Fury: a Mad Max Ballet

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Last time I reported on the ballet scene in San Francisco, SF Ballet’s Unbound Festival 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 at Unbound (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, Fury 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 the ultra-versatile Michael Montgomery. SF Ballet principals Luke Ingham, Dores André, 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. Fury was filmmaker and producer Kate Duhamel’s first live show, and here’s why we think it should be revived soon:

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Babatunji as Max and Adji Cissoko as Furiosa. Photo: © Austin Hobart

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 how the female perspective is welcome and much needed in the dance scene.

2) Multidisciplinary

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 light” 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’s Carbon Life and Alonzo King’s The Propelled Heart are two great examples of this – and Kate is right when she points out that “playing a set is jut not enough for musicians anymore, it’s important to experience a live performance driven by the music”. It helps when you have music that can transport you to a different place, like Yassou’s.

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Dores André and Frances Chung in Fury. © Photo: Austin Hobart

3) Ballet Up Close

It is very much to choreographer Danielle Rowe’s credit that SF Ballet and LINES dancers complemented each other so perfectly, with choreography that drew from the different qualities of movement and styles within the ensemble. 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, with bravura jumps, sliding around 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 audiences 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.

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Luke Ingham from SF Ballet on stage with Yassou. Photo:  © Austin Hobart

4) Lights, camera, action!

A simple effective set, lighting in shades of blue, purple and red were paired with some gorgeous romantic-punk costumes by designer Vasily Vein. In addition to the lights, the hostile, barren environment of Max Mad Fury Road 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, since moving to the Bay area last year, I have been surprised and captivated by the dance scene in Los Angeles (including Costa Mesa with its impressive theatre, the Segerstrom Center for the Arts), which to me seems more active than San Francisco’s. This week for example, LA Dance Project joins Gustavo Dudamel in duos from Prokofiev’s beloved R&J (yes, please!). With its natural connection to film, Fury would be a perfect production to tour to the city of stars.

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Babatunji as Max. Photo: © Austin Hobart

Catch up with Fury online:

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Singer Lilie Hoy from Yassou Band. Photo: © Austin Hobart

 

Likes ballets that taste like 85% cocoa: pure, extra bitter, dark or intense. Her favorites are La Sylphide, Manon, Mayerling, Ondine, Symphonic Variations and McGregor's Chroma. Her favorite Ratmansky ballets are: The Little Humpbacked Horse, Russian Seasons, Cinderella and The Shostakovich Trilogy. She is always ready to chase new Ratmanskys around the globe. Non ballet: literature, theatre, opera, rock, art, food, travel, fashion, translating and interpreting.

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