Matt Johnson


British Winterguard Championships Show Report


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The WGUK season drew to a close with the British Winterguard Championships, this year held once more at the Brentwood Centre, providing an excellent venue to showcase this season’s most polished performances – and staging what I think many will agree to have been one of the most memorable Winterguard finals in several years.

The morning saw a high-scoring Open Class Prelims, with Southern Knights securing the final performance slot that evening with a score of 94.3, closely followed by Mayflower with 92.2. After a short break, we were then treated to the Finals in each of the four classes, with 39 performances to enjoy – one of the largest Championships for many years.

Cadet Class

Atlantic Dawn began the Cadet Class Championships, with their show to music from the Disney film “Pocahontas”. Opening with some movement and rifle work, this was carried off very well indeed – an enjoyable introduction. The change of motive to the silks was confident, but the ensemble was perhaps not quite together at times. The timing of accents through the show was understood well, although occasionally not quite executed strongly enough. The movement book showed real improvement, as did staging and development as we progressed towards the end of the show. Some visual moments coordinated particularly strongly with the music, showing off some strong writing and good execution. The finale “Colours of the Wind” was particularly convincing, with good use of multicoloured silks to link the visual and aural aspects. Overall, this was an enjoyable performance by a very young guard, who have shown in their first season in Winterguard that they hold a lot of potential for the future. (7th, 49.25)

The Mini Moonlights then propelled themselves through “The Locomotion”. Their floor, while being simple in black and white, mirrored the concept very well indeed with the wheel and track motifs. The opener showed bountiful confidence, with some particularly pleasing ensemble and interpretation skills coming to the fore. Timing on some of the sequences could have been a little better, but the written show was communicated strongly nonetheless. The streamers added a new and colourful aspect to the show, again showing off unusually strong ensemble skills for such a young guard. Transitions were reasonable, but there were a few noticeable pauses – I am tempted to ascribe this to late changes in the show. Timing and rhythm through the second half of the show was a little awry, but the final sequence was very good indeed. Showing plenty of confidence with nary one or two sticky moments, this show was – as it has been all season – lots of fun for both audience and guard, and particular recognition should be made of the writing for the efforts made in ensuring the show fits this age of guard. Overall, this was a very fine performance indeed. (6th, 73.50)

The Starlights then took the floor, performing to a medley of music from Disney animated features. The pastel pink and blue flats, along with the pink and lilac floor and flamboyant costuming provided apt concept for the opening music from “Cinderella”, showcasing some really strong movement and ensemble work. The change of motive to the upbeat “Bippity Boppety Boo” introducing the silks was also particularly good, with the solo work shining through. Sequences were also communicated well – there were perhaps a few timing issues, but these were far from significant. The accent into the Wedding March was not as tight as it could have been, likewise the smash cut into “Hakuna Matata” – however there was no lack of confidence and enjoyment from the members of the guard, which makes up for this deficiency in my view! The finale proved reasonable, but the combination of the music fading out and the low amplitude of the final accent didn’t really lead to a convincing ending. That said, the performance showed several real moments of brilliance and strong understanding of concept, and has improved greatly throughout the season. (5th, 76.50)

Valiant then took to the floor for their show to the music from the “Harry Potter“ films. With particularly good scenery and floor for the concept, the opener featuring a soloist skipping and spreading petals definitely fit the childlike music. The early movement feature made very good use of the music; while the ensemble was not always as tight as it could have been, other aspects were generally very good. The introduction of the silks with the timbre change was handled particularly well, including a strong accent. As we transitioned into “Nimbus 2000“, more could have been made of the tempo change, but plenty of confidence was shown by the guard. The sabre work was rather simple at times, but very well executed. Set pieces were generally very good indeed, however transitions were occasionally rather overlong. The finale was reasonable if perhaps very slightly unconvincing; that said, this was the most confidence I’ve seen this guard with all season. After an excellent first season in Winterguard, I look forward to next season’s show. (4th, 82.75)

The Alliance Antz were next, performing to “I Need Some Sleep” from the movie Shrek 2. Having added a new floor for their finals performance, this and the rest of the scenery remain particularly strong and entirely in concept. The opener features good movement and good character portrayal, even “offstage” on parts of the floor which we are not necessarily expected to notice. The introduction of the silks is really strong, with some good sequence work throughout. Weapons were also particularly convincing, but there were some subtle timing issues on the rifle. There was some complex choreography here for a very young guard, not to mention a very satisfactory finale. With lots of good use of concept, this was a subtle, gently paced, elegantly written and well-performed show. For their first season, the Antz have acquitted themselves admirably. (3rd, 91.00)

We were then roused to the tune of “Me Old Bamboo” by the Moonlight Cadets, featuring bamboo flats in the background and apt costuming. The show took a little time to warm up: the opener was reasonable, but perhaps a little ragged at times due to the speed of the work being performed. The ensemble cohesiveness was good, and movement work showed good vocabulary and execution. At times I felt that more could perhaps have been made of the music, but that said, the concept was communicated with the whimsical style needed. Staging was generally good, and equipment very strong indeed throughout, with a strong finale finishing a very technical show with lots of solid execution. This was an excellent performance with many brilliant moments – a truly enjoyable show. (2nd, 92.25)

