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Eurovision Song Contest held in Kyiv, Ukraine
Yevhen BUDKO takes another look at the Eurovision Song Contest, which was held in Kyiv, in May 2005. What has it given Ukraine and its capital Kyiv — more prestige, financial gain, or disappointment? Did everything go the way it was planned, without a hitch, or were there setbacks and glitches?
“From a bird’s eye view, Ukraine looks like a fantastic canvas painted by an impressionist painter,” said the movie director Oles Sanin. The city of Kyiv could have been probably described in the same manner when last May, all in splendour of the horse chestnut blossoms and blooming lilacs, it played host to thousands of guests from many European countries who came to participate or to watch the Eurovision Song Contest. The city authorities were apprehensive lest anything disruptive happen, the hoteliers were worried whether they would have enough rooms to accommodate all the guests, the traffic police and motorists in Kyiv cursed the increased traffic on the roads and traffic jams. The expectations, which are often more exciting than the actual event, ran high.
For several days in May, Kyiv was occupied by an army of journalists, guests and tourists who came either to cover the Eurovision Song Contest for the various media or just to enjoy the show. There were over 1,700 radio, TV, newspaper and magazine journalists accredited to the press corps; 8,500 persons watched the final in the hall of the Palats Sportu sports arena transformed into a concert hall; over 150 million television viewers watched the show on their TVs; 50 commentators described to radio listeners and TV viewers what was going on “in real time”; 650 technicians provided technical support; 60 hairdressers and visagistes, most of whom were Ukrainians, took care of the performers’ hair and makeup; 300 movable spotlights provided the lighting effects; 55 tons of equipment and 102 kilometres of cables made all kinds of “special effects” and broadcasts possible; the stage was constructed by 30 experts who took 40 days to do the job. All these figures testify to the fact that the Eurovision Song Contest, held in Kyiv, was the biggest event of this kind in the fifty-year history of this contest.
There was another centre of “Euro music events” in Kyiv — which attracted a lot of media and public attention — the Arena City Club. It was opened shortly before the contest, complete with terraces for spectators, musical fountains and fantastic displays of colours and lights. For several days, the “Euroclub”, as it was often referred to in the local press, played host to parties given by official delegations and not so official parties of those who could afford it, which lasted all night long. Ukrainian pop stars, among them the Ukrainian pop diva Ruslana, entertained the glamorous public; some of the stars later said that after an all-night-long singing they were in danger of losing their voices.
Right in the heart of Kyiv, on Maydan Nezalezhnosti, the focal point of the Orange Revolution, hundreds of thousands of people gathered to watch the events of the contest broadcast live on a giant screen, and enjoy live performances of the contestants on the stage built in the centre of the square.
Within a walking distance from Maydan, on an island, called Trukhaniv, to which you could get walking across the bridge over the Dnipro River, there was a tent city set up to accommodate those guests who either failed to get a room in a hotel or who wanted to find out how it felt to be living in a tent. During the days of the Orange Revolution, many tents were pitched in the main street of Kyiv, Khreshchatyk, and the “tent city” in Trukhaniv Island was a festive spring replica of the grim winter tent city. Of course, the conditions in the Eurovision tent city were a far cry from what they were in the tent city of the revolution days — the guests had access to hot water, showers, eateries and free entertainment. Parties on the beach at night to the accompaniment of live or canned music; building sand castles and creating sand sculptures; carnivals, karaoke contests were all part of the entertainment programme.
It should be admitted, though, that at first there were very few foreigners who wanted to expose themselves to the hardships of living in tents, but gradually the tent city filled up, mostly with Ukrainians rather than foreigners, who could not afford to pay for hotel accommodation or who just wanted to “have fun.”
As a matter of fact, there were several reasons for the tent city failing to attract as many guests as it was hoped it would. The simplest and obvious one — in spite of the natural beauty of the place where the tent city was situated, life in a tent is not exactly what you may dream about when you go to attend all-Europe pop song shows, all the more so that the Orange Revolution may be alive in the hearts of the Ukrainians, who took part in it, but for foreigners it was already an event that had taken place in the past. There were other reasons, of a more disturbing kind.
There were organizational failures and definitely lack of proper advertising. Two thirds of the official delegations refused to be accommodated in the hotels, which had been reserved for them, and found accommodation elsewhere, but the hoteliers were expressly ordered to keep the reserved rooms free “just in case,” and consequently they suffered heavy losses. The Palats Sportu hall was half-empty during the dress rehearsals not only because the tickets cost up to 750 hryvnyas (which translates at the current rate of exchange into 150 US dollars — a lot of money for an average Ukrainian; the cheapest tickets cost 250 hryvnyas, about 50 US dollars, also an exorbitant price by the Ukrainian standards) but also because the general public was not informed that the dress-rehearsal shows were in fact full-blooded performances only minus TV broadcasts and minus voting for the best performer. I watched the shows both on TV and as a spectator in the Palats Sportu hall, and I can tell you that watching the show live on stage was a much greater fun, in spite of all the visual tricks that TV broadcasters used to impress the viewers.
Contest winners — and disappointments
Apart from the contest shows, there were many other things happening in Kyiv and its vicinities worthy of being mentioned.
