Last time I reported on the ballet scene in San Francisco, SF Ballet’sÂ Unbound FestivalÂ had just taken place. I know that seems ages ago, but Fury, a concert ballet I caught here last month and which was inspired by the movie Mad Max Fury Road, made me think again about all the new choreography unveiled atÂ UnboundÂ (NB: some of its ballets are touring to Washington this month, and to London in 2019) and about the importance of cross collaborations in dance.
Indeed, FuryÂ gave us a long overdue collaboration between the dancers of San Francisco Ballet and Alonzo King LINES Ballet, plus the dreamy pop of indie group Yassou. The LINES cast was led by the impressive pair of Babatunji (“Max”) and Adji Cissoko (“Furiosa”), alongside theÂ ultra-versatile Michael Montgomery. SF Ballet principals Luke Ingham, Dores AndrÃ©, Jennifer Stahl and Frances Chung completed the line-up. Part dance performance, part music concert experience, audiences had the chance to see all the action up close in the cool, club-like setting of The Midway in San Francisco.Â Fury was filmmaker and producer Kate Duhamelâ€™s first liveÂ show, and here’s why we think it should be revived soon:
1) Strong Women
In addition to the Mad Max story itself, which is driven by strong women who are rebelling against the patriarchy and trying to overthrow the despotic regime of “Immortan Joe“, this was an almost all-female creative team which, in addition to producer Kate, included choreographer Danielle Rowe, composer Kristina Dutton, and Yassou singer Lilie Hoy. Those of you who have been following the debate know howÂ theÂ female perspectiveÂ isÂ welcome and much needed in the dance scene.
Addressing the multidisciplinary angle, Kate mentioned to me that she had always wanted “to create this kind of collaboration between musicians and ballet dancers for audiences to see ballet under a different lightâ€ Here, film, music and dance combined seamlessly and one of my favorite aspects of Fury was how lead singer Lilie Hoy interacted with the cast of dancers: she was integrated into the movement, like a greek-chorus figure, or a priestess perhaps. Being a music lover, I am all in favour of collaborations where contemporary musicians are center stage with the dancers – McGregor’sÂ Carbon Life and Alonzo Kingâ€™sÂ The Propelled Heart are twoÂ great examples of this – and Kate is right when she points out that â€œplaying a set is jut not enough for musicians anymore, itâ€™s important to experience a live performance driven by the musicâ€. It helps when you have music that can transport you to a different place, likeÂ Yassou’s.
3)Â Ballet Up Close
It is very much to choreographer Danielle Rowe’s credit that SF Ballet and LINES dancers complemented each other so perfectly,Â with choreographyÂ that drew from the different qualities of movement and styles within the ensemble.Â The first thing that struck me was the sheer energy of the battle scenes despite a cast of just seven dancers. Luke (who is married to Danielle), playing the “baddie” Joe, Michael and Babatunji took incredible risks, withÂ bravura jumps, slidingÂ aroundÂ a stage that was as narrow as a catwalk. At times, I truly feared for Michael, who was eating up the rock concert atmosphere. Danielle also put the female dancers en pointe and, with audiencesÂ so close, this served to expand lines and to enhance the plasticity of the movement in the slow sections, which included a striking duet for Max and Furiosa.
4) Lights, camera, action!
A simple effective set, lighting in shades of blue, purple and red were paired with someÂ gorgeous romantic-punk costumes by designer Vasily Vein. In addition to the lights, the hostile,Â barren environment of Max Mad Fury RoadÂ was conveyed via video projections and, here’s my only comment: since the landscape is so important in the movie, I wished for much bigger screens to convey this backdrop. A girl can dream: an IMAX-sized screen would have been just the thing!
Speaking of dreams, sinceÂ moving to the Bay area last year, I have been surprised and captivated by the dance scene in Los Angeles (including Costa Mesa with itsÂ impressive theatre, the Segerstrom Center for the Arts), which to me seemsÂ more active than San Francisco’s. This week for example,Â LA Dance ProjectÂ joins Gustavo Dudamel in duos from Prokofiev’s beloved R&J (yes, please!). With its natural connection to film, FuryÂ would be aÂ perfect production to tour to the city of stars.
Catch up with Fury online: