ABOVE: Watch David Byrne at a preview of Contemporary Color in Toronto.
TORONTO — David Byrne conceived Contemporary Color — which has its world premiere next month at Toronto’s Luminato Festival — yet even he can’t easily describe it.
The show features hundreds of high school students flipping flags and spinning sabres to music provided by singers and a 15-piece band.
“There were a few institutions that I approached that turned this down,” Byrne told Global News at a preview inside a gymnasium at Toronto’s Ryerson University. “Believe it or not.”
Byrne came up with the idea after watching a video of a colour guard competition, where teams of students blend military tradition with athleticism and acrobatics.
“I didn’t know anything about it,” recalled the 62-year-old former Talking Heads singer. He was dazzled by the sequin-studded spectacle, though.
“I thought to myself, what if instead of the pre-recorded music that [the colour guard teams] usually use… what if they had live music? And what if it was some of my favourite music?”
Contemporary Color pairs 10 colour guard teams with Byrne, Canada’s Nelly Furtado and artists like Kelis, St. Vincent, and Ad-Rock and Money mark of Beastie Boys fame.
Byrne is performing with a colour guard from Longueuil, Que. and Furtado with one from Kitchener, Ont.
“Some of the musicians knew what the guard was, or they took it upon themselves to get on YouTube and look,” Byrne recalled. “And some of them just said, ‘Can you tell me this again? What exactly are you talking about?’
“Not everybody said yes, sometimes just for practical reasons. We’re really thrilled with the people who said yes and are now deeply embedded in a world they didn’t know existed.”
The other artists taking part are How to Dress Well, Devonte Hynes, Lucius, Nico Muhly and Ira Glass, and tUnE-yArDs.
Byrne pitched Contemporary Color to the Luminato Festival, where he had performed in 2014 as part of the If I Love You show.
The June 22 and 23 shows at the Air Canada Centre will be followed by performances at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on June 27 and 28.
Byrne told Global News audiences will be wowed by what they see.
“This is a little hard to describe,” he said of the show, “but … this is going to be an amazing musical and visual spectacle.”
Tickets for Contemporary Color start at $39. Luminato Festival runs June 19 to 28.
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