The open-air Museum of Folk Architecture and Crafts was one of the major attractions with its houses and churches dating from centuries back, and modern eateries stylized to look old and offering delicious Ukrainian dishes; the Festival of the ancient Trypillya Culture, held in the village of Trypillya, was a revelation for many guests who discovered that the roots of Ukrainian culture are to be found thousands of years into the past.
Ruslana with her shows remained as exciting as ever, and I am of the opinion that if she had taken part in the contest again, she would have won it easily. The famous Ukrainian boxers, Vitaly and Volodymyr Klychko added prestige to the shows by just appearing on the stage and wishing the contestants success. Their fame rather than their artistic talents added a very special note to the event; in fact, it was the first time that among the MCs at the Eurovision Song Contest there were athletes.
The participants, who all of them were eager to win, were loyal to the journalists and gave interviews and talked to them without creating unnecessary problems in getting access to them. With one exception though — the singer from Belarus, whose producer was Filip Kirkorov, a Russian pop star who had earned himself a bad name for mistreating journalists, prevented the journalists from coming anywhere close to her by unleashing her security and bodyguards on them. I can’t help indulging in a bit of malicious joy — the Belarus singer did not get into the final.
I was privileged to take a look “behind the scene” and to see how the contestants were preparing for the shows, having their hair done and their faces made up by dozens of hair stylists and make-up artists. There was a lot of tension there like at any contest, but there was no hostility. And during the performances, the contestants seemed to have left all the tension behind, in the make-up rooms.
As far as the contest itself is concerned, I had an impression that the contestants tried to imitate or use ideas of others rather than their own in the hope of winning. There were a lot of Ruslana-style “wild dances” and drumming — and too little of things original. Performers from Spain, Great Britain, Germany and France, that is countries which were actually the founders of the Eurovision Song Contests, did not seem to care much whether they would get into the final or not — probably because there was not much interest generated in their countries by the contest.
The Ukrainian contestants, the rap group GreenJolly whose song Razom nas bahato (“Together we are many”) had become an unofficial anthem of the Orange Revolution, failed to get into the final either. There must have been several reasons for that — the Eurovision Song Contest is hardly a music event to play a revolutionary song at (even though it was modified to meet the non-political requirements of the contest); the way the group behaved and looked on stage left much to be desired; the TV viewers from Russia and Belarus, allergic as they are to anything orange, did not give them any support either. The only consolation is probably the realization that the Ukrainian pop star, who had originally been regarded as the likeliest participant from Ukraine at the contest and who had been overtaken by the GreenJolly at the last stage of the national contest, would have surely failed too. There were many others at the contest who looked and sang very much like her but had the advantage of looking more sex-appealing. But really one never knows at such contests — two Latvian teenagers got into the top five with a primitive sugary song.
I do not think I am qualified to speak as a music critic, but as a spectator and journalist, I think I am in a position to express my opinion. The first place was won by a Swede of Greek descent who performed for Greece. She had had a lot of experience as singer performing at all kinds of European shows; in 2001 she had taken part at Eurovision Song Contest with a Greek band and won the third place. But I found her performance at the contest in Kyiv rather bland, lacking in sparkle. She was the main choice of the bookmakers. I find that the Maltese singer was an obvious choice for the second place. The third place, quite unexpectedly went to a group from Rumania, who did a lot of wild drumming on empty barrels and used all sorts of gadgets to produce noise and sparks.
A true discovery for me was the Moldavian group who had invited a fifty-something woman from a Moldavian village to perform with them at the contest. And she was great! Their song was called Boonika bate doba, or “The Old Woman Beating a Drum,” and she did exactly that and in perfect harmony with the tune. The Ukrainian viewers gave her 12 points, the highest mark, and the Moldavians won the seventh place.
Whatever the musical results may be, for several days Kyiv did feel itself to be a truly European city, in the centre of European musical attention. I am among those who think that the event did make Ukraine better known in Europe, and the fact that the contest met all the organizational requirements did add some international prestige to Kyiv and Ukraine. After the Orange Revolution, which made Ukraine the number-one newsmaker all around the world, the Eurovision Song Contest confirmed that Ukraine was firmly on the map, and was a country where not only revolutions, but international cultural events could be a success.
In spite of the fact that this contest was the fiftieth in the history of the Eurovision Song Contests, the actual celebration of the fiftieth anniversary will take place in the city of Copenhagen in October 2005. The jubilee show will be held in the Forum Arena, the venue of the Eurovision Song Contest 2003. The best Eurovision song of the past will be chosen by popular voting. Go to www.eurovision.tv and cast your vote for what you think was the best song in each of the five decades of the Eurovision Song Contest. Of course, it would be even cooler if you could go to the Danish capital and see the shows live on stage, not on television.
And here, in Kyiv, we say, Eurogoodbye — and Eurohello!
Photographs by Oleksiy ONISHCHUK
Helena Paparizou from Greece, winner of the contest.
Ledina Celo, Albania.
Vanilla Ninja, Switzerland.
The winning smile of Helena Paparizou.
Ruslana performing her new hit Heart on Fire.
Shiri Maimon, Israel.
Vanilla Ninja, Switzerland.
Luminita Anghel, Romania.
Percussion for Zdob si Zdub was provided
A glimpse of backstage during the contest.
Anatoly Zalevsky, a master Ukrainian acrobat.