It begins with a spellbinding tune: Portuguese chants lilting over the sound of Mediterranean drums, flutes and strings.
Dancers clad in stylish black, green and white costumes emerge from behind a series of 10-foot stands and begin to leap and fly through the air. They do splits, tumble over each other and then form a single-file line.
Suddenly, someone starts blindly throwing flags into the triangular performance area.
On cue, the dancers catch them without missing a beat.
Then more performers fill the stage, twirling rifles high into the air.
Be it flags or rifles, they spin and parry underneath each toss — never dropping their equipment. Synchronized moves accentuate the routine seemingly borrowed from a chapter of Cirque du Soleil.
It's lyrical ballet. It's artistry. It's athleticism.
It's the state champion Durant High Winter Guard team.
In a performance that brought teacher sponsor April Moody to tears, the squad captured the Florida Federation of Colorguards Circuits' state title last month for its division, Scholastic AA Anastasia. It bested Robinson High by six-tenths of a point to bring home the first-place trophy.
Two keys spurred the win. The team had no drops, and the climactic finish featured a unique touch: a curtain drop that changed those 10-foot stands from black to pink.
Moody couldn't contain herself when the judges announced the winners.
"I started crying," said Moody, who teaches social studies. "What did you want me to do? I couldn't believe it. I knew that we were close, but it was just unreal."
Tears of joy flowed because she knew how much work the squad put in. It's the same flag corps students who perform with the Durant High marching band, but transferring those skills from a football field to the tight confines of a high school gym can prove challenging.
To smooth out the transition, the group practiced every Saturday in January for eight hours and every Tuesday and Thursday for 4 1/2 hours. Having lost 12 seniors from the 2009 team, they needed the work.
"More than half our squad is new," Moody said. "But the squad is just passionate about it. They're just a very dedicated group."
To macho types, the moves may seem like a frilly dance exercise. Several football players in Moody's eighth-period class remained unimpressed even though the corps' practice hours are about equal to the time the football team puts in during the season.
"They were saying it wasn't that hard, so I had them go out and catch some rifles, sabres and flags," Moody explained. "It didn't take long for them to say, 'Okay, never mind.'
"Even when you catch a sabre correctly it hurts. They realized it was a different skill set."
With only one senior departing from the 2010 group, Moody and the rest of the corps already have their sights set on next year. The team will move up to the highest class (classifications are based on skill set and previous scores) and hope to win another state title and go to Dayton, Ohio, for the Winter Guard International championships.
"It's the perfect squad to take to Dayton," Moody said.
For now, however, let the team enjoy its success — at least for a couple of more weeks.
Flag corps tryouts start May 12.
That's all I'm saying.