CONCORD -- The Blue Devils continue to prove themselves to be no standard-issue drum and bugle corps -- always pushing their performances beyond the once-strict adherence to a straightforward gaze and precise, military-style movement.
Instead, the A Corps group of 150 performers -- from the brass to the color guard -- promise a crowd the breathtakingly unexpected.
With its melding of top-notch professionalism and mesmerizing choreography, the corps was recently awarded the highest distinction at the 2014 Drum Corps International World Championship at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis: its 16th title since 1976, along with a record-breaking score of 99.650.
"There are many, many things that go into the ingredients that go into the perfect soup," says Blue Devils' executive director David Gibbs, noting that the B Corps also took first place in the Open Division.
The performance, entitled Felliniesque, melded cohesion and a sense of individual expression, as the color guard component acted out myriad characters, shifting from mood to mood in syncopated time.
"You open up the possibilities that go beyond the unexpected," says Scott Chandler, program coordinator and chief choreographer for the color guard, who conjured up the idea of a show honoring the vision of iconic Italian filmmaker after the corps' production of Godfather's Blue in 2006.
"The imagery, the irony Fellini used in his movies and the storytelling; it was tailor made. It was colorful; there was fantasy, whimsy and most of all, surprise," says Chandler, a Walnut Creek resident.
"As we've evolved, (the performances) have become more dimensional and very theatrical," he adds.
Clayton resident and A Corps color guard member Emily Nunn -- still reeling a bit from the recognition -- credits their success to their chemistry on and off the field, with each member being completely committed to the work and performance.
"It takes your entire heart and soul. It literally takes everything out of you, but it's so worth it," says Nunn, 21, a math major at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, who "aged" out of the Blue Devils following the performance.
Nunn first joined the corps at age 7, drawn by the dancing and baton tricks, and moving on to spinning sabers, flags and rifles.
She describes how the Fellini-inspired backdrop and the "traditional drum corps with a different twist," offered a setting for performers to express their individual nuances through movement and facial expression.
Meanwhile, Michael Samson, a De La Salle High School alumnus, who played the mellophone in the first-place winning brass line, described the experience as "a crescendo the whole season." He said it combined the inherent "artistic, intelligent show design" with the performers' professionalism.
"The drum corps is becoming more and more of its own art form," adds Samson, who earned a degree in music composition at Ithaca College and aspires to joining Disneyland's toy soldier marching band.
"It all adds up to this formula and works out in the end," says Pleasanton resident Austin Harper, 18, who performed with the world champion, 40-member color guard for the first time this year, describing the experience as "kind of surreal."
As was the case with other performers, Harper was initially unfamiliar with Fellini's opus, but a group soon gathered over a filming of his movie "9" and grasped his unique perspective.
"(Felliniesque) is obviously something that no one's done before. This dreamlike state gave everyone that expressive freedom," he says.
Fellow color guard member Laura Nichols, 19, who spun flags, flung streamers and was a part of the tambourine dance, was among those originally unaware of Fellini's unique lens on life and began studying film clips.
The San Ramon resident describes Blue Devils as "a drum corps with a living, breathing heart," and credits participation for shaping her work ethic, noting its requisite, often "grueling" rehearsal schedule.
"You learn what your limits are emotionally and physically," she says.
Meanwhile, Harper poses rhetorically: "How do we make something greater in the coming years?"
"Anything's possible," he replies.