The Cadet Class Championships were concluded by the Southern Knights Rugrats, performing their show based around the theme of “Ice” to the music of Britney Spears’ “Everytime”. The cool blues and purples in evidence are exactly what the concept desires, as is the snowflake motif on the silks. The opener featured very good movement and ensemble work, with the subsequent accent introducing the silks being particularly noteworthy. The visuals matched well with the music, with a tempo variation being exploited very elegantly by the solo silk. Equipment throughout was very strong indeed, with both vocabulary and execution subject to no compromise. Strong ensemble skills are probably the hardest for Cadet Class guards to attain: there were still one or two shaky moments in this performance, but recovery was very quick and usually decisive – a slightly questionable transition was recovered in no uncertain terms by an incredible set piece accent shortly afterwards. With this guard showing a lot of understanding of the subtleties of the concept, this performance was a real triumph, with some moments being easily worthy of other classes. This excellent show was aptly rewarded by the judges, with the first maximum score we have ever seen in the Cadet Class; a very well deserved milestone. (1st, 100.00)

The Cadet Class has been great fun to watch this year. It has been a real treat to have so many units on the circuit this season, and the level of achievement we’ve seen from these very young members has been incredible. The staff members of these guards have been very inventive in producing shows which are suited to their memberships, and the results have been outstanding. It is worth noting that any score above 90.00 would have won this class last year – this year we have three guards over that level, two of them separated merely by a handful of points. To have so much young interest in Winterguard can only bode very well for the future of the activity.

Junior Class

We began the Junior Class with Atlantic Dawn, performing to Leanne Rimes’ “Can’t Fight the Moonlight”. The opening movement feature was well executed, if perhaps featuring some slightly pedestrian vocabulary. However, this improved as we introduced the silks, with some good, confident performance showing off the more interesting work. Accents and use of the music were reasonable, but yet more could have been made of both the concept and the backing track. Transitions and set pieces were equally good – there were ensemble skills evident but these could have used some improvement. Several equipment solos later in the show were very strong indeed, and led into a convincing finale. This was a solid performance, but suffered from a lack of development in the work being asked of the guard through the show; had the writing encompassed this the result would have been more successful. That said, lots of effort and enjoyment were evident from the members of the guard who have shown steady progress all season. I hope they have enjoyed their first season in Winterguard and look forward to seeing them next year. (11th, 46.9)

The Academy were next to take the arena, featuring their “Jail Break”, with some very strong scenery including a ‘cell’ and prison walls. The opener featured some good staging and reasonable vocabulary, which improved as we were introduced to the ensemble silks. While communication of the concept through visuals and music is very good indeed, some of the music chosen, for example “Caught In A Trap”, perhaps did not give enough opportunity for the guard to shine; I felt there wasn’t really sufficient difference in timbre and tempo to exploit at times. The work throughout was much better than I have seen in previous performances, with good characterization and generally good equipment work, although still lacking a little “bite” in places. The finale silk feature into “Jailhouse Rock” was the strongest part of the show, with some very good vocabulary and execution. Despite the low placing, the improvement since the beginning of this season has been incredible, and The Academy deserve significant praise for this. (10th, 58.7)

We then stayed “A Night at the Sands Hotel” with the Anchormen. The scenery imparted the necessary “feel” very well, with black flats with stars and framed spotlights, along with the dickybows and “dinner dress” costuming. We began with some good solo rifle work introducing the silks, despite the staging being rather noticeably askew. This improved rapidly, with a line merge staging effect into “Mr. Bogangles” forming a very strong accent. Some good work with the silks followed, and the subsequent mood change was handled very well indeed. Equipment vocabulary was interesting and engaging, with solid execution throughout; likewise, accents were generally effective if occasionally anticipated. The use of the music was variable, but particularly strong in “New York, New York” and the finale, where the bold red silks were used in some very strong accent work. This was a very enjoyable show – I felt that perhaps there lacked a tiny bit of exuberance, but as it was we were treated to a very stylish show with a great sense of concept. (9th, 72.1)

Kidsgrove Juniors were next to perform, with their show entitled “Bring It On”, featuring some very high energy music and an innovative multi-level stage in the centre of the floor. The guard was very fired up for their performance, and this showed – a lot of power and aggression were visible, particularly in the opening silk feature. Ensemble and staging showed a lot of promise here – staging in particular was very dynamic for this class of guard. The weapons vocabulary was flashy if not always executed well, with some tough work being demanded of the members. Movement was generally good but lacked a little precision at times. “YMCA” featured bold, orange silks, and kept the mood up into a double flag accent and through the finale quite effectively. Overall, this was a strong performance – some parts felt a little ragged and rushed, but this was compensated for by the enthusiasm and enjoyment of the guard. (8th, 75.0)

