Adapting a film production for the stage is one of the bigger challenges that any dance choreographer can face. In FURY, choreographer Danielle Rowe compounded that challenge by creating a work of dance based on the iconic George Miller movie Mad Max: Fury Road. Very little about the movie would suggest that it needed to be adapted as a work of modern dance performance.
The stage production offers a new take on the post-apocalyptic theme. A complete audio-visual experience, the performance features live musicians playing an original score by the band YASSOU and composer Kristina Dutton, with dramatic lighting and projection screens helping to bring elements of the movie’s action-driven plot to the stage.
Set in a post-apocalyptic desert wasteland, the film followed Imperator Furiosa, a fierce woman lieutenant who escaped the rule of a tyrant known as Immortan Joe. In a time of oil crisis, Furiosa was sent on a mission to bring fuel back to Immortan Joe and his followers. Instead, she used her chance to escape the wasteland and take the five wives of Immortan Joe with her. When he found out, he commanded his army to follow them in a long and ruthless chase across the desert.
The live production diverges from the movie in many ways. While the film relied heavily upon hulking war-machine vehicles and trucks, the dance relies solely upon the dancers bodies to project the madness of Mad Max: Fury Road. In the dance, only two women join the main dancer, and it’s not clear which of the characters they represent. And there is nothing to distinguish the male characters apart. Each of the dancers carries out a powerful performance, creating a narrative that may or may not relate to Mad Max: Fury Road.
Alternating lights of blue, violet, and red set the mood at the 12,000-square-foot set of the Tortona Top in downtown Oakland, where two performances of FURY took place on Sep. 13 and 14. Three screens projected images of green leaves, land, and skyscapes. Musicians playing violin, drums, piano, brass chimes, and electric guitars, entered the stage, followed by singer Lillie Hoy of YASSOU.
The movie’s soundtrack represented a sort of symphonic take on a heavy metal drum corps. The live performance, on the other hand, combines indie-pop sounds with classic and electronic fusions. The soundtrack succeeds in building suspense around the dancers. Accompanied by the lighting, it represents elements of stormy weather and a vicious fight between opposing forces on the stage. Singing softly against the music, the narrative is led by Hoy, who plays the role of Capable, one of Immortan Joe’s wives. Capable paves the way for Furiosa’s character and the dancers in the roles of the wives to enter the stage. They walk in harmony, dance in a trio, drift onto solos and duets.
Given the complete absence of props and special effects, contrasts play an important role in telling the story of FURY. Soft extensions and poses meet rough movements and gestures in the fighting scenes and between acts. Green leaves follow the desert landscape on the projected screens. A single voice sings against an orchestra of musicians. It speaks to the yin and yang in life, when opposite forces meet in extreme circumstances.
The male figures’ entrance heightens the work’s energy. The dancers turn into warriors and the fighting begins. The physicality of dance as an artform and a sport comes to light. The electrifying performances add power to the motion. The death of one character transforms the energy on stage. Elegantly rendered besides the act of killing, a reverence for death weighs the loss. Dancers move in and out of stage as the story continues to unfold and the fighting resumes. Despite moments of high energy, an underlying sadness remains present as a second and third death fall on stage. The lead dancer in the role of Furiosa exits the stage with her head held high, signifying a victory to her reign. Lillie’s singing suggests that she is broken by the loss. The story wraps with Lillie alone on stage, similar to the way she entered.
Sep. 26, 8 p.m., CalAcademy NightLife, California Academy of Sciences, Golden Gate Park, 55 Music Concourse Dr., San Francisco, 415-379-8000, FuryShow.com.