Matt Johnson

 

Dagenham Show Report

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Introduction

Before I begin the report from Dagenham, I’d be remiss if I failed to mention Saturday’s WGI European Regional at Burgess Hill. Both the visiting Dutch guards and our own UK units put on a great contest, with Beatrix, Southern Knights and The Pride taking class victories. With a truly welcoming and enjoyable atmosphere, the entire day was very successful: many thanks to Alan Thompson, Alan Chatfield, Ron Hope and the staff of Southern Knights and Mayflower who sponsored the event, the WGI judging panel, and all those who ran the show, performed and supported.

With some of the northern guards already in the south for the Regional and staying in the area overnight, Sunday saw the Goresbrook Leisure Centre and The Academy play host to the mid-season show in Dagenham, with 28 out of 40 WGUK units competing. The bitterly cold weather failed to temper the day’s high spirits and fine Winterguard performances, and now it’s my task to transcribe my ten pages of scrawled notes from the day’s events into something a little more legible!

Cadet Class

The Mini Moonlights brought a rousing start to today’s Cadet Class with “The Locomotion”. This young guard is improving in leaps and bounds – they were noticeably more confident today, although still occasionally unsure of some elements of the show. A few of the transitions were slightly rushed, and the flag sequence near the middle of the show was a tiny bit ragged, but this was countered by some good use of accent in the silks later on. Time will see this guard put in a very reputable performance in Finals. (3rd)

Moonlight Cadets kept up the upbeat start to the show with “Me Old Bamboo” from “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”. This is a challenging show for this level of unit, and I can’t help but feel that in places it is slightly too frenetic – the guard however are carrying off what they can do with significant aplomb, and this is leading to a very good reception from the audience. There were a few issues throughout, mainly relating to meter and timing, but the writing is sound with some particularly good staging coming to the fore. There were a couple of missed entries by some members, but this is nothing that time and repetition won’t fix. A successful concept and a successful performance today. (2nd)

A new purple floor marked Valiant’s entry to the arena, and this was not the only change made since I’d last seen the show. The opener showed up a few differences in interpretation in the movement section, but it was still convincing and suitably mysterious, in keeping with the music. The flag work is good, even if the vocabulary is slightly on the trivial side – what there is in the books is performed well. The few seconds of rifle we get seem a little bizarre, given the minimal vocabulary; I am not sure what this is intended to gain. The finale had a few interval problems given the use of silks with the broomsticks – however, this change is definitely in the right direction as the visual effect is much more convincing. Overall, I thought this was certainly a stronger performance than in Burgess Hill earlier in the season, unfortunately the judges didn’t agree. (5th)

The Alliance Antz were on the floor next, performing to “I Need Some Sleep” from the soundtrack of the movie “Shrek 2”. Today’s performance was unfortunately not quite as strong as I’d seen previously. There are many good aspects, and the solo movement in the opener is particularly pleasing. I’m fairly sure some changes have been made; however, they’ve either not had the desired effect, or, as I think might be more likely, the members aren’t yet confident enough in their execution – the latter was particularly evident in the younger members of the group. There is good association between the visual aspect and the music throughout, and the books are generally perfectly reasonable but had a few differences in interpretation across the floor today. In short, with the concept already being well communicated, I think some more confidence may be the key here. (4th)

Finally in the Cadet Class, the Southern Knights Rugrats took to the arena for the second time this weekend, having performed in the WGI show yesterday. The movement opener was very strong, and the subsequent use of the music to introduce the flags is very convincing. While this was an excellent performance overall, there is still scope for improvement: timing within sequences and some effect at accent points was lacking in places. The writing and use of staging are particularly good, and the concept (albeit manufactured; the concept and music are slightly disjoint) is well communicated. Lots of very good aspects meshed today to give a class-winning performance. (1st)

Junior Class

The Academy opened the Junior Class contest by staging a “Jail Break”. There were some good performances on the floor today, with a lot of enthusiasm from the guard which helped to carry the show. Both books are of reasonable standard, if slightly pedestrian in nature, and are performed really quite well. The staging is also generally good, but there are a couple of illogical spots: at the beginning of the finale, one of the “jailbirds” moves across the floor to the guard, who then chases him promptly from whence he came? However, there are a few fundamental problems with the show – not least that there are only five members in the guard, one of whom the concept essentially requires not to contribute much to the other aspects. This lack of numbers is a significant limiting factor on how much effect a show can have, and hence I’m not convinced that a guard this light on members is really viable. That said, there is certainly scope to improve what can be done by the guard before finals, and for this to reach the top three some changes need to be made. (5th)

