Saturday, September 15, 2018

Mad Max Fury Road: the Ballet

The Mad Max crew rushes back to the Citadel

On Friday, 9/14/18, I woke up with a headache. Then my cat threw up under the bed. I managed to get to work on time. There was an exciting development, with Manafort flipping, but what really jump-started my day? A tweet from San Francisco Ballet about a performance some of its dancers were in: a ballet inspired by Mad Max: Fury Road. I love ballet. I love Mad Max: Fury Road. There were only two performances: that night and Saturday night, which I wouldn't be able to make.

I have never bought a ticket so fast. Somewhere in the digital dash for a Fury ticket I absorbed that principal Frances Chung was one of the SF Ballet dancers, but it was only after I purchased my general admission ticket that I saw that two of my other favorites, Dores André and Jennifer Stahl-Weitz, were performing as well, along with Luke Ingham and three principals from Alonzo King LINES Ballet: Adji Cissoko, Babatunji, and Michael Montgomery. How had I not known about this before Friday? I followed both Frances Chung and Dores André on Instagram, but somehow despite my social media addiction, was not paying it enough attention.

My headache continued, impervious to meds or caffeine. But I was determined, and after work I hoped on the T, stopped for a quick pizza dinner in the Dogpatch neighborhood, and then continued to the Midway SF, an arts space in an industrial area near Islais Creek.

An abandoned something or other nearby

The crowd was definitely younger and hipper than most ballet crowds, but there were plenty of older folks willing to come out in the middle of nowhere to see such illustrious dancers. (Or maybe I'm prejudiced - the well dressed Boomers could have also been hardcore fans of George Miller's dieselpunk masterpiece with zero connections to ballet.)

The doors opened at 7pm (there was no indication of when the performance would start, and a last-minute Facebook query went unanswered). Inside the dark, maze-like complex was a stage-in-the-round connected by a catwalk to a stage for the musicians. There were multiple bars. There was an attached cafe with more alcohol and food. There was a VIP room. I came alone and I'm not cool, so instead of socializing and drinking, I got a water from the bar, plopped myself on the concrete floor in front of the stage (chairs and stadium seating were strictly for those who had bought VIP tickets), and used my phone's flashlight to read a novel I had with me. My extreme uncoolness ended up being a huge boon.

Babatunji (Max) and Montgomery (Nux) on the catwalk,
with the VIP crowd behind them

I sat there on the floor for over an hour (the show finally started around 8:45pm) as my headache continued and the room filled up. Based on a few social media posts I saw afterwards, a lot of people couldn't actually see the show. Apparently some tried standing on the bars, but were made to get down. Another person on twitter said many left. I was impervious to all this.

Just how amazing my spot was didn't completely dawn on me until the dancing started. The music was by classical/pop fusion band YASSOU, and it was original, not Junkie XL's (a.k.a. Tom Holkenborg) soundtrack from the movie. YASSOU front woman Lilie Hoy (who played Capable) opened Fury with a song about memories of the world before the apocalypse while the projection screens showed lush green landscapes. The music was good, but I'll be totally honest: I was there for the dancing, and found the opening song a bit slow.

Babatunji, Montgomery, and Hoy

But then Luke Ingham charged out! Playing a much hotter version of Immortan Joe (sadly, I did not get any passable photos of him), Ingham moved around the tiny round stage with power and abandon. At one point he rushed nearly to the edge of the stage where I sat, and I realized that I was 1) sitting within arm's reach to a performance by some of the country's best dancers, and 2) that I had paid $35 for it. Yeah, I was on a hard floor and had to hunch down a little to see under the barrier, but it was still a better view than the box seats at the War Memorial Opera House (I assume).

By the time Babatunji made the most interesting, graceful crawl across a pretend desert ever, the headache receded from my awareness.

This elation only intensified as Stahl-Weitz (Splendid) and André (Toast) came out. I first fell in love with André when she danced the lead in Arthur Pita's Salome in March 2017, which I saw from a discounted dress circle seat. Her intensity can be felt from the balcony, but from a few feet away? Electric!

Dores Andre and Jennifer Stahl-Weitz

Also electric was Adji Cissoko as Furiosa. Her role as a principal at LINES is apt, considering her, well, lines. She is a live power line. And seeing Chung's (the Keeper of the Seeds) expressive face so close? Priceless (but again, $35!!!). A section en pointe with André, Chung, and Cissoko was a highlight for me.

Chung and Cissoko, VIP section in background

Although the story of Mad Max: Fury Road is obviously pared down for Fury the hour-long ballet, it gets the emotions right. You have the story of a harsh world, constant violence, and a group of various foes who come together in trust, love, and friendship to fight against evil. Hoy and Montgomery were sweet as young lovers Capable and Nux, but Babatunji and Cissoko were especially intriguing as Max and Furiosa. Their chemistry, explored in a fascinating pas de deux, was spot-on, and the audience went wild when they teamed up to kill Immortan Joe. (By jamming Cissoko's steel-like pointed leg in his face. Death by pointe shoe: it's ballet.)

Stahl-Weitz, Cissoko, and Andre

Also exciting about the show was its creative team. While ballet is having a great moment with young choreographers, many of the most famous are men (Arthur Pita, Justin Peck, Liam Scarlett, etc). Fury's choreographer is Danielle Rowe, and the composer (Kristina Dutton) and producer (Kate Duhamel) are women as well.

My takeaway from the crowd around me was that those who were able to see it loved it, but it was a disappointment for many of  those who had bought general admission and were not either tall or early enough to snag a spot on the ground. However, there was a camera crew, and the San Francisco Dance Film Festival was being promoted, so maybe it will show up there someday?

There is one more show tonight (9/15/18), and it looks like there are some general admission tickets left as of this writing. Get there early!

The stage

Image info:
All photos: terrible, mine (photos on social media tagged with #FuryShow were encouraged)