0. The pre-show
Not sure if you get to see this on telly. You missed possibly the highlight of the evening, which was a choir of 30 uniformed Russian soldiers singing Daft Punk's Get Lucky. Though you also missed some excruciating compering by a pair straight from Eurovision central casting. And Tatu, who had a sing and held hands, but not in a gay way, and very nearly kissed at the end but didn't, which is so not gay. They wore long brown dresses over their old schoolgirl skirts, symbolising that we've all got to grow up sometime. They were surrounded by Olympic volunteers ready to leap on them and separate them if necessary, but it wasn't.
1. Russian alphabet
The Russians have an alphabet that kind of looks like proper letters, but also a bit like an explosion at the algebra factory. The ceremony starts with a quick brush-up on your more obscure Cyrillic letters. Useful. Practical.
2. Voices of Russia
Meet Lubov. Her name means love (but the love that happily speaks its name, natch). She flies a kite. She looks up. Oh look, there's Russia! Look at the variety of regions! Look at the animatronic dog! Look at the aurora and the geysers and 'subtropical' Sochi where they decided to put their winter sports! Look at the 500 people standing around. Listen to Russian composer Borodin. Lovely. Lubov flies in the air and sings, which has never been done before at an Olympic ceremony.
3. The Olympi* rings
Snow falls, unlike outside the stadium where (during the day) it's too warm and sunny. The snowflakes transform into the Olympic rings. Well, almost. Then an official bit, as Putin arrives to glower at the malfunctioning ring. We all stand up and sing the national anthem as some glowing pod-people stand in strict lines representing the Russian flag, and obedience.
4. The athletes
In order to hurry things up a bit, the athletes emerge in the middle of the stadium on a massive spinning Google Earth, to an obscure soundtrack known as "upbeat Russian pop music" (imagine a nightclub at that moment around 1am when the ecstasy starts working, followed by that bit around 2am when it stops but the damn music just keeps going). The athletes were politely but firmly invited to dance, as if they were bears. Most are perfectly happy not to. Australia's right at the start, despite it being done in Russian alphabetical order, so you can fast forward (45 minutes) after that, though you'll miss the Austrian fall over and the hilarious Venezuelan flag bearer (in Russian, I think Venezuela begins with an F, which comes just before E, which is followed by C, which is actually K. I could be wrong about this). But make sure you watch the bit at the end when the Russians arrive, to some kind of terrifying Daft Punk remix that sounds like a robot Armageddon.
5. Russian odyssey
We're now an hour in, if you're counting. A little firework punctuation mark, followed a huge, fluffy monster cameo that should have been cute, but comes across like a jerky animatronic nightmare. Look at them. They have killed before. Now. "In a country as vast and complex as Russia, its progress to modern day is an inspiring multi-century achievement," it says here. We join Lubov in watching a film, where Jason and the Argonauts travel the Black Sea in search of the golden fleece, which naturally leads to the birth of civilisation.
6. Rite of Spring
Three mechanical star-horses. Before the Troika settled down to running Europe's monetary system, they whisked the sun around Russia on a sleigh. Or possibly gathered inflatable priests into the shape of a whale. The symbolism here is powerful, but impenetrable, hopefully like the inflatable priests. There are gymnasts, and dancers, and 'powerskip men' bouncing around. "The audience is seeing an interpretation of the Medieval period ruled by the boyars," apparently. Memo to self: insert explanation cobbled from Wikipedia.
More inflatable action inspires the building of St Basil's Cathedral, the one with the onions on its roof. There are puppets and 208 inflatable people or teapots. More snow, which is kind of foamy and dissolves on impact leaving just the sensation of having been brushed by God's spittle. If you haven't dropped your acid by now, you've missed the boat. According to legend, Ivan the Terrible blinded St Basil's architect after he designed it, so he'd never do anything this good again. The architect remarked "oh no this is really terrible", thus giving Ivan his nickname.
8. Peter the Great
Oh no you haven't missed the boat. Here it is. Russia's legendary ruler builds an army, and there is some terrific and only slightly camp marching and then some dancing to celebrate. Servants serve drinks, as memorably portrayed by Tolstoy in his epic novel War and Catering. More (quite lovely) dancing by the Bolshoi. Really this bit's great, though much better on TV than in the stadium. More snow, as the dancers' moves get all modern and interpretive and silly.
9. Suprematic Revolution!
The choreography and visual art in this part is 'suprematic', which as far as I can tell from a quick skim of Wikipedia means it doesn't mean anything. There's a big train, (dis)assembled out of bits of train, which I guess symbolises nothing apart from itself, and even then not very much. Lots of huge bits of machines look like huge bits of machines. Now the avant-garde movement dissolves, throbbingly, into a coy reference to the Bolshevik revolution, making it feel less like a bloody curtain-raiser for the terrifying political tensions of the 20th century, and more like a misunderstood art installation.
It's Russian for Moscow, which is being brought alive under an enormous hammer and sickle to symbolise the thriving, cool and go-getting nature of a 20th century metropolis under, uh, communism. There are policemen and construction workers but none of the rest of the Village People. There's a cute reference to the 1980 Moscow Games. There are 28 hipsters (they bloody get everywhere these days don't they), 15 cosmonauts and 25 loving couples who have babies. Not same-sex loving couples. Because, as we know, there are no gay people in Sochi. Oh and remember Lubov? She's back with a big red balloon. It represents "the dream of an era with great hope for the future". She flies into the air over a blue Earth balloon like a little Sputnikki Webster.
11. The official bit
We're over an hour and a half in now. A video showing more of the torch relay. Some speeches, saying not a lot (but implying a bit), then Vladimir Putin declares the Games open, inspiring a bit of fireworks action. It's actually quite scary being inside a roofed stadium with fireworks going off on the roof.
12. Dove of Peace
Swan Lake, of course, but not done properly. On the dancers' heads are glowing jellyfishes made of electroluminescent wire, just like real swans, so it's more like a scene from Fantasia than the Bolshoi.
13. More official bits
Some action with flags and cosmonauts. Soprano Anna Netrebokko sings the Olympic Hymn – feel free to sing along if you know the words. The athletes take an Olympic oath not to take any drugs. Watch the snowboarders carefully during this bit.
14. Olympic Gods
Twinkly cyber-rollerbladers invade the stadium, under constellations of stars playing winter sports to the music of Daft Punk. This bit goes on a bit too long to no great effect. There's one snowboarder up there who doesn't light up (insert marijuana joke here). And here comes…
15. The Olympic Flame
Stravinsky and fireworks. Oh I'm sure you've seen it a billion times on telly already anyway. Keep your eye out for Putin's alleged girlfriend. Hasn't he done well! Hasn't he!
The story A cheat sheet for the Winter Olympics opening ceremony first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.