Matt Johnson


Chippenham Show Report


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Chippenham hosted this weekend’s Winterguard West event sponsored by Pride of Bristol at the Olympiad Centre. With the large number of Bristol area guards performing, support was strong indeed with the stands well-populated throughout. Now all the guards have performed at least once, here begins the process of improvement towards both next week’s “super-contest” at Dagenham, and next month’s finals.

Cadet Class

Atlantic Dawn opened today’s short Cadet Class contest. The only organization to have attended all three contests thus far, this third outing to the theme of Pocahontas showed some improvement. The early section of the show is developing very well indeed, with some particularly good work moving from the solo to full ensemble. In general, the writing is pretty good but the transitions between the set pieces need quite a bit of work, with several being either too short or too long in execution. This young guard showed lots of concentration, but perhaps a little less confidence than I’ve seen previously. That said, I hope the steady improvement we’ve seen thus far continues. (2nd)

The Starlights were our second and final guard in this class. Their programme notes proclaim the theme to be based on Disney’s “Cinderella”, but it’d be more accurately characterized as a Disney medley. The opening costumes of pink and white wedding dresses are very stylish and unusual – and the cynic says that there is a little milking of the “cute factor” going on here too! The movement opener was convincing but a little light on vocabulary even for a Cadet group. However, the equipment work which followed, while having plausible book work, definitely requires some cleaning. The smash cut into “Hakuna Matata” from “The Lion King” – indeed, not exactly “Cinderella”! – is very effective and provides a solid finale. The show has promise, but the juxtaposition of concepts here is rather bizarre. Overall, a good, well-written show which could use time for the guard to understand and perform it a little better. (1st)

Junior Class

Pride Cadets began today’s Junior Class performing to music from “The Nutcracker”, having been reclassified into this class after their impressive first outing at Cannock. The opener, with its flag work and sequences, was excellent for such a young group but still showed some raggedness. The usual quagmire of transition problems was adroitly avoided by good use of cadence points in the writing at the changes of mood; the move into “The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” was handled very nicely, and featured elegant one-sided silver effect silks. Some very good flag work throughout – indeed, with shades of brilliance at times; the concept was also communicated well and lent itself to good General Effect marks. One would be a fool not to expect this unit to challenge at next month’s finals. (2nd, High Movement and High GE)

Atlantic Dawn’s interpretation of “Can’t Fight The Moonlight” didn’t quite work out today, with significant differences in interpretation causing issues across the unit. Some of the staging in the transitions needs to be looked at carefully, yet staging in the full ensemble set pieces works very nicely indeed. The big accent moment leading into the finale unfortunately didn’t quite come over – I’m not entirely sure why, because I understood what was intended but it just didn’t get a good reaction. The programme doesn’t feel sufficiently exploited – music of this type should lend itself to good GE and good development, but this particular framing didn’t really provide a lot of progression or growth through the show. The finale in general is very nicely written: the solo flag and rifle work is particularly good and this is reflected in the encouraging equipment caption result. (4th)

The striking blue, silver and white scenery drops portraying life on the ocean wave, plus pirate garb and a cry of “Aye aye, Captain!” could only mean that the Avenger Cadets’ show would be themed around the outlaws of the sea. The opener, to “A Pirate’s Life For Me”, is elegantly staged with the split between flag and sabre featured handled very well indeed. While this music is certainly apt, it didn’t provide much in the way of accent for either the writing or the guard’s execution to exploit – but what there was (admittedly in some paucity), was used well. The bridge between this and “Cabin Fever” was very convincing, and the change of mood between bawdy sea-song and outright madness aboard ship was communicated strongly. A very enjoyable show for both audience and guard, topped off by a very solid movement finale. Some minor interval and interpretation issues leave scope for improvement, but today’s performance was very successful indeed. (1st, High Equipment and High Ensemble)

A guard wearing dicky-bows and featuring black and red flats screams “Bond, James Bond” from the rooftops, and the Starlights didn’t disappoint on this score. However, while this classic concept has yards of GE potential, it didn’t quite hit the spot today. The performance took a little while to warm up – the opener was marred by the meter of the guard and the music not quite matching, leading to some rather raggedly timed sequences and anticipation of accent moments. The double-flag finale was reasonably convincing, but the show felt a little “manufactured” with some of the accents not apparently falling in the logical places. Lots of enthusiasm and enjoyment on the floor counterbalanced some of these issues to an extent, but the show’s concept didn’t quite come over despite the strong hints. (3rd)

