There is an evolution occurring in drum corps. Not just with the innovative and provocative productions the corps are putting on the field, but a resurgence of new corps joining the tour and established Division II and III corps taking on new challenges and rising to new heights.
One corps slowly made their way to the World Class ranks and is showing signs that they could be making history this summer with their first ever appearance as a Top 12 finalist at the World Class Championships on August 11. The Mandarins Drum and Bugle Corps, however, are no strangers to winning big as a member of Drum Corps International.
The Mandarins, originally founded in 1963, have won total of 8 championships. Seven of those titles were as a Division III drum corps spanning from 1987 to 1999 and a Division II championship in 2001.
In 2003, the Mandarins made their move to join World Class competition. Since then the corps has been a semi-finalist a total of nine times just missing a Top 12 finish by 0.925 points to the Madison Scouts last season. Their recipe for their success is pretty simple.
“As most programs in the arts the recipe always starts with management, administration and staffing,” says Ike Jackson, program director for the Mandarins. “I think a lot of people would say you must have the talent in order to be great at what you do, but I would disagree with that. I would say the kids are always ready. We just have to find a way to bring that individual ability to a level that’s worth appreciating.”
The Mandarins productions have always been a corps with a sophisticated yet thoughtful presence on the field. In 2016, the “Forbidden Forest,” really opened a lot of eyes for many in the activity. Not only was it a beautifully designed show, but you could see a few things starting to happen for the corps. They were more mature. They were more confident. They were certainly more talented. All of those characteristics carried over as the corps took the next step into 2017 with their show “Inside the Ink.”
The Mandarins are breaking new ground this summer with their 2018 production “Life Rite After.” The corps takes us on a journey of the “Chosen One’s” soul into the afterlife by three spirit guides. The “Chosen One,” represented by a dancer, is carried into another world that the corps describes as not heaven or hell, but a world where artistry has endless possibilities. They bring this world and her journey to life with repertoire that includes “String Quartet #8 in C minor Opus 110 (Allegro Molto)” by Dmitri Shostakovich and “Spiriti” by Thomas Doss. The Mandarins also bring a beautiful rendition of Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors” to the field. It is during this portion of the show that symbolizes the dancer’s acceptance into the afterlife and is a moment that will quite possibly grab at your own soul. It will be a musical moment that fans won’t soon, if ever, forget. It may very well be one of the best musical moments this season. Just be patient fans as the best is yet to come.
“The plan for us this year is to continually bring out new pieces, parts and ideas to the overall design. There is still more to come,” says Jackson about this year’s production. “I truly feel this is the best way to keep the corps members engaged and involved as well as those who follow us through the season.”
“Life Rite After” is a carefully constructed and designed program complete with functional props, better than average staging, eccentric, yet, beautiful costuming and the ever important memorable visual and musical moments all programs should have. The members of this corps have clearly bought into what the staff is trying to build this year. The Mandarins have slowly introduced new elements and improvements to this seasons production and it has paid off in dividends.
“The Mandarin’s will continue to push the envelope from a creative and musical standpoint,” says Jackson adding that they will “always try to design shows that allow the audience to be a part of what we’re doing on multiple levels.
There is one thing that I believe is already certain for this corps in 2018. Not only will the Mandarins make the top twelve for the first time, but I predict they may be ranked as high as ninth or tenth heading into the final event. This group is that good, and this production is that fantastic.
Update 07/09/18: Quotes from Ike Jackson, the Mandarins program director, were added to this story.