Junior Class continued with Mayflower, with their show “Three (Is The Magic Number)”. With bold colours in costume and scenery, the concept is abstract but communicated very well indeed; the seeding today belies the major changes made to this show in recent contests. The opener featured some very good movement and excellent ensemble work, with a good mood change into the main motive, pivoting about a huge introductory silk accent. Staging throughout was very good indeed with some moments of brilliance – one of those moments being when a triangle is formed on the floor. Equipment was good – flags were a little ragged at times and the manipulation of the ‘3’ and ‘X’ motifs still looked a little awkward, but were still perfectly convincing. This was a very enjoyable show, but perhaps lacking a little “bite” and showiness. Despite the overall placing in the middle of the field, the guard took the High Ensemble caption – ensemble work throughout was particularly strong and the award is richly deserved. (6th, 84.7, High Ensemble)

Next were the Starlights, with a show themed around “James Bond”. The red and black flats, white floor and the suave dickybows in the costuming all contributed well to the initial concept; the opening movement feature and flag accent making good use of the music. Weapons were generally good, if slightly untidy at times, with some particularly good sequences coming to the fore. The checkerboard flooring at the back was used effectively to reduce the stage with some very strong silk and movement work, transitioning to some tricky, powerful and well-executed ensemble flag vocabulary. The finale was also particularly convincing, with some lovely double silks leading to the large black and red streamers and a very satisfying closing rifle toss. This show has improved drastically since I last saw it, with the guard performing with lots of confidence. There were occasional difficulties in the ensemble interpretation, and vocabulary was slightly pedestrian at times, but both of these are nitpicks. The show developed well using the concept and music, resulting in a very enjoyable performance. (7th, 79.9)

Guardsmen Cadets then performed to Maroon 5’s “She Will Be Loved”. With a slightly more abstract concept than many other Junior Class guards, Guardsmen still communicated well with their cerise costumes, simple white floor and the “doors” which functioned particularly well as staging devices throughout. The opener provided a very rich movement feature, introducing the silks and then leading into some good ensemble flag work all the way to the first accent – development within this show was a strong suit. Equipment throughout was strong, with some more unusual vocabulary in evidence – an offhand sabre toss was particularly noticeable. Work on the silks was very solid throughout, and generally excellent ensemble work took us into a finale featuring a solo silk and movement with very strong effect. This was a “simple” but emotional performance, with lots of power and confidence from the members. With only a tenth of a point between this and the medal places, the guard have a lot to be proud of this season. (4th, 85.9)

We experienced life on the ocean wave with the Avenger Cadets, in their show entitled “Cabin Fever”. With their sails and barrels for scenery and the pirate costumes, the first motive to “A Pirate’s Life For Me” had some good movement and silk work, but the cohesiveness of the ensemble took a little time to get warmed up. There were some good mood changes into the recitative, and then again into the main motive of “Cabin Fever”, by which time the ensemble had improved dramatically with some excellent equipment work punctuated by several very nice sequences. The humorous nature of the motive, along with the music itself, were both used well throughout. With plenty of confidence, enjoyment and exuberance the GE and concept definitely got over to the audience, creating a fun show to watch. The strong movement book with its rich vocabulary throughout was noteworthy, and was rewarded with a 3rd place in that caption. (5th, 85.4)

Our next performance was from the Pride Cadets, featuring music from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite. With typically “Russian” colours of red, white and gold, the scenery and costuming were extravagant and showy. The opener was very strong, with good use of the gift boxes to accentuate movement. Moving into “Dance of the Reed Pipes”, the two-tone silks, some excellent staging with movement and flag work, and some very strong accents all grabbed my attention. The vocabulary on the weapons was generally reasonable, if occasionally not as flashy as other elements of the show; execution however was very strong throughout. A very good sequence took us into “Waltz of the Flowers”, where the music was used elegantly to accentuate a very effective double flag reveal. The transition to the final staging was noticeably rushed, but this did not negatively impact the overall effect. This very young Junior Class guard showed very good ensemble and understanding of the concept, and gave us a very enjoyable and impressive performance today, deserving of its medal place. (3rd, 86.0)

The Southern Knights then took us on a journey through the music of The Carpenters, whose scenery with the heart motif, white flats and floor provided a simple but effective backdrop for the guard. The opening movement feature was very strong, with good ensemble skills and excellent timing and rhythm, with good use of the music to form a mood change drawing to a very solid accent into the main motive of “We’ve Only Just Begun”. Some particularly strong solo and small ensemble work was a highlight of this performance, with its use complementing the music very elegantly indeed. “Top of the World” gave us some lovely movement work, and an excellent progression through the silks to the small ensemble sabre feature imparted a good sense of development all the way through “Ticket to Ride”. The transition into “Stop, Mr. Postman” with its very snappy mood change was very impressive, and then we were all surprised by the new finale. The new vocabulary in the finale was not of the level of the rest of the show, but this was more than adequately covered by the exquisite execution. The show has grown tremendously through the season, and we were privileged to see a “finals product” which was extremely enjoyable, and rewarded by the judges with the Junior Class Championship. (1st, 91.0, High Movement, High GE)

