Matt Johnson


Burgess Hill 2 Show Report


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Early March sees our final visit to the South before finals, returning to Burgess Hill for the second Southern Classic event this season, sponsored by the Southern Knights. With finals being less than a month away, all the units have been working hard on their shows and we were privileged to see some excellent performances today.

Cadet Class

We began today’s Cadet Class contest with Atlantic Dawn performing to music from the Disney film “Pocahontas”. The opener featured some promising but rather awkward-looking rifle work, with the transition into the second motive being on the long side – this problem affected several transitions during this show. The silks showed good execution of what is rather trivial vocabulary, with a lot of confidence in the show. I am wondering if perhaps the show has been written slightly too conservatively; but then again this is an exceptionally young guard. This performance showed significant improvement, with some of the late accents being handled with some aplomb. The finale is very convincing, the multicoloured silks matching well with the music “Colours of the Wind”. There are still some sticky moments here, but this is a perfectly reasonable show for this age of guard. (6th)

“All aboard!” was the cry as the Mini Moonlights took us on “The Locomotion”; with the train track and wheel motifs on the floor – the latter repeated in the silks – this is simplistic but effective communication of the concept. This guard is gaining confidence with every contest and their performance skills are improving tremendously, however there are still a few issues with ensemble togetherness. The hula-hoops, while not exactly standard equipment, work very well with this guard – a lesson that customizing the equipment for the members can pay handsome dividends. This was generally a good performance, with some of the work with the silks in the latter staging being really quite impressive for the age of the members performing. In all, this was a confident show enjoyed by both guard and audience alike. (5th)

Valiant then changed the tone bringing us their performance to the mystical melodies of the Harry Potter films. The opener showed some differences in interpretation during the movement section, and an early flag accent was anticipated, significantly decreasing its effect. The tempo change between “Hedwig’s Theme” and “Nimbus 2000” wasn’t exploited very well at all – more could be made of the music throughout. The performance today felt frayed at the edges: ensemble skills and communication of the vocabulary being used were rather vague at times, particularly during transitions. That said, the set pieces were handled well and with plenty of confidence. This was a good performance, having shown significant improvement since the beginning of the season. (4th)

The Alliance Antz took us to dreamland in their show to “I Need Some Sleep” from the film “Shrek 2”. The subtle changes in the use of scenery are effective and balance the stage quite effectively. Some good early movement work was followed by solid flag work and convincing sequences throughout. The staging seems to be unclear at times – I wasn’t sure where to look at a couple of points in the show. The finale also had some sort of timing issue, overrunning the music; it is not clear if this is deliberate or whether it was a performance mistiming – this made the ending a little awkward for the audience to gauge. Some timing during transitions is not yet tight enough, but the fundamentals of the show now provide a solid foundation upon which to build. Cleaning and further confidence may be the key ingredients required to improve the Antz’ placing at Finals. (3rd)

“Me Old Bamboo” was the refrain for Moonlight Cadets’ rousing performance, featuring the namesake music from “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”. As far as the scenery is concerned, the bamboo flats are pretty obvious, but the reasoning for the floor is lost on me: lime green on grey? The opening sequences were generally convincing but with a few minor ensemble issues, however later sequences were not quite so clear. The sabre work is particularly good as is the staging throughout, with some particularly gifted work both in writing and delivery into the flag accent with the yellow silks. The performance was much improved overall, and the writing now feels like it is pitched for the level at which this guard are capable of performing – busy, but not frenetic or panicked. This was delivered very well indeed; some timing issues continue to permeate the show but this is definitely going in the right direction for Finals. (2nd)

Southern Knights Rugrats then performed their show around the theme of “Ice” to Britney Spears’ “Everytime”. The movement opener was good, albeit slightly affected by some early ensemble issues which were rapidly corrected as the show progressed. Work with the silks is uniformly very good, with accents being delivered well and corresponding with the music. The change of timbre in the music being reflected in a change of colour in the silks is a pleasingly subtle effect, and is one of several very well-constructed moments throughout this show. Sabre work was perfectly acceptable, showed off by solid staging throughout. The finale was interpreted by the guard particularly well, and closed out a very convincing and confident performance. In my view, the guard showed evidence of understanding many of the subtleties of the show, which is unusual in Cadet Class – a testament to a lot of hard work by both instructors and members throughout this season. (1st)