'A' Class

Cohesion were the first guard to compete in ‘A’ Class today, in their show entitled “Yesterday” featuring music the music to Disney’s “Kim Possible”. Today’s performance was unfortunately not as convincing the one I saw in Burgess Hill a few weeks ago. There was a definitely lack of certainty from some guard members in parts of the show, and while the first transition was slightly better than previously, the backing track still falls to silence and doesn’t help the effect at all. The writing throughout is pedestrian; while some of the soloists show some panache this couldn’t rescue the show. The finale was a very damp squib – there was no accent point or tension to be resolved at the conclusion, the track faded out – and the fact that we had reached the end of the show had not been communicated to the audience, leading to a lack of reaction. This was compounded by an extra burst of music coming from the backing track after the end of the show, confusing anyone who wasn’t already so. A plea from an audience member: re-record the backing track to get rid of the uncertainty and silences; if not for the audience, for the sake of your guard members. This show needs a lot of work in the writing department to be competitive; the guard are making the best of a bad lot right now. (6th)

Garrison then took the floor, performing to “Breathe Easy” by Blue. While this show has some promise, particularly in the movement and ensemble books, there’s still something missing. The opener included a convincing solo and movement feature and a big flag accent – a very promising start. However, sequences throughout were dogged by significant timing problems leading to visible stuttering down the line. The writing makes good use of accent and staging throughout, but a lot of drops in the equipment book took their toll; fortunately ending well with a particularly enjoyable finale. The concept is certainly good enough – if a little abstract – but work cleaning the books and perhaps a little rewriting to put a little spice into what is currently a slightly flat show is likely to pay significant dividends. (5th)

We then saw last year’s ‘A’ Class winners, Buttercups, with a choice of music markedly different from last year’s “Last Laugh of the Laughter”. The opener reminded me a little of “Glass Spider”, which Exel found a little awkward last year. However, this was successful: mechanistic grey silks, costumes and flag traps set the tone effectively – which made the change into the second Latinesque motive and blazing technicolor all the more stunning. This unit’s strong suits in staging and movement still shine through, with particularly good use of accent throughout. However, the achilles heel at the moment is the equipment book, which needs attention if this show is to prove competitive. The closer, with its huge silks, was visually very attractive, but had a few interval problems which need to be addressed. In summary, we were treated to a very enjoyable show with a quirky concept, carried off with some panache – but which needs some targeted work in order to address its deficiencies. They’re still very much in with a chance, given how close this class is this year. (4th)

Reflexions’ “Dancing Keys” showed some good progress since Burgess Hill. The opening weapon duet and sequence still grabs the attention very well, despite the latter being a tiny bit ragged to my eye this time around. Flag work is particularly solid, and the staging and accentuation is as clear and well-adjusted as ever. The cleaning of the equipment work is having a big effect, with far fewer drops during the full ensemble rifle feature. There are still some interpretation nits, but with rifle that’s going to be the nature of the beast since differences through the line are much more visible than with the silks. The heavy rifle book is going to make or break this show, along with how well they exploit the elegant but tough concept to produce good General Effect. (3rd)

I get the feeling that we may see Reflexions’ classical Chopin smashing headlong into the heavy metal of “The Crow” from Alliance for several more shows this year. I certainly do not envy the judges having to work with such disparate concepts – it just proves how hard their task is at times!

After a particularly solid debut at Burgess Hill, Alliance’s show, performing to music from “The Crow”, remained as frenetic as ever and challenging to both guard and audience alike. The subtle changes made throughout were noticeable, with transitions and staging being significantly slicker: Burgess Hill’s performance felt a little rushed in places, whereas today’s felt much more coherent. The communication of the concept is a real success: costume, writing and scenery all work together to successfully shout it from the rooftops. One nit might be that a little more accent would not go amiss at the accent points – tightening up the timing, slight raggedness and the few remaining drops will do the trick to make the already impressive equipment book even stronger. While the writing is already extremely convincing, it may be necessary to introduce yet more challenge into the show to keep ahead of the game during the next few weeks. In short, an excellent show, with the potential to go yet further. (1st, High Equipment, High Movement, High GE)

