Steve Boyd has taken part in 13 Olympic Games and been the choreographer behind Beyoncé and Paul McCartney performances
In a temporary office found along one of the Maracanã Stadium’s many corridors, Steve Boyd works intently on his computer, studying a spreadsheet of endless numbers. He hears his name called and asks for a minute, without taking his eyes off of the screen: “I’m in the middle of a discovery!”
Boyd is a mass choreography specialist and has already participated, in one way or another, in 13 summer and winter Olympic Games since Barcelona 1992. The American arrived in Rio de Janeiro in September last year to help the organising of the opening ceremony for the Rio 2016 Games, that will be held on 5 August. Settled into his role as mass movement and protocol director, he says he feels at home among the 550 volunteers who will help him parade 12,000 athletes and delegation members, the longest part of the complex show.
Despite being a man of the crowds, it’s on paper where his journey begins. “There’s a lot of arithmetic and geometry involved in finding the right entrance speed for people and other things. But I was never good at maths,” he laughs. “You discover a lot of problems this way. But it’s better than learning with millions of people watching live.”
Boyd talks to volunteers at rehearsals in the Maracanã stadium (Photo: Rio2016/Alex Ferro)
In London, Boyd was the head of mass choreography for the four opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. “It was incredibly exhausting. It took me five months to get back to normal. Over a year and a half, we working the equivalent, in hours, of three years. I was dead,” he says.
Is flirting allowed?
In his Rio role, he is helping with the execution of choreographies, as well as being responsible for the athletes parade, which promises a few surprises. “What I do is based on human energy. What the volunteers can do is steal the show, it’s what everyone always remembers in the end,” he says.
Of the Brazilian volunteers, Boyd has only kind words. “They’re very polite and relaxed. No one has come telling me they’re special. In London, I received a lot of CDs, people wanting to show me their work, their band. I got a lot of presents,” he says.
A scene from the London 2012 Opening Ceremony (Photo: Getty Images)
Flirting among volunteers is something Boyd likes to encourage, though he has noticed that Brazilians “aren’t as big a flirts as I’d imagined they would be. The volunteers are after a new experience, to get to know new people. For the English, giving them permission to flirt and introduce themselves to each other was intoxicating, they loved it.”
The biggest of all?
It was aged 14 that Boyd discovered his vocation, leading his 220-member school band at half-time shows in the state of Maryland. He says, “all the tools I use today come from that period in my life.” He is also an art director, already having worked at Vanity Fair and Vogue in New York. His dream, however, was always to work at the Olympic Games. The first time was in Barcelona, when he helped an American TV network gathering athlete statements.
Boyd has also done simpler work, like training 200 volunteers to put 160,000 small LED lights on seats at a Beyonce concert, and choreographing the hoisting aloft of 70,000 cards displaying “na, na na na-na-na” in the crowd of a Paul McCartney performance of Hey Jude.
His work with the largest number of people came in 2010, at the 40th edition of the national day of Oman when he was tasked with choreographing 12,000 unruly children. At the end of the show they formed a huge mandala. “It was incredible and very dangerous, because it was a huge group of unsupervised children,” he says. “Some countries don’t know how to listen and you need to simply make it happen.”