Contemporary Color is Everywhere

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The Ross Brothers Contemporary Color movie is finally available for streaming and purchase.

In 2016, I was what I guess one would call a creative impresario on some shows here in NY and in Toronto called Contemporary Color. The shows matched 10 color guard teams with 10 contemporary musical artists to perform music written specifically for these events. The shows were at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto and the Barclays Center here in NY.

Color guard (and more properly, winter guard) is a phenomena, an athletic and artistic expression, that takes place mainly in North America but increasingly around the world. Though it began as formations and performances to accompany football games, it has evolved into something wilder, stranger, more creative and beautiful and very much apart from the sports context. Though they still retain the flags, sabers and rifles.


Me joined by Lucius and St. Vincent with Les Eclipses performing in front.

The teams usually perform and compete with pre-recorded music, so suggesting that the music be both specially written for them and live was a big gulp… but it paid off. The shows were fun, but also moving in ways I didn’t expect. Something that I believe is captured in the Ross Bros film—both backstage and on.

(A Caravaggio moment with the color guard parents.)

(A Caravaggio moment with the color guard parents.)

I’d seen some of the Ross Bros films before meeting them. They tend to embed themselves in a community—New Orleans, border towns in Texas and Mexico, a small town in Ohio—and through following a few of the inhabitants, we see them and their towns changing and changing each other. I viewed the world of color guard as as kind of town, a widely dispersed community. So I suspect the Ross Bros might see this as having something in common with their other work. You can find their other films HERE.

The musical acts—Nelly Furtado, How To Dress Well, Ira Glass + Nico Muhly, St. Vincent, Money Mark + Ad Rock, Lucius, Dev Hynes, Tune-Yards, Zola Jesus and myself—are known to some readers I expect… the teams maybe not so much, but they are where much of the emotion in this show came from.

I had lunch after the first show in Toronto with Avi Lewis and his partner Naomi Klein, and Avi said something like, “The show is about diversity, inclusion, body image, gender and race—THAT is what you take away from the show.”

I was flattered and thrilled at his comment, and truthfully it didn’t even occur to me while we were working on the show. Sure, I could see that the teams welcomed everyone in, different body types, genders, races, as long as they put in the hours and effort—a LOT of hours and effort. But I didn’t realize that, as Avi said, “That is what the show is about.” Creators aren’t always able to put into words what their work is “about”, but sometimes it takes someone who is seeing it for the first time to tell us what our work means.

I suspect the kids on the teams sense this subtext, but it’s never stated. It obviously comes across to some audience members, but even if we don’t articulate it, it’s coming across in a visceral way. Every one of these kids is a hero. Something that appears to be some wacky form of entertainment might actually be political, be wordlessly advocating and making an important point.

And the music is pretty great too.



December 2017


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