Junior Class

Atlantic Dawn opened today’s Junior Class performing to Leanne Rimes’ “Can’t Fight The Moonlight”. The opener has some rather wide staging – I think (but I can’t be sure, my notes let me down here unfortunately) that the soloists were placed at the front left and front right hash marks, which is a little extreme. The music opens with several big hits, which aren’t used effectively – this lack of exploitation of the backing track continues throughout. Early work in the movement and flag books was much improved from previous shows, but moving into the second section the guard appeared to be less confident. While the changes adding some vertical dynamic are certainly good, the 16 beat low horizontal “rotor” spin on the silks is a little long – I was expecting something to change after 8 beats and didn’t see anything. In the “high energy” sections of the music I usually expect to see some of the more impressive or “flashy” vocabulary – this didn’t prove to be the case here. In general, the show is continuing to improve in both writing and execution; I hope this steady progress continues all the way to Brentwood. (5th)

We were then shipped off to prison as The Academy staged their “Jail Break”. The extra member on the floor compared to previous contests helped immensely during the opener, which was much more convincing then previously. Some members seemed a little unsure at times, but I’m more than willing to ascribe this to the significant rewriting of this show since Dagenham. The changes provide massive improvements: all the members are now contributing a lot to the performance, and I was pleasantly amused with the big concept change as the prisoners decide that turnabout was fair play and the jailer finds himself “behind bars”! Equipment work is reasonable if continuing to be slightly pedestrian, and movement is performed with a lot of panache throughout but may not be rigorous enough for the judges to significantly award. The big boost here was in effect: the new cast on the concept is much stronger than the original rendering and was communicated well. I think the GE judges were rather miserly with the Junior Class as a whole today; my feeling is that the improvements made by this unit might not have been fully represented on the recap. (4th)

Number three to perform in Junior Class was Mayflower, aptly performing the show “Three (Is The Magic Number)”. The movement opener is particularly enjoyable – a lot of challenging vocabulary was executed very well as a cohesive ensemble. The tempo change into the main motive was handled exquisitely, but the pickup sequence for the silks was not quite so impressive. Fortunately, subsequent flag work was good, with good accents and very good visual communication of the music in the vocabulary used. Some transitions showed issues in the ensemble, but the set pieces were generally very tight. Staging throughout is good, and the flag work and movement are very effective throughout. Lots of changes have been made to the show – I would hazard to say that a section was rewritten – and these all contributed to an overall improvement. The guard’s confidence in delivering the show has increased, and communication was convincing throughout. The new changes certainly require cleaning, but this show is now in very good shape for finals. Again, I feel that the improvements to the effect made by the large changes weren’t reflected wholly in the GE caption scores today. (3rd)

Guardsmen Cadets then took the floor with their show to Maroon 5’s “She Will Be Loved”. Today’s show wasn’t quite as clean and tight as previous contests, but this did not prove to be particularly detrimental to the overall result. Some early flag accent work was very good indeed, and changes of height were exploited nicely. Equipment vocabulary and execution were good throughout, although perhaps slightly unremarkable. Some later accents were anticipated; having said that, the ensemble was very cohesive throughout, with only a few minor flaws in interpretation. The finale proved to be very convincing, and staging was as good as ever. This was perhaps a vaguely workmanlike performance today – good; yet, for me, not particularly eye-catching and perhaps lacking a little bite. (2nd, High Ensemble)

Southern Knights’ performance to the music of The Carpenters’ concluded today’s Junior Class contest. The opener featured some very good movement work across the entire unit; however, this was followed by a mediocre introductory accent on the silks. This was compensated for in “We’ve Only Just Begun” by some very convincing flag work, with a lot of power and confidence for this level of guard. The transition into “Top of the World” using the movement feature to segue into the small ensemble of silks was carried off very nicely, with some excellent staging and a very good sequence. Sabre work was generally solid, as was the equipment book throughout. “Ticket to Ride” moved along well, but I was left wondering about the timing of the accent with yellow silks with regard to the music – it didn’t quite seem to fit. The new finale to “Stop, Mr. Postman” feels much more fleshed out, with significant improvements to interpretation and execution. Today’s show was really very successful indeed, and this was reflected in the overall rankings if not in the caption scores themselves. (1st, High Equipment, High Movement, High GE)

'A' Class

The Squires began this afternoon’s ‘A’ Class, performing to “Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina and the Waves. The opener is quite eye-catching – the early sabre toss works well, despite the rather wide staging. Rifle and flag staging during the main bulk of the show is too sparse however, and vocabulary on the rifle is not particularly exciting. One noticeable point was that a rifle was “discarded” early in the show – literally, thrown to the backline – this shouldn’t be necessary. This, along with the mismatching gold and bronze silks used later acted as jarring notes during a passable performance. There is a marked lack of confidence, particularly at the finale – this is not helped by the limited flag vocabulary and the writing not really fitting the music in either meter or communication. The guard are executing what’s been written really quite well, but this cannot fix the deficiencies in the writing itself. (8th)