We concluded the Junior Class Championship with Northern Academy, performing their show “Celebrate Life”, featuring the music “Life Is A Celebration” by The Kids From Fame. Strong colours were at the fore from the beginning, with a red floor and brightly coloured photo flip boards contrasting well with the white and grey costuming. We opened with some really good movement and solo silk work, leading to a pair of particularly strong early accents punctuating some complex vocabulary. The movement demands were executed well, shown off by some particularly clear staging throughout; likewise, equipment work was clean and confidently performed. The ensemble wasn’t quite together at the very beginning of the performance, but as we progressed this rapidly improved, with some impeccable timing as we moved into the finale with some elegant sequence work. The concept played highly on the cute factor with the photos in the backdrop, and the guard made good use of the music echoed in the writing to produce an emotional and enjoyable show for all. Given that this is Northern Academy’s first foray into the Junior Class, this result is very credible indeed. (2nd, 88.0, High Equipment)

The strength of the guards within Junior Class this year has been particularly noticeable. With less than 1.5 points separating 3rd to 6th and the top two guards not being too far in the distance, this reflects a season for which this class has held many surprises and no faits accomplis! We’ve seen many great show concepts, many great performances and lots of enjoyment from these younger members of the circuit, and I look forward to next year’s Junior Class to see how all of these units evolve and continue to grow.

'A' Class

The Squires opened the ‘A’ Class Championships, with their show to the music “Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina and the Waves. The beginning of the show was the strongest part for me, with a reasonably strong opening stage featuring a well-executed sabre solo moving into a rifle duet, making good use of the music and having reasonable effect. There were some promising moments in the writing as we progressed, but the show suffered from a lack of development and only occasional correspondence with the music. The staging was problematic – large sections of the show were set on a disproportionately sized stage which made progressions hard to track; likewise, transitions between the generally reasonable set pieces did not seem to have a great deal of form. That said – the guard members did their very best to perform the books as written; with markedly improved execution and lots of effort evident, this was definitely the best performance of the season from this guard as rewarded by the improved overall score from the judges. (12th, 22.6)

We then took a trip to the ocean with Moonlight ‘A’ with their show based on a shark theme. The scenery is effective in communicating concept, with the “blood spattered” flats, floor and dramatic costumes working well together. The quality of the show was highly variable overall, with some very convincing work at the beginning and end, but losing its way a little in the middle. The movement opener was strong with some good ensemble work, which carried over into the introduction of some bold orange silks. However, there were a few noticeable timing and interpretation differences, with the quality and clarity of the staging varying significantly. The equipment work was communicated well, but was perhaps slightly on the ragged side – execution on the more complex silk work was rather questionable, while weapons were handled quite well. The situation improved with the red silk accent leading into the finale, with some strong ensemble action leading us into a closing movement feature with particularly good execution. The overarching concept of the show wasn’t patently clear – we get quite a few hints but it wasn’t as obvious as it could have been – some of the choices of music may have affected this. Despite the flaws, the guard were having a lot of fun during the performance, and this always improves the general view of the show. Having shown steady improvement throughout this season, I look forward to next season’s show from this promising guard. (10th, 45.5)

Next were Cohesion, performing to music by Hilary Duff and the soundtrack from Disney’s “Kim Possible”. The opening with the music fading in felt a little awkward, and an early transition suffered with some timing problems. However, this was followed by some powerful work including a convincing sequence on the silks, but the vocabulary was not particularly gripping. The weapons work was probably the strongest aspect of this show, with some good rifle and sabre work throughout. The transition with a crash to silence between the first two motives was a little awkward, but was handled as well as it could have been on the floor. There were some very good individual performances here, but the ensemble as a whole didn’t really mesh very well – there were some moments of understanding, but this was regrettably not a constant feature. The show still had several flashes of brilliance, and was certainly enjoyable to watch. (11th, 42.1)

Garrison were next to take the arena, performing to “Breathe Easy” by Blue. The white floor and broken heart motif and blue costumes were aesthetically pleasing, but the overall concept was not particularly clear. The opener featured some excellent movement work with the solo silk and some very tight ensemble work. This led into a very impressive and showy flag accent – with petals flying everywhere! – but to my ear it fell about two beats earlier than the music suggested, which was a slightly jarring note. Equipment work was generally good throughout, although some of the execution felt like it lacked rigour at times. Ensemble and staging were reasonably strong throughout but were occasionally unclear. The late rifle feature was particularly convincing, with some good staging and development into the silks at the finale, with the final sequence providing a very good sense of closure. With plenty of effort put in by the guard, this was an enjoyable show. (9th, 59.8)

We then took a journey to the “City of Angels” with Eclipse. The striking contrast between the ‘sky’ effect floor and their black costumes worked very well, and portended the type of show we would see. The early movement feature was confident and convincing, with some good ensemble and interpretation staging the solo sabre very elegantly indeed. This was followed with some good progression and development in the early part of the show, along with lots of strong sequence work. The first mood change reflected the darker feel of the music in the silks, along with some tough movement vocabulary which was executed very well. Despite some of the staging feeling a little cluttered at times, the show had a real sense of building and development into the finale. With ample understanding of the concept and character of the show, Eclipse pulled off an emotional performance with some real brilliance on both the individual and full ensemble levels. Perhaps the rigour of some of the equipment and ensemble work may have left a little to be desired, and the guard may feel a little hard done by due to the strength of the ‘A’ Class this season. However, this was a very successful first outing in Winterguard indeed – I can see this guard going far in future seasons. (8th, 70.1)

