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Staged by David Byrne of Talking Heads, 2015 event and resultant film ‘Contemporary Color’ pairs the art of color guard with the work of contemporary musicians.


Certain cultural activities speak to and represent regional or group-specific values. The rhythmic majesty of marching drumlines, fierce combativeness and athleticism of step teams and effortless precision of cheerleading come to mind, and these activities also share a competitive element that elevates the performances and transcends labels and categories. The art of color guard, which incorporates flags, rifles and sabers into synchronized dance routines, operates on a scale that impossibly ups the ante by integrating elements of drumlines, step teams and cheerleading.

So it is not surprising that such effort would attract the attention of David Byrne (Talking Heads), inspiring him to conceive of an event like Contemporary Color — the resultant film is playing at Dayton’s The Neon now through Sunday. Byrne brought together 10 high school color guard teams from across the U.S. and Canada to perform to new compositions created by top-notch musicians and artists like St. Vincent, Ira Glass, Nelly Furtado and Ad-Rock. The focus and appreciation remains squarely on the color guard teams, with the celebrities serving as little more than admiring fans of the talented teens engaging in their final performances.

This showcase took place in the summer of 2015 in Brooklyn, and Byrne tapped Sidney, Ohio documentarians Bill and Turner Ross (who recently shared cinematography duties with Henry Adebonojo on the Academy Award-nominee I Am Not Your Negro) to capture not just the performances but the vibrant colors, necessary flavors and rich personal narratives that give America — the country, the ideal — its contemporary spirit.

Prepare to marvel at the large scale of individual talent and total commitment to group execution, because the film seamlessly weaves micro and macro strands together to stitch a moving visual tapestry that stands as the celebration the country needs at this very moment. It’s definitely worth a trip to Dayton to see. Visit neonmovies.com for details. (PG-13) Grade: A