Mad Max: Fury Road — a monster truck action film set in a post-apocalyptic world — would seem like an unusual pairing for ballet, but not for producer Kate Duhamel. She has done just that, taking an art form with roots in the courts of European and grafted on a story that many contemporary audiences might be familiar with.

“FURY” is a multi-media, multi-arts show that stretches into new territory with a collaboration between indie-pop band, YASSOU and Choreographer Danielle Rowe, with principal dancers from San Francisco Ballet and Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet in San Francisco.

We sat down with Kate, who shared with us her process behind the work. Hope you can joins us as well for the performance with IVY on September 14!

What was the genesis of the project?

I am interested in creating new artistic collaborations, especially with musicians who are looking for ways to innovate and layer their live gigs. I have been interested in finding new ways to present dance to broader, younger audiences as well because I feel there is a large audience for dance, and in particular, ballet that never sees it. When most people think of ballet, they have a very traditional idea in their heads about what that is, but as an art form, it’s far more varied, inventive and original than many people know. For this show, we started by asking what elements a really great show that people want to see would have. For us, those are live music by a contemporary band, gorgeous and highly talented dancers, an exciting, modern and familiar story arc, and immersive visuals all in a venue where fans can interact with their friends freely.

 Photo © Alex Reneff-Olson

What did you feel ballet — an art form birthed in the Italian Renaissance and more often associated with swans and sugarplums — lent itself well to this project?

I think it’s safe to say that Mad Max – Fury Road is not a typical sort of story for ballet. Ballet is often perceived as delicate, graceful, formal and traditional, so this modern, fast-paced adventure story is a wonderful juxtaposition. We know the experience of seeing dance for a person new to it is more engaging, thought-provoking and fun when the context is familiar, and Fury Road is a “now” story many people know and love. And importantly, dance is a powerful form of expression with the body. Ballet dancers are strong, athletic and sexy. The characters in Fury Road are all of those things. They escape, run, fight, fall in love, and survive. Seeing that played out by extraordinary dancers seems a very natural extension.

How is this experience different that going to a traditional night of dance, or a regular music concert?  

FURY layers elements from both of those worlds together in an immersive experience.  The band and dancers share the stage, and all have roles in the story. The audience surrounds the stage, and visual projections surround the audience. The audience may stand, mingle, drink and socialize in the venue. While the night lasts three hours, the show itself is only one hour. Taking photos is welcome.

 Photo © Alex Reneff-Olson

What was the most challenging part of producing this project?

Coordinating all of the pieces so collaboration can occur. We have original music with multiple composers, seven dancers, a choreographer, a creative director, a video artist, projections, a costume designer, and others. As an independent production, all of those pieces are coming in from outside, and have to happen in a sequence. My job as the producer has been to keep the train moving!

What was the process to get all of these artists with different creative viewpoints to work together towards the same vision? 

To start, last fall, James and Lilie from the band, the choreographer, Dani Rowe and I chose the story Mad Max Fury Road as the inspiration for the show.  Everyone has been so thrilled with that choice for its style and story that achieving a shared vision has been relatively easy. The four of us met more times in the fall to flesh out a story arc for this show, and then the band went away for a few months in the winter and made an hour of original music. With music in hand, Dani could then make movement and the visual creators are making projections. Our Creative Director, Luke Acret is the keeper of the “look”, so everything visual is created or runs by him – PR images, video design, costumes. There has to be a lot of trust between all of us because there are so many different things happening.  I am very proud of the whole team and how we are working together.

What advice would you give for people looking to collaborate? 

First, like each other. Trust your gut. You can tell inside if someone is on your wavelength and you’re going to enjoy the process with them. Second, make sure you respect your collaborators’ prior work so you can let go and trust them. Finally, be honest. Most things are relatively easy to resolve if you sit down and focus on saying what you mean with respect for others’ work and opinions.

What are the biggest challenges the traditional arts presenting model pose, and what are the alternatives/solutions to keeping the arts sustainable in our communities?

The biggest challenges are perception, cost and time. Traditional performing arts suffer from a perception they are elite, stuffy, outdated or hard to understand. Also, imposing theaters can seem uninviting, and performances are long. Second, tickets are expensive. People have limited resources and lots of options. Many people are simply priced out of traditional performing arts tickets, or believe they are so don’t seek out deals. Finally, time. Younger people have limited time, a plethora of options for entertainment, and make decisions more spontaneously than previous generations.

I think arts presenters have to continue to provide affordable options to expose younger people to the arts in ways they find appealing.  We can feel that things are evolving. It’s not easy, but continuing to experiment with collaborations, venues and audience engagement is important.  I do believe if that if art is good, it gets recognized. I don’t believe meeting the audience where they are means selling out; rather, I think our ideas about what a great performance includes are moving and fluid.

What do you think is the future for the performing arts? 

I will have to answer this later!