Thoughts on the Florida show located between Disney World and Dinosaur


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Lakeland, one could assume, was the location DCI chose for the Central Florida show due to it being roughly halfway between the two large cities of Orlando and Tampa. The seemed reasonable, except for the fact that stadium was teeny-tiny, and with a show not coming to the state for several years, the result was the concert side sold out early in the week.

So many overflow tickets were purchased that even the back side of the stands was nearly full, and the parking was rather a mess.

Welcome back DCI! Next time, please consider moving to your old haunt, the recently renamed Citrus Bowl, or Camping World Stadium, or Campfire Girls Stadium, or whatever it is now called. There is obviously sufficient demand to have a large crowd there and probably an additional show in Tampa as well.

I’m an artist and designer and attended with a longtime friend who is a former Cadet and professional dancer. We are visual people, so what follows are impressions of the corps in that vein. There will be no discussion of diddles or harmonics, because unless something of that nature really stands out to us, we don’t pay tons of attention. Our focus is on what we are seeing and how the concepts work. We were seated about halfway up in a short stadium, so not tons of drill to be seen.

Legends - The Grid.

This is the first one I saw as I had to drive through a rather unsavory trailer park to find parking. Good times. Seemed like a well-designed show. Having worked with a smaller corps for a time, I know how challenging it can be, and the staff looked to create something for them that was both interesting and achievable. I have no idea what The Grid was about, but it may be a challenging place, as the guard had black lips and spent a lot of the show making a hungry, gritted-teeth expression.

Whether or not they ever got enough to eat, they put a lot of energy into the performance and the costumes and colors were first-rate. It was sort of a Cavaliers Junior type of show, and had all the pieces in place to be quite strong when clean by the end of the season. Nice way to start the evening.

Jersey Surf - Ebb and Flow.

I liked this a lot - a salute to the ocean. It was fun and colorful, and their rather dour blue corps uniforms look much better with the new “wave” faux-shakos and other enhancements. The guard, bless their hearts, starts out with sort of a chiffon poncho over their costumes. Filmy fabric with just a neck hole and no sleeves, which led my friend and I to describe it as something very “Oh My Gauze,” after a ladies’ cruise wear store which sells similar garments in a few Florida cities.

It seemed like it would be a great enhancement until a slight puff of wind showed up and I lost count of how many kids ended up with it over their faces in what looked like an attempt at self-mummification. Perhaps they should slit it down the front and make it more of a cape to eliminate that issue. Regardless of the outcome, it was a nice idea.

The rest of the show had more blues and greens and they really seemed to have a lot of fun with it. The horns were pretty loud and overall it was impressive to see what a corps with a limited rehearsal schedule can achieve now as opposed to maybe 10 years ago. Talent and teaching levels continued to go up and up.

Spirit of Atlanta - Georgia.

Yes it is Georgia again, but for a corps that has had many near-death experiences, they looked huge, so that seemed to be a great testament to their rebuilding efforts. It seemed like a pleasant show overall, about 3/4 ballad and a few moments of higher velocity. Kind of a lazy summer afternoon sort of Georgia, but that also made it look achievable for a largely new group where positive experience and retention must be the goals. They can pull it off for sure. I think by the end of the season it will be stronger than their last few designs.

I didn’t realize there was some sort of love story until about 2/3 of the way through when the apparent lovers were having a spat and made a big show of flirting with others. Looks like a troubled relationship. Perhaps Dr. Phil is needed.

Part of the reason you may not notice them is they are dressed in subtle blue shades while the rest of the guard is in screaming yellow and gold. It all looks nice, but as they are the featured characters, maybe a bright hat or something might draw a bit more attention.

I think they are on the right track, so good for them. In the future, as they gain strength, I would love to see them expand the notion of “the South” a bit and attempt some New Orleans jazz or other styles that step away from the expected a bit.

Boston: Man of Laquixotic.

This is WAY better than it was in the movie preview. It is really starting to come along and I can see why they are beating Crossmen in GE. It is well thought-out and has a lot of engagement potential. They just need to keep working on executing it, but the guard especially was leaps and bounds better than a few weeks ago. I appreciate all the detailing with the crazy hair and makeup, etc. There is a lot of good thought in this and there were no areas that stood out as kicking their butts (unlike Animal Farm). The windmills are still cool, but they work much better in the back than in the front. Up front they just obliterate everything behind them and you get lost in a sea of white moving piece, white yardlines, white stripes on the corps, etc. Some restaging of them would probably add clarity. This show could have the most growth potential of the lower-12 tier.

Crossmen: Continuum.