The Academy then got us “In The Mood” with their performance. Their striking and artistic floor with the Stars and Stripes in colour and the Union Jack in grey, along with the costuming and mannequins – today dressed in top hat and tails – make this show one of the most inventive with regard to opening effect this year. The “formal dance” opener was carried off very elegantly indeed with good movement and staging, and the transition into “Cheek to Cheek” was strong, with some lovely work in many aspects of the silks. The hit into “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” and the change in character was excellent, with some great ensemble work and showy writing accentuating the change very nicely indeed. The uncompromising equipment book in the second half of the show was executed with great aplomb; not only was this recognized by the audience, but also by the judges in awarding the unit joint third place in the Equipment caption. It took all season for this show to reach its potential, but it got there at just the right time; with some real exuberance and enjoyment from the guard, The Academy’s finals performance was a true success. (7th, 73.0)

We were then invited to “Sing A Rainbow” with Mayflower. The combination of white scenery and costuming with splashes of single, bold and bright colours worked very effectively indeed, especially when taking into account the slight costume changes and the addition of the coloured drops to the flats. The opening feature included some very good solo silk and movement work, transitioning elegantly to the full ensemble silks. Staging was particularly strong as we moved into the second motive, with some excellent ensemble skills becoming especially evident. Equipment throughout was handled solidly with plenty of interesting vocabulary, rewarded by a 2nd place in the Equipment caption. In comparison, the movement book was perhaps slightly unremarkable but was still executed passionately. The concept and motive were communicated very well indeed, but the highlight of the show was the consistently impressive strength of the ensemble performance, giving Mayflower its second High Ensemble award of the day. This show had a few problems in the early season, but the significant changes made in the later shows deservedly improved the final placing – we were treated to an elegant and beautiful performance. (4th, 84.7, High Ensemble)

The Southern Knights then took us back to the 70s with their show “Abba – A Retrospective”. The costuming and floor colours fit precisely with the concept, and provide a good backdrop for a generally solid show. The opener had been modified a little for the Finals performance, featuring some excellent movement work. The introduction of the silks was very strong indeed, with good ensemble work and good throws and accents throughout. Several early solos were also particularly enjoyable. The timing for the transition into “Mamma Mia” was precise for the first time – the modification of the backing track to add an extra beat or two was indeed all that was needed to get everybody into the right place and make the visual aspect effective. Weapons were perhaps not as tight as I’d seen them in early shows, but they were still very strong. As has been the case all season, “Waterloo” was a romp – excellent opening rifle accent, and some really enthusiastic work with the green silks as a cohesive ensemble, all contributing to 3rd places in the Equipment and Ensemble captions. With the visuals frequently complementing the music very well indeed, the Knights capped off a successful season with a very lively and entertaining performance. (5th, 83.9)

Buttercups were next, with their show of contrasts. The grey floor and flag traps with the black costumes set the scene nicely for the mechanistically narrated opening feature, contrasted with some very strong movement and ensemble work, leading to a subtle introduction of the silks. The vocabulary on the silks was challenging, and perhaps lacked a little rigour in execution. However, the big mood change to the colourful, Latino-feel motive was handled very well, again leaning on the unit’s strong suit in movement. The weapons work was also very difficult, and while execution was generally good it felt a little rushed. A couple of the big General Effect moments didn’t quite hit the mark today, either due to timing or just a lack of amplitude; the ending felt sudden and even slightly undeveloped – highly uncharacteristic for this guard. The coloured streamers during the finale appearing from within the floor was a very nice touch and came over well, but the show in general lacked the bite I’d seen in it in recent performances, which is really unfortunate. The strong movement book was recognized with a 3rd place in that caption, but the unit suffered with its GE and Equipment scores. Taken individually, the concept, writing and performance were all very good indeed, but something didn’t quite work out in the melding of them today. This was a performance of many good and some brilliant aspects, and a big departure from last year’s ‘A’ Class-winning concept – I have absolutely no doubt that Buttercups will continue to entertain and challenge us in the future, as they have this year with their show. (6th, 82.5)

Retelling a story of “Love And Tragedy”, Pride of Bristol took the floor. With scenery in white with ‘Montagu’ and ‘Capulet’ in blue and red respectively at each side of the floor and “staging breaks” at the back, this forms a bold but stately description of the concept. Since I last saw this show at the mid-season show at Dagenham, it has undergone radical changes – all for the better. The opening feature still has a good feel of exposition, but is much more compelling with some excellent movement and interpretation coming to the fore. Introduction of the silks works very effectively, with impressive accents and sequence work providing good punctuation throughout the show. The several mood changes – as comes with the nature of this concept – were all handled very well, with good use of staging and emotion to communicate the desired effect. Equipment work was very showy if not always technically strong – catchy moments included the use of purple hand flags, a big double flag accent, and a massive sabre toss into “You And Me Always”. Making such sweeping changes in the late season is a big risk for any unit, but here such a move paid significant dividends. After a rather rocky season, a medal placing is richly deserved. (Joint 2nd, 85.5)

