2011 DCW On-Line: Michigan City, Indiana

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by Andrew Wheeler, Drum Corps World staff (wheelerand [at] sbcglobal [dot] net)

Author’s note: I’m reviewing three shows on successive nights in Whitewater, WI, Oswego, IL, and Michigan City, IN. The three competitions featured largely the same corps, so I have focuses the primarily on different aspects of the shows. For Michigan City, I’m writing about effect and how the visual and musical aspects contribute to the show’s theme.

July 2, 2011 — Michigan City, IN — The Cavaliers’ second of three “home” shows took place on a beautiful Saturday night at Ames Field in Michigan City. The 51st annual “Pageant of Drums” boasted a lineup featuring three of the eight “Tour of Champions” corps, along with four other World Class and two Open Class corps for a lively and entertaining evening of drum corps.

Like all The Cavaliers‘ shows, “XtraordinarY” is packed with thematic clues, both obvious and subtle. The standard frenetic pace started right at the opening of the show, leading to “XtraordinarY” drill throughout — easily the hardest, fastest and most exciting of the evening. “XtraordinarY” feats highlighted the show throughout, including guard members on stilts, bass drummers playing the drums while lying across them and tenor drums and trumpets playing while being held upside down.

The Cavaliers, Rosemont, IL, 2011. (Drum Corps World photo by Lauren Vogel Weiss)

The “XY” theme (an allusion to the all-male corps) pervaded the show, from the opening body postures in which pairs of corps members formed Xs, to the closing flags, which depicted stylized XY graphics. Several “X” formations were sprinkled throughout, sometimes in the guard and sometimes in the corps proper, ending with a nice closing formation with an X on the left connected to a Y on the right by a line of corps members. Xs were also visible in drum stick visuals, rifle positioning and guard drill.

As usual, the show was the most thematically cohesive of the evening. Exciting drill was supported by approachable music, making for a production that reached the home crowd. The only downsides were an episode of amp feedback early in the closer and the three sections of pre-recorded voice, which didn’t contribute in any obvious way to the theme and received several unfavorable responses from fans. Other than that, however, this show was clearly the class of the evening, both to the judges and to the fans. The Cavaliers swept all captions and sub-captions on their way to their third consecutive show over 80 point and their ninth straight victory.

Bluecoats, Canton, OH, 2011. (Drum Corps World photo by Lauren Vogel Weiss)

The Bluecoats‘ tour shirts read: “Brave New World: What the hell am I doing here?” The show depicts the movement of corps members from the uncertainty and confusion inherent in a new season, to the confidence and passion that comes with practice and performing.

The opening formation was the most interesting of the evening, with the corps ringing three sides of the field (both end zones and the backfield sideline) and then the pit joining up with the endlines along the front sideline. Helmets and instruments were left in the middle of the field in no discernible order, a clue to the confusion depicted in this part of the program. Corps members moved in from the formation to find their equipment and pit members came into the pit with looks of bewilderment on their faces — a nice touch supporting the show’s theme.

The disorder quickly melts away with the opening brass statement, a smooth, mellow sound and a very effective flag drill. Readable formations were spread throughout, indicating the coming together of the corps into a cohesive unit. The individual wasn’t completely eliminated in the process, however, as depicted by a baritone player performing a gymnastic routine and cartwheeling back to position.

An interesting motif of this show was the staging of drill on either side of the 50-yard line. At several points the corps was divided roughly in half along the 50 and each half was performing a distinct drill, possibly a reference to the process of coming together first as sections, then as an entire corps. The final semi-circle formation, highlighting the tubas, was a great finish to the show.

“ReBourne” alternated music from “The Bourne Identity” with two of the “Matrix” movies, producing an interesting contrast between the softer, sometimes melancholy Bourne music and the faster, louder Matrix pieces in the Blue Stars’ presentation. The show featured multiple thematic references, the most consistent of which had the guard slowly morphing throughout from the lone “Bourne” figure at the beginning to all but one guard member as “Bournes” at the end.

One particularly meaningful passage occurred toward the middle when about half the guard were “Bournes” — the “Bournes” drilled with blue flags while the “Matrix” guard carried lime green flags, a nice thematic mixture.

The show built nicely to a dual climax in the fifth and sixth numbers. Treadstone Assassins featured the best drill of their show, along with a screaming trumpet duo that brought applause from fans. An exciting “false end” brought the audience to their feet, only to recognize that the show wasn’t done yet. Bullet Time featured a nice brass echo passage by section and an exciting final sideline attack that again brought the crowd to its feet.

The Glassmen’s show, “My Mortal Beloved,” abstracted the popular vampire romance concept for a very interesting thematic effect. The story pictured the development of a romance between the “vampire” (a female guard member in purple, symbolizing night) and the “human” (a male guard member in white) in a four-act “play.”

The opening act, “Chasing the Moonlight,” set the stage for the romance. Act 2, “Falling for the Moonlight,” opened up with Moonlight Sonata, which featured the vampire guard soloist. Can’t Help Falling in Love depicted the two guard soloists meeting and falling in love to the “heartbeat” sound from the backfield thunder bass drums. As though to protect the “human” guard, the corps separated the two with a line along the 50 to complete the act.