We were reminded that the ocean is not always a safe place to be by Moonlight ‘A’, with their show themed around sharks. The movement opener has minor issues in interpretation and timing, and the introduction of the silks despite their bright colour is rather weak and ineffective, despite the intention of an accent at that point. However, this was followed by some good vocabulary in the flag work, with uniformity in interpretation and ensemble skills improving as we got further into the show. The movement book, along with the exploitation of accents, is really rather unconvincing and definitely requires attention. The finale also doesn’t work well – the primary cause of this might well be the backing track. Execution is reasonable for this stage of the season, but the confidence which should be there now simply isn’t. The guard are making a very good attempt at the show, but there are still major problems to overcome in the writing for this to be competitive. I feel that the choice of music and how the concept is to be exploited might be core problems here. (7th)

Next was Eclipse with their show to the music from “City of Angels”. The movement opener was very successful, with good interpretation and ensemble work, and provided an excellent stage for the solo sabre and the introduction of the silks. I suspect these were new silks – the extra visibility they afford was particularly noticeable. Some of the flag work was not quite uniformly interpreted, but sequences in particular were executed well. The mood change into the second motive worked reasonably well today, but could have been tighter – rather hazy staging didn’t help. The weapon work was generally good, as was the movement book and staging in most places: using a smaller stage to communicate a specific effect is a good design feature and it was used well in this show. Some transitions were rather tight – they just about worked today but it was rather a close call at times. The multicoloured silks in the finale were very effective today, with excellent accent and sequence work, and the “heartbeat” at the end of the show made a lot more sense. Today’s performance felt much more convincing than previous shows – I’ve no idea why the scores don’t reflect this. (6th)

The Academy then took the floor to put us “In The Mood”. As far as concept presentation is concerned, the setting at the opening has to be one of the strongest this year – costumes, opening music, equipment and writing all combine very well indeed. Transitions were the major flaw in today’s performance – none of the changes of motive were very good, unfortunately. However, the set pieces were executed with some aplomb – the new show silks proved effective once the early interpretation and ensemble jitters were shaken out. Some adventurous vocabulary was on display in both books – accent and sequence work was generally very good, and for the most part the staging provided suitable guidance to the audience. A lot of hard work has gone into this show, but the guard has not quite reached the stage where they are getting its full benefit. This show will reach its potential when the members can positively exude confidence, let themselves go and really enjoy performing it – for the switch between the two moods to work we need to see a “night and day” difference between the staid formal “British” motive and the exuberant “American” motive. That said, this was an enjoyable show all the same, and I hope that the guard can reach the level this program promises to give us an excellent performance at Brentwood. (5th)

From paisley dresses to primary colours, Mayflower performed to two versions of “Sing a Rainbow”. The solo movement feature transitioning to ensemble silks in the opener was very convincing indeed, with some excellent ensemble understanding and interpretation. The show then departed from its previous route and drove several miles into rewrite territory: lots of changes were evident, with bold coloured drops and new sabres featuring as major equipment and scenery modifications, along with plenty of changes in the writing. The new drops have excellent effect and in themselves provide a solid foundation for development throughout the performance – fixing the mechanical issues on them will improve this yet further. The ensemble work felt very convincing throughout; a sentiment with which the judges agreed. Some transitions were on the ragged side, but this is a small problem alongside the big improvements and good work by the guard today. The new coloured sabres in particular added a lot to effect, with their use at strategic points increasing the link between music and visual representation. Accent and vocabulary were good throughout: however, while I can appreciate that there was a heavy movement book in the show, I didn’t find it particularly noteworthy – I can’t say I know why. Overall, these changes have really improved this unit’s chances at Finals – I’m looking forward to seeing how they can deliver once they are really confident with the new material. (4th, Joint High Ensemble)