Reflexions were next, performing their show “Dancing Keys” to Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2. The simple scenery and costuming along with the “piano keyboard” introduced later work very well indeed; there is no jarring note in the elegance of this show. The sabre and rifle opener was very clean indeed, with some exquisite timing and ensemble skills in evidence. This led into an elegant movement feature and an excellent sabre sequence right across the floor; indeed the show develops very nicely indeed, with some good staging and feature progressions coordinating well with the music. The tough rifle feature midway through the show was carried off with some panache, if perhaps not quite as clean as it could have been. The silks were very convincing throughout, with a particularly strong accent with the silver silks in the later section of the show. The new finale added a particularly fitting sense of closure to a very enjoyable show – and one which dared to be different this year in its use of classical music. This guard has developed tremendously and been a joy to watch all season, having made the top three places in all of their shows this year – this is a great achievement, and I hope the encouragement and pride they’ve earned from this year will bring further success next season. (Joint 2nd, 85.5)

To close today’s ‘A’ Class Championship, Alliance performed their show to the music from the film “The Crow”. The black and red scenery along with the dramatic costuming and makeup communicates the dark concept in no uncertain terms, and the use of colour in this show was particularly strong. The opening progression was very good indeed, from an ensemble movement feature with great expressiveness all the way through to the rifle solo, staged with significant aplomb. The mood change into the more aggressive theme was handled very well indeed, along with the movement feature. The subsequent accent, featuring black, orange and red “fire motif” silks, stands out in my mind as one of the biggest visual moments from Finals as a whole – having had no bright colours to speak of until this point, the effect of a big accent bringing these silks in is massive. This took us into some tricky rifle work, punctuated by an exceptionally high solo toss and a rifle exchange – both showy and relatively high-risk manoeuvres. The “static silk” and movement feature worked as well as it has done in previous performances, and the final, more reflective, mood change led us to a solid movement finale. There were certainly a couple of sticky moments, but these certainly did not detract from the show. This show has slowly progressed all season – one of the things that “sold” it for Finals was the contrast in mood that was arguably lacking earlier. The tough technical books and “wow factor” moments in GE all added up to a Championship-winning performance – an achievement of which Alliance, only in its second season, should be rightly proud. (1st, 89.9, High Movement, High Equipment, High GE)

I certainly did not envy the judges’ task in ‘A’ Class this year! All the guards worked particularly hard all season in refining and tuning their shows – sometimes dramatically so – and this was reflected in the dynamic nature of the scores and seedings. Even at Finals, the judges could not split 2nd and 3rd place, and a look at the recap shows how close the competition has been. With more than half of the field easily in the hunt for medal places, ‘A’ Class this season has been a lot of hard work for everyone – particularly the guard members and staff in pushing themselves to produce the very best performances they can. It’s been a great season, and we can only hope that next year brings as many top quality shows as we’ve been privileged to see this year.

Open Class

Moonlight began the evening’s Open Class Championship, performing to music from the film “Kill Bill”. I had some difficulty grasping the concept of this show – the white floor, simple white and black costumes and the orange and green silks didn’t really tell me anything. The first motive featured a good combination of movement, solo silk and solo sabre, with some very strong ensemble and interpretation work. The subsequent silk and sabre feature for the ensemble was adequate, but was not helped by the rather vague staging at times. Transitions were handled well, and accents throughout were comprehensible. The show had problems, in that it doesn’t really have a good concept to develop, and so this meant the finale – while performed well – was not particularly effective. The guard put in a tremendous amount of effort on the floor, and this was rewarded with significantly improved scores on the day and an enjoyable performance for both the guard and audience. (9th, 54.1)

The music of Eva Cassidy and the theme of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” contributed to Deep Purple’s show. The previously unclear scenery has been much improved, with the poles, streamers and floor now combining to clearly describe a river and the bridge running over it. The opening movement and solo sabre worked very nicely, and the music was used elegantly to introduce the full ensemble movement feature. This opened a good progression into some good sabre and silk work, which developed nicely to several strong accents. The use of the curved rifles is innovative and effective, with some good technical work despite some minor interpretation differences. Returning to the gold silks, the first set piece suffered from a lack of clarity, but good recovery skills were evident from the whole ensemble as everybody reached the accent at the same time and made it convincing. As we moved towards the end of the show, the development is very promising indeed, and we end up with a very strong finale – this show really improved as it went on. This was a good performance overall, with major improvements from when I last saw it – the guard showed solid understanding of the emotions and mood changes involved in taking the show to a new level. (8th, 61.8)

The Academy were next to perform their show “Zen – The Path To Enlightenment” to John Cage’s “Primitive”. With the Japanese theme being reflected in the bold floor and impressive costuming, the concept is communicated strongly from the very beginning. The opener was eye-catching and grabbed my attention immediately, with a lot of difficult movement vocabulary which was very well executed with some good ensemble skills. This was followed by the introduction of sabres and silks – the tosses complementing the music very nicely indeed. The show appeared to be extremely difficult from a technical point of view, and the guard made an excellent effort to perform it. The silks were strong throughout with particularly good sequence work – however, some of the weapons features were questionable. Ensemble skills were variable throughout, ranging from impressive to occasionally rather lax – the beginning and end were by far the best moments in this aspect. The choice of concept and music makes the show slightly awkward from a General Effect standpoint – John Cage’s work tends to provoke extreme reactions in whoever hears it. While I can see the logic in how the music itself links to the concept, it may have been a little further “off the reservation” than many were willing to contemplate. Despite a few sticky moments, this was a daring and challenging show for everyone performed with some panache – and undoubtedly different fare to that which we would see from other guards competing today. (7th, 74.7)