We then moved from prison chic to funky with Mayflower’s “Three (Is The Magic Number)”. While this concept is rather abstract, it is well communicated by the opening staging of the guard forming the ‘3’ on the floor. The opener particularly impressed me, the movement work being carried off with very good ensemble skills. The early staging then works particularly well, and the resolution from three stages to the full ensemble is very effective indeed. The equipment work is ragged at times, but the flag work is generally good throughout. Some of the younger members appear to find manipulating the crosses a little awkward; I guess practice is the only way to improve this. Accents were also convincing, and I felt that the execution was reasonably good overall. There were some interpretation problems in the finale, but this show still holds much promise. (4th)

Next on the floor was Northern Academy with their show to “Life Is A Celebration” by the Kids from Fame, and this was the first time for me to see this show on a WGUK floor. The opener was delivered with some panache; both movement and solo silk worked very well. However, I think more might be made of the initial ensemble flag entry – I was looking for an accent there and didn’t quite get it, and I’m not sure whether it was an execution problem or whether the choice of vocabulary at that particular moment doesn’t fit. Some early sequences were slightly arrhythmic, but subsequent accents were very strong indeed. The core books showed good vocabulary and good execution, both of which were rewarded by the judges. The finale is not quite as clean as the rest of the show at the moment, with some timing and interpretation issues showing through. Overall though, this was a very enjoyable show for both guard and audience, and is likely to be competitive in Brentwood, particularly if more can be made of the show’s effect. (3rd, High Movement and High Equipment)

The Guardsmen Cadets followed, performing to “She Will Be Loved”. Today’s show was particularly successful, but still has a few areas which can yet be improved. The very beginning didn’t feel entirely cohesive, with some differences in interpretation during the flag work; however, this was promptly recovered by a very convincing early accent. A couple of the later accents – while still having good effect – were anticipated, and sequences were occasionally slightly out of sorts. This is nitpicking though: fixing the snap timing at these core points will improve what is already a very enjoyable show. Some of the staging is particularly gifted, with good use of the “doors” to change the floor throughout. Personally, I find the concept slightly difficult to grasp due to its abstract nature, but this is made up for by very good overall effect from the floor. (1st, High Ensemble and High GE)

We finished today’s Junior Class with the Southern Knights’ performance to the music of the Carpenters. Their new “heart” flat adds a lot of depth from the very beginning and does not impinge on the bold, simple scenery. The opener has particularly good staging, with good use of different heights across the floor, and the musical accents after this were well exploited to introduce the flags; the guard showed good understanding and increase in emotion as the music built. The double flag accent into “Top of the World” didn’t work out today – but I think it was just a matter of not all the pieces being in the right place at the right time. However, the beginning of “Ticket to Ride” with the solo then moving to the ensemble entrance was particularly enjoyable – a real success. The new finale to “Stop, Mr. Postman” is very logical, but the emotion change wasn’t quite there yet – I think time and practice will fix this issue though. Overall, this is still a very fine show for both guard and audience, but didn’t quite take the top prize today. (2nd)

'A' Class

After the interval, we began today’s ‘A’ Class contest with The Squires, performing to “Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina and the Waves. While the opener with its clean staging and well-executed solo sabre toss was really quite convincing, the remainder of the show proved somewhat problematic. The visual aspect and the music do not seem to mesh; there seems to be some understanding at accent points and in the finale, but other sections are much harder to reconcile. Staging remains an issue – with this size of guard, attempting to use the full size of the floor is probably not wise. Although the black flats were moved inwards very slightly midway through the show, this didn’t change the staging dynamic, and so only had negligible effect. However, on the positive side, there was some reasonably promising ensemble work, as rewarded by that caption’s result. This was a great effort from the guard on the floor, but the sizable flaws need to be fixed before this show will garner competitive results elsewhere. (10th)

