Here's a look at some of the biggest storylines as these two midwest corps prepare to hit the road for the 2017 DCI Tour.
Watch the Blue Stars and Cavaliers live in movie theaters nationwide, Thursday, June 22.
Blue Stars | Star Crossed
Blue Stars lean on veteran leadership
Since missing out on a top-12 spot at the DCI World Championship Finals in 2012, the Blue Stars have been climbing the ranks of DCI's World Class, leading up to an eighth-place finish in 2016.
Nessa Guerra, this season's head drum major, has been there for every single one of those six seasons.
While her six years of experience are the most of anyone in the Blue Stars, director Russ Gavin knows that Guerra is one of many veterans – performers and instructors alike – leading the way, as the La Crosse, Wisconsin-based corps aims to build on recent success.
“We're an older and more experienced drum corps than we've been in a few years,” Gavin said. “In many ways it's the number of third-, fourth- and fifth-year vets that we have throughout the drum corps who know when not to freak out, when not to react to the moment, because you know the season is made up of hundreds of moments and you're not going to let any one of them define you. You're going to define those moments.”
Blue Stars perform during a dress reherasal on Tuesday in Westfield, Indiana.
According to Guerra, six years' experience within the Blue Stars organization has not only allowed her to see the changes and developments within the corps, but also helps her relate to the performers she conducts, having spent four season in the ensemble's brass section.
“It's changed so much, from the people, to how we function as a whole,” Guerra said. “From 2012 to how far we've come as an organization, how we rehearse, how we do everything has just grown tremendously.”
And as Gavin attested, it's members like Guerra – those with a wealth of experience – driving his ensemble in 2017.
“Everything is easier the second time,” Gavin said. “Our veteran presence throughout the corps makes it all easier on the field and it makes it easier off the field.”
Familiar, conceptual theme drives 2017 program
This season, the Blue Stars' “Star Crossed” production centers around something that has been, in Russ Gavin's words, “around as long as people have been telling stories” – the concept of star-crossed lovers.
Centering around three specific stories – Romeo and Juliet, The Great Gatsby and Moulin Rouge – each of which will be recognizable to viewing audiences in both the visual displays on the field and the music being performed.
“We're all telling the same stories over and over again; the great philosophers and writers always emphasize that,” Gavin said. “The story of the star-crossed lovers is so deeply entrenched in literature and film, remembering that the star-crossed lover doesn't work out. What we're talking about is not an alpha-to-omega story, it's just visiting and reminding ourselves of these moments of deep love and heartbreak.”
Through several visual cues that feature a vast array of color guard uniforms – each playing off of the three familiar stories used in the show – the corps displays the idea of lost love. The show's final moment presents the main characters from Moulin Rouge separated from one another on opposite sides of the field, looking longingly across an “X”-shaped form.
“All of those stories end with death or separation or both,” Gavin added. “We've all had our hearts broken, and some of the finest tales that have ever been told are focused on that theme.”
The Cavaliers | Men Are From Mars
Experienced color guard serves as “cornerstone” for upcoming season
With nearly a third of its corps members consisting of color guard members, the Cavaliers' visually complex and physically demanding production is perfectly suited for such a veteran unit.
According to corps director Joe Roach, the type of demand within the color guard portion of the corps' “Men Are From Mars” production supplies the high-octane, athletic aspects of the show that will “blow your mind.”
“The color guard this year is bigger than it's been in a long time,” Roach said. “It's been a lot of fun to watch that group come together and build a completely fresh energy that you'll see in the show.”
“I would say the guard is the cornerstone of this production from the visual perspective,” he added.
Color guard caption head Travis Speice has been equally impressed with the attitude his performers bring to rehearsals day in and day out. He says newer members have been able to look up to a strong core of experienced leaders as role models who know what it takes to be successful.
“As part of the spring training process, having the vets return again and again has been a great example for the younger members,” Speice said. “From the get-go, they came back hungry. That excitement really grows among the young members also.”
And with intense physical difficulty for the color guard in this year's production, Speice knows the performers won't shy away from the challenge.
“That's another area where our veteran members come into play,” he added. “They've set a really high expectation for themselves. They really don't have any fear, anything you ask them to do, they're willing to try.”
Cavaliers look to step it up another notch in 2017 with masculine production
In 2016, the Cavaliers achieved their best finish since 2011 with “Propaganda,” a show that largely played on the corps' thematic strong points of aggression, energy and masculinity, notching a fifth-place finish.
This season, according to director Joe Roach, the corps' production, “Men Are From Mars,” will turn up the dial on those facets even further, both thematically and from the perspective of difficulty.
“The sheer physical demand of ‘Men Are From Mars' is definitely up from ‘Propaganda,'” Roach said. “There's lots of running, lots of props, lots of jumping up and down from things, lots of climbing, and lots of technical vocabulary from the color guard, the percussion and the brass."
According to Roach, despite this year's production being extra challenging, the corps was able to put it entirely on the field with time to spare, wrapping up “Version 1.0” of the ever-evolving show last week.
“That gives us an incredible amount of time to hone it in,” he said. “That's not always typical of spring training, sometimes you're learning dots up until the last minute, so our design team was way out ahead of it this year.”