ruins. Ignatiou counts the sequences and taps her phone to adjust the music while watching the velodrome's male dancers do a stop-motion performance while the women glide past them like a spring.  

Priestess, high priestess, assistant, and chief choreographer since 2008, Ignatiou has 36 years of ritual experience. She takes criticism in stride. She still gets emotional when narrating the flame lighting, but she lets her dancers express their five-month rehearsal experience.  

The performers, mostly in their early 20s, are chosen from dance and acting academies to retain an athletic style and classic Greek taste, with women wearing neat doubled braids. On her first Olympia performance, 23-year-old theater school student Christiana Katsimpraki wishes to repay elder artists' goodwill.  

“Before bed, when I close my eyes, I run through the choreography to make sure I have all the steps memorized and in the right order,” she said. “It's so the next time I can come to the rehearsal, everything goes well and no one gets tired.” The ceremony has limited music and last procedure changes at Olympia to accommodate the site's uneven footing.  

Dancers talk about the fun they have in message groups, the good-natured jokes they perform on newcomers, and the four-hour bus travel to the historic site in southern Greece, as well as the significance and pull of the past.  

“I’m in awe that we’re going there and that I’m going to be part of this whole team,” 23-year-old performer Kallia Vouidaski said. “I'll have this whole TV experience I watched as a kid. I would say "Oh!" It would be nice if I could do this someday. And I did.” The flame-lighting begins Tuesday at 0830 GMT. On April 26, Athens will host a flame-handover ceremony for the Paris 2024 organizing committee.  

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