Moonlight ‘A’ then took us on a trip to the ocean with their shark-themed show. While showing some promise in the technical aspects, this show still doesn’t catch my imagination. The opener was generally reasonable, but the transition to the second motive was very shaky. Throwing flags in to members on the floor is a high-risk manoeuvre, and frankly requires Herculean confidence in order to pull off cleanly, repeatably, every time; I am not convinced that the guard is yet at this level. There was some inspired staging work later in the show: the split staging between movement and sabre functions very nicely, but some of the technical work felt a little pedestrian. The finale seems to be plausible, but still isn’t very convincing to my eye. This seems to be a tough show to sell – however, the guard are making a big effort which should not go unrewarded. (9th)

With a bold floor featuring the Stars and Stripes, The Academy took to the arena to perform their show entitled “In The Mood”; this would be the first time for me to see this show at a WGUK contest. The opener has the feel of a formal dance, with the guard in rather formal looking (and perhaps somewhat dour) grey gowns and dancing with what I can best describe as “half-mannequins”! This is really rather inventive, and an elegant and logical use of concept. A slightly jarring note was the apparently mismatching silks – I’m not sure if this is deliberate or not. Staging throughout is generally good, although one three-line sequence was nearly lost due to the lines not being quite clean enough. The costume and emotion change into “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” is very good indeed, and heralds some interesting equipment work – the latter however doesn’t really build to anything which is exploited at the moment. The subsequent accent into “In The Mood” was very good, as was the rifle feature which followed, but the movement finale didn’t quite convince. This show has the potential to climb the rankings very rapidly if the guard can work out the few slightly ragged details, become more confident with the show, and open up and perform it with a little more verve. I’m looking forward to seeing this as the weeks progress. (6th)

Eclipse then took us on a journey to the “City of Angels”. Today’s performance didn’t feel as frenetic and pacey as the last time I saw it – this is probably both good and bad, since there was significantly improved rigour but perhaps a little less “bite” to the accents. The movement opener to the solo sabre toss remains excellent, and the mood change into the second motive definitely worked – however not everyone managed to pick up the new tempo as quickly as the music required. The flag work and staging flowed nicely into the sabre feature, swiftly followed by a very good accent into the full ensemble silks. A couple of sections were slightly off-kilter, but these were amply recovered by the multicoloured finale bringing a good increase in energy and emotion. There was perhaps a slight issue with the track at the very end which should be investigated, since this impacted the audience reaction a little. The very close scoring all the way between 3rd and 8th today (a span of barely six points) means that the apparently low placing is not a real cause for concern – this was a very fine show, with a passionately communicated concept. (7th)

Mayflower invited us to “Sing a Rainbow” with their white floor, scenery and costumes and strikingly coloured equipment. The movement opener is very good, leading to a subtle accent with the silk and a good building of emotion. From my point of view, the transitions were today’s real Achilles heel, but the set pieces worked very well once the guard reached them. Some of the equipment work was a little ragged at times, but on the whole it was very good throughout. The use of the concept is generally excellent, but with one or two illogical moments: in the second motive, we get “Blue!”, “Grey!” and “Green!” with the corresponding coloured silks, but “Red!” doesn’t warrant them? The work with the green silks is enjoyable for both audience and guard, if very slightly chaotic today. The return to the first motive was handled well, but was perhaps marred by some differences in interpretation: this was quickly rectified with a very convincing finale. The concept is very visual indeed, and seems to have been understood well. I think the final placing today from the judges was a little on the harsh side, but given the tight scoring throughout the class there’s definitely no need to panic. (8th)

A nostalgic look back at the 70’s, anyone? The Southern Knights definitely took us back to those halcyon days with their show “Abba – A Retrospective”. The costumes and scenery – as well as the simple but elegant movement opener – are all precisely on concept, making a really good start to the show. There were a few timing issues at the first flag entry, but the closed silk toss worked very nicely indeed. Some accents could have been sharper today though, and a couple of transitions need attention. In particular, the transition into “Mamma Mia” is too short – for it really to hit, the guard needs to form the line at the left of the floor before it starts moving, and that’s not quite happening right now. There is generally good work with the weapons, but the pairing of rifle and sabre in the chorus of “Mamma Mia” isn’t really convincing. “Waterloo” is really well written, and the guard hit the important accent into the chorus, but some of the content before didn’t really work out. The final transition into “Thank You For The Music” is reasonable, but the toss in of the silks to members on the floor is always going to be hard to nail down. The finale is very convincing, but I’m not sure if the amount of energy and emotion on the floor is proportionate to the music. Much of this is real nitpicking though: both audience and guard really enjoyed this show, and there’s much to be lauded here. (3rd, High Equipment)

