Vivid display of color, talent promises to leave spectators ‘breathless’

By Doug Snover

Flags twirling, sabers flashing and rifles spinning in ways the military never imagined, Arizona Academy of the Performing Arts’ “Independent A” Winter Guard launches into an intense performance that lasts up to seven minutes and leaves the performers and spectators breathless.

Good old-fashioned pomp and circumstance was never like this.

The modern world of Winter Guard is a frenetic pageant of dance moves and precision drills set to a driving beat that picks up where the marching band leaves off.

In the fall, drill teams and color guards play a supporting role to the marching bands on football fields across America. When the marching band season ends in November, the drill teams and color guards take center stage. Hence the name, “Winter Guard.”

“We go into the gym, on the basketball court. They basically move and spin the equipment to any kind of music,” explains Sarah Moore, who teaches Winter Guard at Corona del Sol High School and a separate Youth Guard for the Arizona Academy of the Performing Arts.

Moore, a Corona grad in 2000 and graduate student in education at Arizona State University, is coordinating the 2005 Corona Winter Guard Invitational competition Saturday, April 16, at Corona, 1001 E. Knox Road.

She expects some 50 Winter Guard and drum-and-bugle groups from around the state to converge on her alma mater for the event.

The day-long competition is scheduled to run from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. General admission is $6, which includes a program.. Corona students get in for half-price with student ID.

The Arizona Academy of the Performing Arts is a private group based in Tempe dedicated to the performing arts. It was founded in 2000 by Mark Richardson, Corona’s band director, and has about 300 students, depending on the season. More information is available on the academy’s website, www.arizonaacademy.org

It’s serious stuff for those who live and breathe Winter Guard.

A week before competing in the Corona Invitational, the 14-member Arizona Academy’s “Independent A” Winter Guard team was in Dayton, Ohio, to compete in the world championships. The Tempe-based team, which is directed by Becky Richardson-Lohn and includes high school seniors and college-age members, finished ninth in the 2004 championships in San Diego, Moore said.

This year’s Tempe Academy Winter Guard team will perform the same program at Corona on Saturday that they did in Dayton for the world championships, Moore said.

The routine is called “F.B.I.,” but in this case that stands for Fidelity, Bravery and Integrity.

“It’s a very fast-paced show, really high energy. They’re huffing and puffing when it’s over,” Moore said.

A typical winter guard program might last seven minutes, according to Moore. That includes the time it takes team members to set up their props and clean up afterward, she said.

About half of the academy’s winter guard team attend or have attended Tempe schools, Moore said. Others attended high school outside Arizona and are now students at Arizona State University, she said.

Corona del Sol High School’s winter guard teams, which are separate from the Arizona Academy team but coached by Moore, also will perform Saturday, as will winter guard teams from Fees Middle School, and Marcos de Niza High School.

The Arizona Academy of the Performing Arts’ Youth Guard, made up of elementary and middle school-age students, also is scheduled to perform. The Youth Guard focuses on “more basic” routines and is a training ground for those who hope to one day perform in Winter Guard, Moore said.

The academy does not own a facility. Practices are held Sundays in the Chandler Boys and Girls Club. The academy holds auditions each September for its winter guard team. Those chosen for the team must pay $1,200 toward costume costs and travel expenses.

Youth Guard membership fees are lower--$175 for the 2005 season. There are 10 members on the academy’s youth guard team this season, Moore said.

Arizona Academy of the Performing Arts also operates a drum and bugle corps in addition to its two winter guard programs.