Next were Northern Academy, who raised the temperature in the hall a few degrees with their show based around Peggy-Lee’s classic “Fever”. The bold red and orange floor, bright red costumes and “cabaret stools” were precisely in concept – likewise, the girls “warming up the crowd” during the setup was another feature which made this performance so endearing. The movement opener was very good indeed, and split into a three part stage – this would prove to be a recurring device throughout the show. The early big mood change was very well executed, with the movement, sabre and silk combination feature proving entirely effective. Weapons were generally strong, and the writing frequently matched the music to good effect. Transitions were occasionally rather messy; however, staging for the set pieces was very good with frequent brilliance – the extensive use of different heights along with the number of members on the floor contributed strongly. The mood change into the Latin “Fiebre!” motive with the fiery red silks was particularly impressive, and this continued into the finale with the closing flag discard handled much more elegantly than in previous performances. I do wonder, however, whether the finals product should have come with a PG-13 certificate for the bra-swinging at the end! The result was a very tough break; I was surprised that the Ensemble and General Effect captions were not higher, but this is not an unusual issue with an intensely crowd-pleasing show. Despite the final result, this was a frenetic, pacey and downright sassy show which provoked a great audience reaction – the guard oozing enjoyment and enthusiasm throughout. If there was an award for the unit having the most fun on the floor today, NAPA would have won it by a mile. For that alone, I think this guard has much of which to be proud. (6th, 85.4)

The Avengers took the floor to “All Mixed Up” by the Red House Painters. This is another of those shows which is aesthetically pleasing with a rather abstract concept – the blue floor with the red swirl and the beige and gold costumes work very well together indeed. The opening movement feature showed off some very good timing and rhythm work and introduced the silks effectively, with some good vocabulary and execution. The early rifle work was strong, with several very good tosses and confident performance. Mood changes and expression were big factors here – this is a major improvement from previous performances, and really set the show alight today. The subtle introduction of more colour to the floor and costumes added an elegant sense of development, and the subsequent green silk feature showed off a panoply of excellent technical work and ensemble skills. The finale was equally convincing with some expressive movement, aptly finishing an emotional show. This was a massive improvement over the last performance of this I saw, and the very respectable placing is well deserved. (5th, 88.2)

We then took a trip on the Tube with the Guardsmen, telling the story of “The Commute” using the soundtrack from the movie “Catch Me If You Can”. The scenery of the Tube carriage at the back left of the floor along with the platform effect across the rest of the arena worked very nicely indeed, as did the inspired ‘office worker’ costuming. The movement entrance and opener works very nicely, and there was some marvellous early development as the guard staging moved from the back to the front building with the expressiveness of the movement and music, all accented with some lovely rhythm and timing. The introduction of the silks was excellent and heralded a very strong entry to the main motive. A lot of good staging and development pervaded this entire show – I really enjoyed the subtle writing and the excellent manipulation of the tensions and resolutions. Weapons work was very good, as was the use of the slightly more unusual equipment – newspapers, handbags and umbrellas, indeed! The saxophone feature showed off some very complex sabre and movement work, which led effectively into a superb accent with the “Tube map” silks. The ensemble overall was very strong – there were perhaps a couple of wobbles but these were recovered very efficiently. The slightly modified finale added an even better sense of closure to the show, which was a real success from start to finish. Guardsmen took a very mature, and perhaps surreal, concept, and exploited it very nicely indeed with some excellent communication and very good technical work. This show has been great fun to watch all season, and I look forward to seeing what innovations this guard can show us in the future. (4th, 88.5)

Pride of Bristol introduced us to the world of Dmitriy Shostakovich, with their show performed to a version of “Festive Overture”. The bright red and yellow colour scheme in the scenery and costuming works very well indeed – reflecting both the colours of the Soviet flag and the upbeat nature of the show. The guard were clearly pumped up and ready to give their best – and I think their best is definitely what we got. The initial movement feature is a good exposition, with good technical aspects, ensemble and emotion evident. We build strongly through this first section, and then we’re hit with an excellent flag accent and sequence into the new motive, swiftly followed by a good rifle toss and some split staging – pacey, and perhaps very slightly on the busy side, but thrilling to watch all the same. Some good combinations of different equipment on the floor contributed much – a flag-rifle-sabre combination feature was notably strong. The narration throughout was also exploited well, with a mention of “the ridiculous” bringing a scooter across the floor – I guess there’s a first time for everything! The woodwind section brought some really pacey work with some excellent development, and the subtle detail of the “conductor” at the back of the guard was appreciated by this particular member of the audience. The “finale” offered a huge accent, and promptly caught everyone out – including the lighting folks! Yet, Pride kept up the energy right through the encore, bringing this charismatic show to a very enjoyable ending. While the changes to this show don’t seem to have been as huge as those made to Pride’s ‘A’ Class, the subtle modifications have really improved the crowd reaction and the General Effect; today’s finals performance definitely grabbed me and took me along for a wild ride! This was a gargantuan effort by Pride – a truly enjoyable, tongue-in-cheek romp which earned them a well deserved medal winning place. (3rd, 92.7)