We then change tack completely to Buttercups’ show. (A plea for assistance: I don’t have a title for this show, nor any information about the music being used! If anyone can help with this, please mail me or post to the Discussion Group – thanks!) The opener is very convincing indeed, with good use of the “music” and muted colours on costumes, flags and scenery. There were a few timing problems today, and some of the show felt rather messy; a couple of the set pieces were not clear whether they were intended to be sequences or synchronized. The big transition between motives wasn’t quite as sharp as previously, but lots of the equipment work was still impressive. The interval problems I mentioned using the big silks appear to have been fixed – this improved the finale no end! This show is a bit of a curio: it has two very strong, but very disjoint concepts – which is one reason why I’d like to know what the show is called overall! Even so, this is a very promising show, and scored right in the midst of the ‘A’ Class today. (5th)

Reflexions’ “Dancing Keys” show to one of Chopin’s Piano Concertos is really growing on me – it’s fundamentally a different style of show to that being performed by everyone else, and for this boldness of concept alone it gets high marks. The weapon duet opening is as excellent as ever, as was the following sabre sequence across the floor. The transition into the second motive of the concerto didn’t quite work today – there was some sort of timing issue but I can’t put my finger on what it was; all I can say is that the accent which should have been there wasn’t. There’s also a toss sequence through a descending piano phrase later in the show. I now know it is vaguely right-to-left, but despite having seen this show several times I still can’t track it properly and so it doesn’t grab my attention very well. There were a few nits here and there with ensemble work and timing, and the equipment work still needs cleaning – although it’s the sabres rather than the rifles which need particular attention this time around. Staging and concept development were very good throughout; this show still holds lots of unfulfilled promise. This remains a very elegant and challenging show, and will keep the top of ‘A’ Class competitive right to the very end. (2nd, High Movement, High Ensemble)

With music from “The Crow”, Alliance took the floor in their usual forceful style. The particularly solid movement opener staged the solo silk very well indeed, as did the onward staging to the solo rifle feature. However, quite a few moments in today’s performance were rather ragged and messy – yet, the numbers this guard have on the floor and the adeptly written staging mean that the overall effect was not particularly compromised. There was some good sequence work and vocabulary in both books, but equipment showed a few too many drops for my taste. A couple of key moments in the vocabulary for me are the movement and use of the “red cloth” at the front of the floor, and later the movement around static full-silk flags – these are both really unusual and striking to the audience. There was strong emotion communicated throughout, but if this is going to stay in the top spot there needs to be a little more subtlety brought to the performance: the music and writing give scope for emotions other than aggression, but these don’t feel sufficiently exploited yet. Alliance took first place today, but the significantly decreased margin of their victory, not to mention the speed of improvement in the class as a whole, mean that they will need to put in a lot of hard work to stay there for the rest of the season. (1st, High GE)

Pride of Bristol completed today’s ‘A’ Class, with their show featuring music from West Side Story and Romeo and Juliet. The concept behind this is solid: the opener has a particularly good feel of “exposition” and is well written; unfortunately the execution today was not quite so gripping. Today’s show took a little while to get going, but once it got there we were treated to some excellent work. The transition into “Maria” was rather ropey, but the smash cut out of it was very nicely executed with a good mood change as the music required, followed by some very good work with the silks indeed. The sabre throw into “You and Me Always” provided a very convincing accent, but the flag work which followed was not quite so sharp; fortunately this was rescued by the movement in the finale which provided a good sense of closure. This show is competitive, but if it is going to challenge for the medal places next month requires careful attention towards the books and the few corners of which the guard is currently unsure. There was a lot of effort put into the performance which was communicated very well to the audience. In short, this was a good show, with scope for further improvement. (4th)

