Pyro Lugo-Allen was inspired by a loofah.
“Literally,” they said. “This is the real story.”
Blue Knights’ artistic director, examining their unused loofah, described its initially compressed, tightly-balled-up state. Once Lugo-Allen removed the ties that held the loofah in place, though, it expanded — rapidly, and exponentially.
“So much energy was in that small space,” Lugo-Allen said. “I never knew that it was holding that much. And then, it kind of exploded — and you couldn’t put it back together.”
From that simple imagery, the Denver corps’ 2023 production, “Unharnessed” — a program in which the Blue Knights plan to depict the ways pent-up energy, expression, creativity and potential can explode once released from limitations — was born.
According to Lugo-Allen, despite its unconventional origins, the idea garnered immediate support from fellow Blue Knights designers, including program coordinator Jed Weeks.
“I presented it to (Weeks), and he immediately said, ‘Oh, I think that's kind of cool,” Lugo-Allen said. “Having that kind of assurance from him certainly led me to believe that there were some real legs here, and I think we just started to explore that idea.”
This #MarchForth, the Blue Knights Drum & Bugle Corps are excited to announce our 2023 Production: Unharnessed Join the Blue Knights this summer as we take the music of Giuseppe Verdi, The Doors, Lenny Kravitz, and Pharrell Williams on a journey through overcoming restraint and personal struggle to become unharnessed from that which holds us back. Read More --> https://tinyurl.com/BK2023UnharnassedPosted by Blue Knights Drum & Bugle Corps on Saturday, March 4, 2023
Weeks remembers his conversation with Lugo-Allen — which served as his initial interaction with the corps’ 2023 program concept — fondly, as well.
“One of the things I told Pyro was, ‘I can see it,’” Weeks said. “Even before we got into it and got as far down the rabbit hole as we've gotten now, I could immediately see it. And to me, that's a really big deal, that not only the music, but the visual, it all provides so many possibilities.”
Lugo-Allen added that Weeks’ early contributions were just the beginning of a strongly-collaborative design process.
“There is a huge amount of art that has gone into this,” Lugo-Allen said. “I think the perspectives that have come into this, since the inception of me kind of coming up with the idea, have been just as tremendous as the initial idea.”
Blue Knights’ creative meetings feature a wide array of either brand-new or returning faces. Lugo-Allen, for example, is in their first year with the corps. Weeks, somewhat similarly, returned to Blue Knights for the 2023 season after having previously worked with the Denver corps from 2010-2018.
Percussion arranger Jeff Ausdemore is back for the first time since his stint from 2006-2010. Drill designer Jeremy Seneca, like Lugo-Allen, is in his first year.
The list goes on. Ultimately, according to Weeks — whose past experience with Blue Knights is the longest of any of the corps’ designers — the retooled creative group has brought a far different flavor than anything he’s seen from previous iterations of the corps.
“There's a strong history of emotional and intellectual content in the programming at Blue Knights,” Weeks said, “and I'm pretty proud of that.”
“I guess the biggest difference with this production compared to others is that it's a little more edgy,” he added. “And I don't mean that it's dark and scary. But it's definitely got more edge to it than what the corps has done in the past several years, but still has that same emotional and intellectual component.”
For Blue Knights the concept of “Unharnessed” goes beyond the story being told. It applies, as well, to the creative approach being taken in crafting the program. According to Weeks, specifically when it comes to visual design, the Denver corps’ aim is to go outside of the box, taking a noticeably unique approach to its use of set pieces.
“I think the way we're going to use our props, without giving it away as to what they are, we're going to use them slightly differently than I think anybody has ever done before,” he said. “The props are a character in the show. They're not just the set design.”
Further, the corps’ designers are equally excited about the creative liberties that can and are being taken musically within the context of the production.
As publicized in Blue Knights’ March 4 show reveal, the repertoire for “Unharnessed” is set to include Giuseppe Verdi’s “Requiem,” The Doors’ “Break on Through,” Lenny Kravtiz’s “Fly Away” and Pharrell Williams’ “Freedom.”
“The layers of complexity visually and musically are something that I've never tackled in drum corps,” Ausdemore said. “Musically, you're going to hopefully hear some sounds you've probably never heard in drum corps before.”
Amidst plenty of organizational changes, design has been just one of many aspects which, according to director Daniel Belcher, have fallen under the heading of “preparation” — a key word in the corps’ approach to its current offseason.
“This offseason has been centered around two things — significant change, and being as organized and prepared as possible,” Belcher said. “It's a year of evolution, and I think that's going to be apparent on some significant levels in the production, and it's certainly going to be apparent for the members, and the staff members, as we evolve this organization.”
And ultimately, that advanced preparedness — in many facets — has opened the door for a positive member experience, a key priority for Blue Knights and the drum corps activity.
As such, performers were made aware of the show’s title and characteristics far earlier than has normally been the case. According to Belcher, that came with a positive reaction from the corps’ membership.
“We actually released the program in house to the members at our January camp, which is the earliest we've done that in a very long time,” Belcher said. “It was fantastic — they were screaming, yelling, clapping, crying even.”
“There's a lot of excitement about how prepared we are,” he added, “and how transparent the design team is being early on about this production.”
The corps’ production itself falls right into line with that premise. Beyond its creative innovations, “Unharnessed” allows for dozens of unique stories to be told or felt through the lens of the corps’ performers, about what has been, can be, or will be unharnessed in any individual.
“The emotion and appeal of the program will come from them,” Lugo-Allen said. “That'll be the stuff that really makes it special.”