The Southern Knights then took us back a decade or three with their Abba-themed show. Uncharacteristically for this guard, the very beginning didn’t quite snap together: the opening lines were markedly askew. However, once we got past this hiccup the situation rapidly improved with an excellent movement feature and good introduction of the silks leading to a flashy closed toss. The whole first motive wasn’t as tight as usual, with a few timing problems evident – but this didn’t adversely affect the sense of development and we hit a good resolving accent into “Dancing Queen”. Sequence and accent work is at a very high standard throughout – this is no real surprise given that this is one of the Knights’ strong suits. Weapons work is generally very good, but I remain unhappy about the rifle and sabre pairing in “Mamma Mia” – it might look good from the floor level but from a few rows up I’m not sure it works as well as might have been expected. “Waterloo” remains the strongest section, with lots of confidence and enjoyment being expressed by the guard throughout. Transitions were generally good, if perhaps slightly rushed in places, but a particularly convincing finale provided a good sense of resolution. This proved to be a successful show despite the minor flaws: when this guard fires on all cylinders they will be a force to be reckoned with. (3rd, Joint High Ensemble, High Equipment)

We then saw Reflexions perform their “Dancing Keys” show. The opening sabre and rifle solos were very good, if slightly mistimed today, but the sabre sequence linking the early movement feature to the full ensemble work was excellent. Vocabulary on sabre and movement were both very good, as was execution in general. The work with the silks was a mite ragged at the beginning of the show with a few differences in interpretation; set pieces were very solid however, despite some minor interval problems later on. Accents and sequences were very good – a couple of the sequences could perhaps use some slightly more rigorous timing though. The rifle book is now excellent – some complex vocabulary is being executed very well indeed. Staging was very good throughout, and the movement feature in the finale was very elegant indeed. Several changes have been made – not on the same scale as some other units today, but they were still significant and improved the effect of the show for me. As a result, I’m a little surprised at the GE score for the guard. Despite the nits, the guard were clearly very confident in what they were doing, and enjoying themselves greatly – a true success. (2nd, High Movement)

Finally, Alliance concluded the ‘A’ Class with their show based around the film “The Crow”. While the more overt and aggressive exploitation of the concept has been clear up to now, we are now starting to get a little more subtlety into the performance; I noticed this time that the opening staging is in the shape of a Christian cross – this motif returns occasionally later on and provides an interesting counterpoint. The movement feature in the opener is gripping, with some really good ensemble and interpretation across the floor. The work with the silks is mostly excellent: sequences and accents work particularly well throughout, but on one occasion where they are providing backstage colour to the rifles, there was some distracting raggedness to the execution. There were too many drops for my taste on weapons, but this may be due to the significant changes towards the end of the show: long throws of rifles across the floor and showy tosses immediately following grab attention very well indeed. The choice of silks is also very good: the “flame” silks in particular provide excellent contrast, and the movement work around the static pastel silks remains very convincing. Mood changes were generally much better throughout, and the combination of these improvements meant that Alliance held on to the top spot today, but by the narrowest of margins. They need to bring back their strong suit in the equipment book and apply more rigour to the performance throughout to take home the prize from Finals. (1st, High GE)

Open Class

We moved into Open Class with Moonlight, performing to music from “Kill Bill”. The opening with solo flag and sabre and subsequently adding movement was reasonable, but unfortunately I didn’t find it particularly gripping. General execution was good albeit with quite a few drops, and vocabulary across the books was perfectly acceptable. Accent and sequence work didn’t really live up to expectations though, and transitions felt rather sluggish throughout. The quality of the staging varies from good to excellent: the guard shows sections of real understanding of their ensemble responsibilities – an example of which is the striking two-part staging for sabre and silk, which works very nicely indeed, as does the finale. While the guard are putting in a very good and confident performance on the floor, this does not overcome the issues relating to the writing and concept. There is no real sense of development as the show progresses: the lack of a strong visible concept and the choice of music may be contributing factors to this – that said, the second piece of music used is significantly better than the first, providing some accent with which the guard can work. This was a really good effort, but the members can’t make good effect and audience reaction out of thin air. (6th)

Deep Purple were next, performing to the music of Eva Cassidy. I was still at a loss to the poles at the beginning of the performance, but I think I understood them by the end – nevertheless, they are red and orange, compared to the light blues, lilacs and whites used elsewhere – this doesn’t really mesh too well. The opener showed a lot of promise: the movement feature introducing sabre was good and felt well-constructed. There was good use of the music to introduce the full ensemble, with a good staging split between sabres and movement. Timing seems to be a problem though: several sections suffered with major ensemble and timing issues throughout the show. Some of the work was also not communicated very well: I had a vague idea of what was written but couldn’t be sure. There was some difficult vocabulary in this show, but there wasn’t quite enough excellence to make it convincing. The finale however works very well; the poles eventually metamorphose into bridges, and the ending effect is really quite good; the imagery is certainly a stretch though. This was a passable performance, but as a show this still doesn’t grab my attention. (5th)