Open Class

Our first guard in Open Class today was Moonlight, performing to music from “Kill Bill”. The movement opener was reasonable, but there wasn’t the feel of a cohesive performance; the silks soon afterwards were noticeably ragged, and this lack of precision dogged a lot of the work in the rest of the show. The quality of the staging varied significantly, but tended to improve as the show progressed, as did the confidence of the guard once we got into the second motive. There is some good equipment vocabulary being demonstrated on occasion, but there are currently a distracting number of drops which really affects its impact. The transition into the finale is not well staged, and the finale itself seems to come out of nowhere – there doesn’t seem to be any real development through the show. “Kill Bill” as a concept should be relatively easy to impart – I would have imagined striking yellows and blacks a la “Black Mamba”, but instead we got whites and muted shades? The problems in this show mainly relate to how it is being presented to the audience, rather than the work being done by the members themselves, which shows rigour and promise in many areas. (8th)

Next on the floor was Deep Purple, performing to the music of Eva Cassidy. The scenery for this one is a little strange: what are the poles doing all over the floor? They didn’t seem to serve any purpose other than to obscure what the audience could see and to hold silks for later use. The opener was reasonable, but the solos really did not seem to fit the music. This was mitigated by strong staging and execution of the subsequent movement and solo sabre, but then we hit a transition which was not handled particularly well. The ensemble doesn’t seem to work together very strongly: timing was noticeably awry, and staging is not particularly useful until we reach the accentuated set pieces. Some members appear not to be confident with sections of the show yet; hopefully this can be ascribed to some late changes. Later parts of the show showed some more promise, with some good flag and weapons work, but in the flag section near the end having the white “solo” silk amongst the gold silks in the ensemble doesn’t really work very well. Overall, the show shows promise for all the effort the guard is putting into its performance, but is still not particularly convincing. (7th)

The Academy then took us on The Path Of Enlightenment with their program “Zen” to John Cage’s opus “Primitive”. This being the first time for me to see this show in a WGUK contest, the colour scheme of the floor and ornate Japanese costuming impart a particularly strong sense of concept. The music: well, it’s John Cage... you will love it or hate it! Personally, I think the music does fit the concept, but I can see how it might irritate some. The snappy movement opener was particularly well executed, with good ensemble skills leading to a good sabre entry, with accents in the music exploited nicely to introduce the silks and sabre tosses. The colour scheme does seem to break down from the middle though; we are accustomed to warm reds and mute whites and creams, but we are then presented with silks in blues, browns, pinks and purples? The guard imparts lots of understanding of the nuances of the performance – occasionally I think there was a little too much latitude in interpretation however. Staging was strong throughout, but some transitions suffered a little with timing issues. The finale seemed to be a little uncontrolled – some rigour needs to be applied for this to fit with the rest of the show. The concept is generally convincing, but for some there will be some dissonance between the visuals and the music. I would have scored this a little higher than the judges did today – the gap between 6th and 5th is really not as large as the score would have you believe. (6th)

We then hopped on the Tube to see Guardsmen’s show portraying “The Commute”. The movement and solo silk opener were very convincing – the early accent wasn’t quite there today, but it was swiftly followed by very good rifle work. Newspapers, umbrellas and handbags are not the equipment to which we are accustomed in Winterguard, but all of these were used to great effect in this performance. The accents did not feel fully exploited today; I’m unsure whether this was through execution or writing. However, the accent just before the saxophone feature in the backing track definitely develops too late, causing the emotion in the guard to be growing when the music is decreasing in intensity. The sabre work throughout is flashy and intended for effect, but it isn’t quite clean yet. The ensemble definitely works together well, and manages good changes of emotion throughout. The concept is certainly quirky and challenging to impart in a convincing fashion, however, Guardsmen have really succeeded in this respect. This show is definitely in the running for the medal places next month. (4th)

Northern Academy were next on, performing to various versions of the classic “Fever”, and this would be the first time for me to see this show at a WGUK competition. The guard took to the floor with aplomb, warming up the crowd as they set up – communicating very astutely the confidence these members have, and their desire to involve the audience in their performance. The movement opener was a triumph: the individualized work contributes to a coherent ensemble whole, which is not always easy to do in such writing. The earliest parts of the show were undoubtedly the strongest, with very good vertical staging using the stools to vary height, and convincing use of the music to provide accent points. Some transitions were a little unclear, and staging was occasionally rather wide even for this size of guard; however, accent work throughout was very good, and occasionally excellent. Entering the finale, the concept is communicated very well indeed: fiery colours in the silks are used in some excellent ensemble work. The sequential flag discard in the finale needs to feel a little less like an afterthought to be effective, but the entire show is well conceived. Overall, this was a really enjoyable performance, with the guard really having a lot of fun and playing the sassy concept to the hilt. (5th)