Was I supposed to read something about the theme beforehand to get a deeper meaning? I didn’t so it just seemed like a show with pretty colors, which is fine. And that shape. They really like that shape. It’s on the flats and in the drill.

Having seen the show now online and in person, both times the center tarp was unreadable due to glare on it from the lights. I think it is that shape again? Unless you are riding a drone overhead for a direct view, it may not be worth the effort, as glare seems like it will be a bit of a distraction all season.

Overall the corps looks older and much more in control than the past few season. They have a huge sound (much louder than Boston) and seem to be achieving at a consistently strong level. There are moments suggesting the old groove, but just moments, and the rest seems a bit safe. I think the danger is they may max it out in a few weeks and the warning sign is the Boston GE score. The guard is pretty clean already as well.

Overall, I liked it, but had the sense that they are capable of more. Perhaps the staff can inject some more juice into the program.

One thing which didn’t work was the new ending. They had us. They had us right where they wanted us, with a big loud push at the end and the guard using these 2-sided flags that kept doing a color shift back and forth along the line. We loved it. We were happy with the ending!

But that wasn’t the ending. After all this pizazz, the horns set down their instruments in...that shape... and leaving it near the front, then went and all stood in a line midfield.

Crickets and polite applause to conclude the show. When you’ve excited the crowd, don’t throw water on us with a down ending unless you are going to pull out that old Earth globe again or something. Get rid of the down and end on a happy note.

Cadets and Bluecoats: Downside Up Stoned Statues Awakening.

I’m discussing these two together because I find the contrast so interesting. Corps 1 gives the impression that they are not trying at all to make you understand what they are doing, and you come away feeling like you totally get their idea. Corps 2 appears to be trying very, very, very hard to explain their theme to you, and you leave feeling completely confused about what is going on. Ultimately I think it comes down to how sound your design plan is coming out of the winter season. In the last 5 years or so, staffs have really upped their game, and the level of complexity and higher-level thinking is way, way above what it used to be. For a long time, you could come out with a half-baked sketch, try it, throw out huge parts if need be, cram new stuff in at the end and still win. Not so much anymore. If your plan, to be implemented in stages, is not at least 85% a success from Day 1, you are behind and may never catch up as the competition races ahead.

Corps 1 - Bluecoats - did their homework in great detail. The design is really, really sound, with one perceived flaw, which I’ll discuss at the end. They keep reinforcing “downside up” in so many subtle ways that you don’t notice them specifically, but at the end it all seems very coherent. They’re going down the slides. They’re going up the slides. They are moving in formations around the slides and then back through the center, so essentially going up and down on a different plane. Then they make them into sort of a half-pipe tube and go up and down and up and down from back to front - from upfield to downfield. The concentric circles on one flag design mirror this idea of emerging from the tube.

It’s there everywhere.

They roll onto their heads with feet straight up. The loopy-loop shape on the uniforms suggest the pathway of the people navigating the slides. It’s ALL over the place, but it is done in a seemingly effortless manner.

It’s just what you need and nothing more. It’s not overdone. It’s not cheezy, and it is not so minimalist as to be sparse. It just...works.

The props are an excellent design. Extremely versatile and look wonderful from the side as well as the front. A key change is they’ve now painted the lower part that folds up the same red as the slide. Before it was plain aluminum. Now when they fold and move them, it is a much cleaner shape with a solid block of red. Great improvement.

All this activity would lay an egg if they couldn’t move in a highly professional manner, but they do. Their jazz running is approaching Blue Devil smoothness and the dance work is performed at a high level with an impressive degree of control.

The music is interesting and modern and they do fun things to illustrate it at times, especially the “hip swivel” during the ballad. The guard is the strongest they’ve ever had.

It all seems set up for maximum success, except for one thing - I’m not sure the program actually takes you anywhere. To me the last section of the show feels a lot like the opening section. There is not a sense of progression. More like two similar bookends and a ballad in between. This currently reads like a liability to the Blue Devils, who even if you know nothing of the Tempest, both musically and visually are presenting something that starts with a sense of peril, then leads to a discovery of something unknown, then to an emotional love interest, then one more bit of peril and a joyous conclusion. That sort of arc is really strong, especially how they present it, so even if Bluecoats can’t get past them, I think these two corps, barring any major staff shakeups, have the goods for epic battles for years to come.

Overall this show is fantastic and refreshing. Needs just maybe a bit more heart.

Corps 2 - Cadets. They are achieving something that Bluecoats are not. They are very much nailing a sense of progression...musically. Starting with a brooding and building opener, then some joyousness, then something goes wrong and a chaotic conclusion. It’s all there. It’s everything you need....musically.