Pride of Bristol performed their show based on “Love and Tragedy”, featuring music from “Romeo and Juliet” and “West Side Story”. Using a similar colour concept to Mayflower’s ‘A’ guard: white costume and scenery with colourful flags but black rifles, today’s outing was reasonably successful but could go further. The movement opener to the flag accent was entirely convincing, but some transitions later on suffered with some timing and staging difficulties. We had generally solid – but occasionally ragged – equipment work throughout, and some very nice staging work moving from solo to ensemble and back again. The main problem from my point of view was with mood change not being communicated strongly enough. I suspect this may be because the guard might not quite have the show internalized enough to get to this level of subtlety. The finale “You and Me Always” featured a big air sabre effect, handled with significant aplomb and received rapturously by a somewhat partisan Bristol crowd.  (2nd, High Ensemble)

Open Class

We entered Open Class with The Avengers, performing to “All Mixed Up” by The Cars. While generally very good, something about this didn’t grab me in the way I expect an Open Class show to do. The opener featured a particularly successful movement and flag feature, and the early use of some of the more unusual equipment vocabulary was noticeable. Some of the weapon work didn’t feel tight enough, despite being well-written, and there were a lot of drops which need to be cleaned away. Accents are pretty good -- some missed the mark very slightly but not to the detriment of the show in general. Staging is also generally clear, if a little wide at times: if I’m sitting on the “50” and about halfway up, I would hope to be able to see all the action – this wasn’t quite the case today. The books are solid enough, but the show failed to engage me – reflected in the judges’ GE scores which could use  some improvement. (2nd)

Pride of Bristol concluded our short Open Class and today’s competitive classes, with “This is Dmitriy Shostakovich”, featuring the music “Festive Overture” and a particularly striking red and yellow colour scheme. Now, this being a piece of music I particularly enjoy, when I first heard the voiceover with the American twang I will openly admit to cringing. However, I needn’t have worried, for Pride managed to use the whimsical narration to their advantage. The opener was impressive: an early leading throw and good use of the music in the flag work were highlights. The first big hit in the music didn’t really get reflected on the floor, I’m not sure if whether this is because it’s just not written to be, or whether the interpretation isn’t quite there yet. This was a generally solid performance throughout: equipment drops and transitions deserve some attention but there was a lot to enjoy throughout. The flag entry into the final statement has the potential to be absolutely mindblowing – today’s rendition was extremely good, but not at the level it could be. The mood of the performance was very well communicated by both the voiceover and the writing: the charismatic performances by several individuals in the guard really made this shine through. I think the quote from the narration of “Do it fast, or the audience will get bored!” applied equally to the music of Shostakovich and the attitude of Pride’s writing: both were particularly successful today, and this will undoubtedly challenge the front runners throughout the season. (1st, with a clean sweep of the captions)

In closing...

We then were privileged to see two performances from other sections of the Pride organization. The Pride Tots treated us to a show to the theme of the “Tweenies”. Now, if you read my report from Burgess Hill, I remarked that the Mini Moonlights were young. Well folks, they have nothing on the Tots! These very young Winterguarders were enjoying themselves immensely, ably supported by several of the MOPS and the Pride Open Class. Are these guard members of the future, perhaps? We can but hope.

The Pride of Bristol Percussion Ensemble then performed in exhibition. This group have been performing competitively in the CGN indoor percussion circuit, and delivered a sharp and enjoyable standstill performance across both the pit and battery.

We then moved into the retreat, results, and finally the National Anthem played by members of the Pride of Bristol Senior Corps. With both Junior and ‘A’ Class having reasonably close results at the top, there are definitely no foregone conclusions to how any of the classes are going to run this year.

As always, the atmosphere at Chippenham was electric throughout, and for that we need to thank: Rich Coulter and all the staff, parents and supporters at the Pride of Bristol involved in the organization and running of the show; the WGUK judges and tabulators; our hosts at the Olympiad; and the supporters and competitors from all today’s guards.

Last week saw CGN’s “super-contest” in Drachten, where Beatrix and The Pride are having a particularly close battle over Open Class. We’ll be privileged to get a taste of that next weekend – a particularly busy weekend in the British Winterguard calendar – with both of these guards and five other units from the Netherlands visiting us to take part in the WGI European Regional at Burgess Hill on the Saturday. The following day brings us to the Goresbrook Centre in Dagenham for “The Academy” Awards 2005 – a “super-contest” in itself, with 28 out of the total 40 WGUK guards competing in this mid-season event. I’m looking forward to this “double-header” weekend, and hope that many of you will be there supporting not only our own guards but also our visitors on Saturday, to show how welcoming UK Winterguard can be! See you at Burgess Hill!

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© 2005 Matt Johnson & Winter Guard United Kingdom