When Lady Gaga and her creative team started planning her halftime performance for Super Bowl LI on Feb. 5 in Houston, Texas, her creative vision included light-up Air Blades. Ideation is one thing; making it happen, however, takes a little more work.
Touchdown Productions, the production company responsible for the past 18 Super Bowl halftime shows, reached out to Tim Newburn, director of Cypress Independent Winterguard in Houston to participate in the show. Newburn quickly assembled a group of 31 performers—15 current and 16 alums—to back Lady Gaga in one of the most memorable halftime shows in recent memory.
To Newburn, the opportunity to bring past members back into the fold made the experience even more special. “One of our new projects for this year is an alumni group,” Newburn says. “What a cool kickoff project for [our] alumni group!”
The guard’s time to shine took place during the crowd pleaser “Just Dance.” If you look closely, though, you can also see the group’s handiwork in Gaga’s ballad “Million Reasons” and her closing number, “Bad Romance.”
“What you see live and what you see on TV are often very different,” muses Newburn.
At one point, the performers formed a human igloo using their bodies and Air Blades. Inside the igloo, Lady Gaga was able to make a quick costume change in a moment that was purposefully not televised.
During the performance, Cypress spun Air Blade rifles manufactured by Band Shoppe. The Air Blades were outfitted with special LED technology mounted on by the company Glow Motion. The lights stood out and were important for the show because of the nighttime performance.
But this situation created challenges for the performers. How do you spin when you can’t see? The answer: 10 days of six-hour-long practices in the evening hours.
“When we started our 10 days [of practice], Gaga’s crew was still rehearsing in Los Angeles,” Newburn notes.
Crewmembers already in Houston would record the guard’s rehearsals and send the footage to Lady Gaga’s crew on the West Coast and await feedback. To make things even harder, the Air Blades were delicate to handle because of the added lighting component, so the performers were unable to practice with the actual equipment they would use the night of the event. But as the saying goes, practice makes perfect, and the show went off without a hitch, dazzling viewers across the globe.
While it may have been an intense few weeks, everyone involved walked away with memories that will last a lifetime. “It was an amazing experience they’ll never forget,” Newburn says.
And shaking hands with Lady Gaga? That doesn’t hurt either.