Then you get to the visual and I’m left with a lot of questions.

There is so much effort and energy being put into it, but the pieces are not connecting. It comes across as a set of individual moments, rather than a coherent package. Here are a few points that puzzled me:

The Stage - We were seated at a level where what happened on the stage should seem to really capture attention, but it didn’t. Half the time, due to the busy background of the pit behind it, I didn’t notice something was happening on it until it was underway or ending (example, I missed the french horns completely). What was I looking at instead? All the drill and fast flag work going on backfield. Where is the focus supposed to be? I didn’t get the impression that emphasis was fully directed to the front or the back. It all happened at once. The transitions up and down the ramps also had a stampede quality.

I’m not sure any benefit gained is worth the effort required to haul around and assemble the pieces of the thing.

The Lack of Color - Color is the simplest and one of the strongest ways to add instant surprise, impact and mood. For a show that musically seems to suggest all sorts of drama, you would think some color bursts would be called for as exclamation points, but no. There is one, very meticulously planned flag change that takes place as a form moves behind the cupcake on Side 2. We watched the line of guard, one by one, duck behind the prop to grab a new flag and keep going. Great effect, yes? No, because the new flag was essentially the same, pale stone print as the prior one. Slightly different design but from 10 paces, totally same feel. Even if they have a new flag on the way, why did someone go to the trouble to plan this change with the nearly-identical ones in the first place? Closing flags - again, different pattern, same basic color scheme. So much potential effect is left on the table here. Come on, you are in all-black, you can use any shade of the rainbow you want. It’s hard to stand up and cheer for gray and beige.

Who is a Statue and Who Isn’t? - So there is the Trumpet, Violin and “Adonis.” Everyone is in the same outfit (with different shoes) as the guard. Trumpet and Violin have no face paint. Adonis has an all-white mime face. Guard is in half-white sort of like Phantom of the Opera mask. Trumpet stands still in a pose, moves to play his parts, then poses again. Statue or not? Alive or not? Only alive when emptying spit valve?

Violin seems to move a lot and maybe sit quietly too?

Adonis sits like The Thinker. At one point he gets up and reaches toward the guard who is waving large rags at him, which may be pieces of skin or oversize Kraft Cheese Singles. Maybe he is hungry? He doesn’t partake. Then he is still again.

He seems to like fashion because a bit later he hands a guard member what appears to be a muumuu/cabana wear/beach wrap sort of thing. Eventually they are all wearing them. Adonis is a trendsetter.

Near the end he becomes very cross and stands up, grimaces and flails his arms in a King Kong manner. Why is he so upset? Hemorrhoids from eons spent sitting on a stone bench? He’s definitely cranky. The guard gathers around him and the show is over.

What has not been super obvious is when the statues, in general “awakened.” I get that the dissonant trombone thing early on is supposed to be the alarm clock for them, but the guard starts moving pretty much when any color guard does, at the beginning of the show. For communication clarity, it would seem a better approach to have have some of the majestic Appian Way play out as the composer intended, representing a slow march of soldiers, approaching and entering a setting of frozen statues. Then you do the trombone bit at the end and the statues wake up. The arachnid crawling on the ground thing they start with now? Not clear.

Obviously, they have a lot of talent, as always, and are playing some really tough stuff. And LOUD, I might add. VERY LOUD. The guard is still fairly messy, but their energy level is a huge improvement from last year. The concept is not weak. It’s a good idea, but the visual choices are aiming for something that they are not achieving, and it is killing the communication of the show. There are areas that seem fixable, but to bring back the first point, if you have to do major fixes at this point, you’re really making it easier for the competition.

I saw 1/2 of Cavaliers, SCV, Devils and Blue Knights from Denver when I got home. Both SCV and Cavaliers have stronger overall designs than Cadets, and purely on design, I would place them above. Cavaliers may not be able to pull off the musical captions to ultimately make that happen, but it is not out of the realm of possibility.

What happens between the BD-BC battle? We shall see. I think it is hard to bet against a BD corps that has returned a huge number of kids from a championship year, knows they have potential for 3-peat, don’t want to lay an egg while appearing on a reality show and frankly, have produced just a great, great show. It will be exciting!

Edited by NakedEye
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Loved your review - I'm a guard person - so appreciate the visual take! Also - super funny - so that's always a plus :tounge2:

Later,

Mike

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Excellent review!

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  • 2 weeks later...

Thanks for the excellent review. Would have loved to hear thoughts on the SoundSport teams that opened the show.

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