Next were The Academy, with their show based around “Zen – The Path to Enlightenment” to John Cage’s “Primitive”. The movement opener is fast and challenging, and was executed very well indeed with good interpretation and ensemble skills; this led into an extremely convincing sabre introduction. There is a lot of hard vocabulary across all the books, most of it was very solidly performed with movement a particularly strong point. The equipment book could be improved by cleaning up the drops – there seemed to be rather a lot for this point in the season. Accents and staging work were very good throughout, with several particularly impressive moments. The colour scheme is much improved, with the pinks and purples from last show replaced with greys, yellows and dark reds – much more in keeping with the theme of the show. The concept is very elegant, with the difference between the exquisite costuming and simple but effective scenery working very well indeed. This show continues to improve apace. (4th)

Guardsmen then told the story of “The Commute” with their quirky but effective show. The movement in the opener is particularly inventive, and the progression of the staging and the music, starting from “quiet” far away from the audience and moving to energetic close to the audience is a subtle hallmark of some excellent writing. The solo silk introducing the ensemble silks worked very well indeed, but today’s show wasn’t particularly good on equipment, with an unusually high frequency of errors and drops. This ensemble has really “clicked” – they communicate well with the audience not only the concept but their sheer enjoyment of performing. Transitions were a little on the rushed side today, but accents, development and staging were all very solid. The finale and the big mood change were both handled with significant panache. With this unusual concept, the guard produced some excellent GE moments today – once the equipment demons have been excised this will push hard for a medal placing at finals. (3rd)

The music of Nick Drake accompanied Mayflower’s performance. The opener with its individualized movement work meshed nicely into an ensemble feature, with uniformly good execution across the floor. Early accents with the silks were particularly noticeable, with some excellent interpretation and ensemble work. The transition and change of mood between motives was handled very well indeed, with an excellent sabre accent following soon after. There were a few minor interval problems and occasional differences across the ensemble with the silks in “One Of These Things First”, but on the whole, the ensemble really performed as a single unit and worked very well together. Weapons were impressive, and this along with many other points made this the best performance from this guard I’ve seen this season. There were fewer major changes to my eye than those made to the other Mayflower units, but the improvement between shows is just as marked, with some really elegant interpretation work, understanding of the levels of the show, and general execution. It’s taken a while, but I’m now excited about this show and where it can go in the future in both WGUK and WGI. (2nd, High Equipment, High Movement)

The Southern Knights were the last of today’s competing guards, performing their show entitled “Up, Up and Away”. The opener to “Air on a G String” featured some excellent visual interpretation of the music, with some very good execution in both movement and on the silks. This led into some very convincing ensemble work and a good transition into “Up, Up and Away”, where the small ensemble sabre and rifle feature blended seamlessly into an excellent introductory accent for the full ensemble. Changes in energy and emotion as well as vertical staging were accomplished very well indeed, adding real dynamic to the performance. There were some minor ensemble and interpretation differences on occasions, but these did not adversely affect the general feel of the show. There’s some very challenging vocabulary here – a toss made while performing some movement on the floor stands out as one of the major features here. Staging in general was well represented by the guard and gave a good impression of the writing, and the finale was very convincing indeed. This performance was a real triumph – once the few drops are cleaned up and the few nits are resolved this will be very hard to beat. (1st, High Ensemble, High GE)

In closing...

The retreat featured a group from 6th Hove playing the National Anthem, and then we heard the results. With very close scoring on several captions across many of the classes, the run to the end of the season will prove very interesting indeed.

This being the third and final show sponsored by the Southern Knights at Burgess Hill this year, a special thanks must go to Alan Thompson, Alan Chatfield and everyone from Southern Knights who has helped to run this year’s shows at the Triangle – the activity would be much poorer without their generosity of time and money to ensure these contests took place. Also, many thanks to all the WGUK judges and tabulators, the staff at the Triangle, to all the members and staff of today’s competing guards, and to everyone who came along to support and enjoy the show.

This Sunday sees Winterguard take its final trip north for the season to Cannock, for Classic Academy ’05 sponsored by Northern Academy – I won’t be at Cannock so I won’t be writing a report, but if someone else wishes to take up the mantle, please feel free! After that, the guards have two weeks for their final preparations before the British Winterguard Championships at Brentwood on Saturday, 26th March. Until then, best wishes to all guards in their preparations, and I look forward to an enjoyable and entertaining Finals!

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