Blast! | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader


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BLAST!, Ford Center for the Performing Arts, Oriental Theatre. The ultimate halftime show, this indoor evocation of outdoor pageantry is a spin-off of Star of Indiana, a Bloomington drum corps. Artistic director James Mason has transformed that prizewinning ensemble into a flashy, Stomp-style extravaganza that gives new meaning to the idea of a marching band--call it "Brassdance." Performed by more than 60 athlete-musicians, none older than 31, this touring exercise in excess is really about being young enough to produce feats of enviable but scary energy--it's percussion overkill to, well, beat the band.

The assumption here is that if it can be done it should be. So we get Ravel's Bolero played seductively until it's blasted loud enough for the composer to hear it. Using "found" instruments, the young performers create rhythms so strong they have to dance them, emulating the rival duets of Tap Dogs. Minus the lyrics, "Gee, Officer Krupke!" becomes a fully choreographed instrumental dance off. Black-light effects are used to turn batons into abstract animation.

Color coordinated to within an inch of its life, Blast! is eye-popping. Sadly, it's also so deliberately dazzling that the music can seem irrelevant. The most flagrant example comes as band members sing "'Tis a Gift to Be Simple" from Copland's Appalachian Spring, making it anything but simple as green-clad dancers unfurl green streamers to create the kind of gyration for gyration's sake that North Koreans adore. It's a shame to think how dull a real band concert will seem after all this hoopla.

--Lawrence Bommer


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