Act 3, “Forever Together,” featured music from “Romeo and Juliet” (also being played by Phantom Regiment this year). The entire guard picked up the theme in this number, several carrying gold balls (representing the sun or the human) and several carrying silver balls (representing the moon or the vampire). This theme was furthered by the guard soloists bringing out a “sun” flag and a “moon” flag, which they exchanged back and forth, giving their love to each other. An electronic heartbeat sound signified the approaching of the end of mortal life and the vampire “bit” the human at the end of the number.

The fourth act, “My Immortal Beloved,” put a nice twist on the show title, depicting the formerly human guard member in silver and black, now an immortal joined forever to his vampire mate. The closing heart formation featured the two guard soloists in the middle, showing their now everlasting love.

Overall, this show was one of the more highly thematic of the evening, holding together very well with many symbolic touches. Music was strong throughout and several nice formations supported the theme consistently.

The Colts began communicating the theme of “Deception: the Jagged Edge” as soon as they entered the field, with “jagged” lightning bolts on their uniforms. The storyline was similar to the Glassmen’s show, featuring two guard soloists, a “white swan” and a “black swan.” Unlike the Glassmen’s show, however, the soloists in “Deception” battled over the course of the show, depicting a good vs. evil theme.

Swan Lake opened with the guard sporting white and silver flags, all on the “good” side, featuring the white swan guard soloist. The black swan entered in Danza de los Duendes, which ended in a “jagged” formation with the black and white swans mirroring each other across the 50.

The black swan began to win some of the guard over in The Swan, which featured half the guard with white flags and half with black flags. Each guard section defended its own swan until late in the number, when the swans met and the flags intermixed for a really neat visual. The white swan’s ultimate victory was foreshadowed early in the closer, which featured all the guard once again with white flags.

“Deception” featured some of the most readable formations of the evening, along with a strong musical performance. These, together with the guard drill and thematic references, made for an overall very entertaining show.

“The Road Home” for the Troopers featured a gently winding “road” running from the pit to the right-hand goal line at the backfield sideline. The show did not reference the road very often; likely there will be further thematic development here. The show opened with the corps “waking up” to the sound of church bells in The Old Church. The church bells returned at other points in the show to mark off new stages in the “journey.”

References to the journey were not prevalent in most of the show, but overall the music performance was positive and the drill was well-executed. The music itself was pleasant and mellow, with significant portions played to the backfield. The show closed with the corps journeying along the road to the backfield and playing to a drum major in the far corner.

Overall, the show didn’t have significant climaxes in music or drill and the backfield passages, including the closing segment, seemed to leave the audience somewhat unengaged. Still, the show was performed well and had an overall pleasant, if not exciting, effect.

Pioneer is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a show called “Celebrate.” Although the choice of music didn’t bear as much thematic resemblance as it could have, the bright brass sound and consistent percussion playing, along with both music and visuals from the cymbals, produced a celebratory feel.

Guard drill is uncertain in much of the show. The uniforms fade into the field, making the opening dance drill seem a bit nondescript. Flag work is improving significantly, but an extended passage in which the guard picks up horns (it isn’t clear whether they are actually playing) leaves the visual a bit flat.

The use of the blinds to cut off the field helped the corps seem larger than it is, besides adding a nice visual accent. Percussion was very strong and brass sounded much larger than their numbers (20) would indicate. Overall, the drill and music were energetic, connecting well with the fans who responded with a nice ovation.

The Colt Cadets‘ “Notorious” show featured music from movies about infamous villains, including “Mutiny on the Bounty,” “Billy the Kid” and “The Godfather.” Musically, the ”Godfather” numbers and the Shostakovich closer were the high points. Brass performance was inconsistent, with some very well-played passages and a couple of points where they struggled. Several brass solos provided real highlights and brought applause from fans. The timpani at the beginning of the closer were also very effective.

Formations were generally readable throughout, especially at the end of the opener and entering the closer. The final sideline attack was effective and will continue to add punch as the season progresses.

Legends made it two in a row over the Colt Cadets with their show, “Skyscapes.” The best-developed part of the show thematically was the opener, Cloudburst, featuring charcoal gray flags and thunder bass drums to create a stormy effect. Blue flags at the beginning of You Are signified the clearing of the skies.

Brass had several strong sections, but there was too much playing to the backfield, which detracted from the musical effect and contributed to a feeling of dominance by the percussion section. The small guard of three performed well; if the corps is able to add more guard over the summer (they are advertising for four additional openings), they will add more visual punch.

Show experience

If you have a day to spend at a drum corps location, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better place to spend it than in Michigan City. The nearby beaches, the number and variety of restaurants, and the town festival provide a great day’s (or weekend’s) worth of activities.

Ames Field is an excellent venue, large for a high-school stadium and with solid bleachers that were roomier than average from front to back. Traffic flow in the seating was slow, with long rows between the aisles. Concessions had better-than-average variety and restrooms were convenient and large enough for the crowd. Parking was a bit problematic, so arriving early is highly recommended.

This show is on my “A-list” every year and this year’s edition was not a disappointment.

Posted by on Saturday, July 9th, 2011. Filed under DCW On-Line, FrontPage Feature.