Image: Performers in North Korea
Korean Central News Agency via Korea News Service and AP
Dancers perform at the May Day stadium in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Monday. The banner reads "150-day battle" — a reference to the regime's campaign to boost industrial output.
updated 8/11/2009 1:31:45 PM ET 2009-08-11T17:31:45

Some 100,000 performers flipped and twirled in perfect synchronicity as North Korea's most lavish spectacle, the "Mass Games," opened in Pyongyang, footage from television news agency APTN showed.

The "Arirang" show is a major propaganda machine for North Korea, with the huge cast — mostly children — dancing, singing and tumbling in unison. It's one of the few times average Americans, typically prohibited from visiting the communist country, are allowed visas to visit.

Named after a traditional Korean love song, the festival started Monday and will continue until October. It also was shown in 2002, 2005, 2007 and last year.

This year's show has as its focus North Korea's goal of achieving prosperity by 2012, the 100th anniversary of the birth of its founder, the late Kim Il Sung.

Theme of self-reliance
The show's debut at Pyongyang's May Day stadium promoted the regime's key ideology of "self-reliance" and was set against the backdrop of slogans calling for a "great, prosperous and powerful nation" by 2012, exclusive footage from APTN showed.

Impoverished North Korea has launched a national economic development drive ahead of the Kim anniversary and is in the midst of a "150-day battle" to increase industrial output.

North Korean soldiers, foreign diplomats and the heads of international organizations were in the audience Monday, the North's official Korean Central News Agency reported Tuesday. North Korea's state TV has not shown footage of the performance.

"It was really breathtaking. I have never seen something similar in the rest of world," German tourist Albrecht Thomas said.

The "Mass Games" began in 2002 to commemorate the late president's 90th birthday. Kim Il Sung died in 1994 but is still considered North Korea's "eternal president" while his son, Kim Jong Il, rules as chairman of the National Defense Commission.

Flashcard perfectionists
The show is one of the few areas in which the North can shine. North Korea has honed the technique of having performers hold flashcards that they flip in unison to create a sea of images and slogans.

But it has been criticized as a propaganda tool achieved through the rigid and disciplined training of its young performers.

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In 2000, Kim Jong Il took visiting U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to a mass performance that was a precursor to the Arirang show, the highlight of which was a giant mosaic displaying a rocket flying into the sky.

Albright later said she was spellbound by the precision of the event but felt uncomfortable with its glorification of the North Korean regime.

"This will be our last missile," Kim reportedly told Albright at the time.

North Korea, however, conducted a long-range rocket launch in April and defiantly test-fired a barrage of ballistic missiles in July.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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