The Southern Knights then invited us to go “Up, Up and Away”. The opener is very well matched with “Air on a G String”, with good energy and emotion. The transition into “Up, Up and Away” provides a very well handled mood change and a very good tempo change; the sabre work wasn’t as clean as it could be, however. The set piece work is generally excellent, although some of the work with the silks could be a little tighter. The subsequent transition back to the Air was also very good, but then we have a big rifle toss that doesn’t get reflected in the music, which is slightly disconcerting. The sequence into “Fly Away” was a little ragged, but the accent on arrival was very convincing indeed. The use of silence later to accentuate a catch is a very elegant piece of writing, and the finale is very solid indeed. I must admit to a little confusion about the colour scheme: I would have imagined “sky” colours for this concept, but instead we get warm “fire” colours, pastel costumes and floor, and then “sea” blues for the finale silks? However, this show is deservedly leading the pack right now. (1st, with a clean sweep of the captions)

The strains of Shostakovich’s “Festive Overture” accompanied Pride of Bristol’s performance. The opener had particularly good movement and ensemble skills, with good use of the narration in the visual aspects. The early big flag toss works very well indeed, but the guard’s emotion builds slightly too early before the first major accent. The staging is generally good, but perhaps a little unclear and hard to follow at times. There is some very good equipment work, and the use of emotion to pull off some charismatic performances by some members of the guard really helps to sell this one to the audience. The movement sequence into the upper woodwind motive isn’t quite convincing enough to my eye, but the accent into the grandioso section was excellent. The jury is still out on the “pre-finale” (anyone who has seen this show will know what I mean by this) – it really does mislead the audience, but it is a very tongue-in-cheek method of getting some reaction and energy into the coda. The performance was generally very convincing, but some corners still need attention in order to rise further up the rankings. (3rd)

Finally, we had Mayflower’s performance to the music of Nick Drake. This was the first time I’d seen the final show costumes at a WGUK show, and they work very well indeed with the floor and the general visual concept. The opener features some individualized movement work, which meshes together well into the ensemble feature. The flag work is good throughout, with uniform interpretation and good ensemble skills, with some multilayered staging starting to become evident in the first motive. The second motive is carried off quite well, but execution on equipment definitely needs some improvement. Staging throughout is good, even gifted in places: the ensemble sabre feature was an example of this. The music doesn’t seem to hold much in the way of exploitable accent, consequently a lot of the visual accent has to be manufactured – however the writing is subtle enough to do this successfully. The finale is very convincing, and the show on the whole is technically very good indeed, but perhaps lacks a little of the bite and attention grabbing that should come from a top class guard. (2nd)

In closing...

And so we moved into the retreat, which proved to be a particularly large affair with so many guards having performed today. The Black Knights played the National Anthem, and we then heard the results of the judges’ deliberations – and the broad reading of them is that nothing is yet cast in stone for this season, with significant changes of ranking across all of the classes, as staff and members work to improve their performances.

Dagenham proved to be a tremendously enjoyable show for all, for which we need to thank: Ken Mansfield, Lisa Darton and the staff of The Academy; Steve Muzio and the Black Knights; the supporters, staff and parents involved in running the show; the WGUK referees, judges and tabulators; our hosts at the Goresbrook Leisure Centre; all the staff and members of the competing guards; and everyone who came to support, clap and cheer.

This has been a hard weekend with many guards performing three shows in two days, and even more so for those guards from the north who stayed in the south overnight after the WGI Regional to perform at today’s show. Many thanks to all of the hard-working staff and members, and great respect for a job well done!

The next WGUK show is Midland Guard ’05 at Burton-on-Trent on Sunday 27th February. After that, Winterguard heads back to Burgess Hill on Sunday 6th March for the second Southern Classic event, beginning the run towards the end of the season, with one more trip north to Cannock before the finals in Brentwood. Best of luck to all guards for their forthcoming shows!

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