Next to perform were Mayflower to the music of Nick Drake, featuring “Blue” and “One Of These Things First”. The concentric circles on the floor moving from white to maroon being mirrored in the costume provided a convincing visual theme for the beginning of the show, featuring some very elegantly executed individualized movement but retaining a good feel of overall ensemble. The introduction of the silks was very strong indeed with yet more cohesive ensemble work, all the way into a double flag feature with a lot of complex vocabulary. The transition to the peppier second motive was handled very well with the introduction of some excellent equipment work and awesome ensemble interpretation. This show had a real “sense of presence” which communicated some elegant choreography between the visual and aural aspects. The silk and rifle combination feature included some subtle but difficult rifle work involving some significant challenges, all of which were dealt with convincingly. The rate of development and tension increased dramatically as we drew towards the finale, and the use of the ensemble silks to stage the solo rifle was absolutely marvellous and provided a really elegantly understated accent into an extremely satisfying finale. The guard had an excellent command of the mood and emotions they were intending to impart, with complete understanding of the subtleties of the show – this came across as strong General Effect, but not of the flashy “in your face” type that usually wows audiences. This exquisitely executed technical show – evidenced by the caption victories “downstairs” – provided more evidence if any were needed that Mayflower have many strings to their bow, and that their trip to Dayton in the following weeks would undoubtedly be a fruitful and enjoyable one. (2nd, 94.6, High Equipment, High Movement)

The final performance in the Open Class Championships was by the Southern Knights with their show entitled “Up, Up And Away”. I’ll admit to having been a little unconvinced by the colour scheme here – the pinks and warm pastel shades in the costuming and scenery don’t necessarily make me think of all things “sky” – but I think it still works out due to the warmth of the show as a whole. We open with Bach’s “Air on a G String” – showcasing some elegant movement and silk work which in turn communicated the music very well indeed with its smoothness and passion. Then, we hit the second motive “Up, Up And Away” – this mood change had given me goosebumps all season, and tonight’s performance was no exception. The weapons work was particularly impressive here, with incredibly strong ensemble skills coming to the fore; a precisely timed toss was swiftly followed by a massive accent, and just as we think we’ve seen it all, we get a full-ensemble sequence which was elegant, rhythmic and apparently effortless to bring us down from the heady heights. The segue back to the Air was handled admirably – a big and difficult mood change from the high energy of the previous motive, to the relaxed and utterly controlled feel of the Air, is hard to pull off. With more movement work – including a high risk flag toss while performing a floor move – there was real mastery shown of what was being asked of the members. The music swells and the development and tension in the show build... and we hit “One Day I’ll Fly Away” with an incredible accent – amplitude way off the scale. From there to the end, it’s a matter of bringing the show to a graceful conclusion – showing off some more great timing with the accented snap catch, and finally we see balloons flying everywhere having been released from within the silks: a really inventive and beautiful conclusion. The high overall score and the incredibly high GE caption (394 out of 400 – is this a record?) are a testament to an awesome performance by the “princesses” on the floor and the work of the “wizards” behind the scenes writing the show. Both combined to take everyone in the hall through the entire gamut of emotions in barely ten minutes. I’m not ashamed to admit that I was nearly moved to tears by the end; this was a fantastic performance – one of which they should be tremendously proud, and one which I think will stay in the minds of those who saw it for some time to come. (1st, 96.4, High Ensemble, High GE)

The evening saw many outstanding performances from our Open Class guards – indeed, the diversity and excellence all season has been tremendously enjoyable to observe. It has been a close competition throughout, and the levels which these gifted performers reached at Brentwood was truly astounding.

In closing...

2005 has been a great season for Winterguard in the UK for many reasons. We’ve been blessed with many units in the younger age groups performing some really impressive shows, and all four classes having many great competitions all year. It has also been great to see the guards enjoying themselves so much, both on and off the competition floor, and to see the camaraderie that exists, both within and between guards – no matter what the day’s results might have been. Winterguard isn’t all about competition: having fun, being proud of what you’ve achieved, and being part of a group of like-minded people are just as – if not more – important and admirable goals. I’ve seen more than enough examples this year to be pleased that there is very much more than a grain of truth to this.

Thanks are due to a very long list of people, for not only the Finals but the season as a whole. Many thanks to: all the WGUK staff, our judges and tabulators, the DCUK Board of Trustees, the volunteers from various corps who have assisted in the running of several shows this season, the staff at the Brentwood Centre and all our other host venues, Drum Corps Photos, all the parents and volunteers from this season’s guards, the staff of the many guard organizations, and – of course – the guard members themselves.

Speaking from the stands, it’s been a great season to watch and see the progress of so many great guards. The Finals were an excellent event, truly showing everyone present the very best of our activity. 2005 has been a great season for all of us – roll on this year’s Drum Corps season and Winterguard 2006!

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© 2005 Matt Johnson & Winter Guard United Kingdom