The sound of thunder fills the darkened stadium as flashes of lightning illuminate a red stone arch and mountain range rising from the ground.
Three pairs of dancers appear on stage, sleekly dressed in the colors of mountains, sand and desert, to perform an interpretive piece representing the West's environmental contrasts.Suddenly, four cowboys on horseback gallop onto the field, followed by a horse-drawn stagecoach. They race through the inflated arch and out of the stadium.
A huge butte that's also on the field reveals a brightly lighted logo for the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City and shoots off fireworks. Ten horses are ridden back into the stadium, where they rear up and prance for the audience.
A group of children appear on the stadium's giant television screen, shouting, "See you in 2002!" And with that, Salt Lake's five-minute presentation at the closing ceremonies of the 1998 Winter Games comes to a close.
At least that's how it went during the last dress rehearsal before Sunday's closing ceremonies, scheduled to begin in the Minami Nagano Sports Park stadium at 6 p.m. Sunday (2 a.m. Sunday in Utah. The closing ceremonies will be broadcast from 6 to 9 p.m. MDT on Channel 2).
The one-hour, 40-minute production marks the transfer of the Olympic
Winter Games from Nagano to Salt Lake City, and the Salt Lake Organizing Committee's five-minute segment makes its debut to an international audience.
Josh Larson, one of the dancers in the Salt Lake segment, said he was thrilled with the reaction from the small group of Nagano volunteers who made up the rehearsal audience - the first to see the performance.
"It felt great," Larson, a dancer with Utah's Ririe Woodbury Company, said. "They seemed excited. They loved the horses. I heard the crowd go, `Ahhh.' "
Todd Allen, a dancer with Utah's Repertory Dance Theatre, said he believes the segment "captures the spirit of the American West, not just Utah . . . I think people will get into it, especially in Salt Lake."
Indeed, it's intended to embody the theme chosen last year for the 2002 Winter Games. That theme - Contrast, Culture and Courage - was unveiled along with the new snowflake-shape logo.
According to information supplied by organizers, contrast was shown in the segment by the inflatable red-rock arch and purple mountains; culture, by the pioneering spirit of the horseback riders; and courage by the blazing logo.
Salt Lake Mayor Deedee Corradini also has a role in the closing ceremonies. She'll become the first woman to accept the Olympic flag just before the Salt Lake segment begins.
Nagano Mayor Tasuku Tsukada first hands back the white flag emblazoned with five Olympic rings to International Olympic Committee President Juan Antonio Samaranch. Samaranch then turns the flag over to Corradini.
The rest of the program, as previewed Saturday night, is a blaze of color and ceremony.
After Olympic athletes parade into the stadium, the highlights of local festivals known as matsuri will be demonstrated by more than 900 area residents.
They'll fill the field, pounding drums, hoisting 23-foot-high bamboo poles draped with colorful fabric, dancing inside lion costumes and leading horses decorated with tree-size "flowers."
After the Salt Lake segment and the speeches, the Olympic flame.
But the sky will be lighted by locally made fireworks, called hanabi. Athletes and the participants in the festival segments will return to the field, and the Japanese pop group Agharta will perform, "Wa Ni Natte Odorou."
The song, which translates as, "Let's Make a Circle and Dance," has become an unofficial anthem of the Games.