Fury Factory Fest Features Small Ensemble Performances

by Jean Schiffman

The raison d’être for the biennial FURY Factory—to showcase original performances created by adventurous ensembles—resonates on many levels, for audiences as well as performing artists.

Unlike the fringe festivals, FURY Factory, held at four venues in Project Artaud this month, caters specifically to small groups of performers who have worked together over time, sharing a specific aesthetic and following a particular line of artistic inquiry. Such groups are proliferating nationwide. Ben Yalom, co-artistic director (with Debórah Eliezer) of San Francisco’s foolsFURY, the ensemble that founded and produces the festival, says that this year the selection committee received over 50 applications. Half the applicants were accepted; half of those are local (such as FoolsFURY and comedy troupe Killing My Lobster). The rest are from Georgia, Texas, New York and elsewhere.

Participation in the curated festival is especially rewarding for performers whose projects are not yet mainstage-ready. In this year’s lineup, 15 of the groups are in the “Raw Materials” section of the festival, which presents pieces of works-in-progress. As Yalom explains, that’s become an ever-more-important part of the festival; ensembles creating “devised” (collaborative) new work rarely have the opportunity to test out bits and pieces of material because the main development tool for American theater is the playwright-centric staged reading.

Another value of this festival, for artists and audiences, is its multidisciplinary nature. Here in the Bay Area—with the exception of some companies like Joe Goode Performance Works—dance and theater tend to be separate. Among this year’s presentations are dance-rooted but text-related pieces, such as Dandelion Dancetheater’s “Tongues,” and Post Natyam Collective’s “Super Ruwaxi: Origins.”

The San Francisco-based Dandelion Dancetheater does not always incorporate text into its work, but one of the two short pieces on its festival program (July 17-18 and 20 at Z Below), “Tongues,” is a “reinvention” of the 1978 play by Sam Shepard and Joseph Chaikin, which premiered at San Francisco’s Magic Theatre. A set of monologues intended to be accompanied by a percussionist and performed by one actor but nevertheless open to adaptation, it is presented here along with the world premiere of a song-based movement piece, “Gather”; taken together, the two trace a theme of death and rebirth.

“I think of dance-theater as starting with dance, and incorporating other parts of the [dance] experience,” muses Eric Kupers, cofounder/artistic director of Dandelion and associate professor of dance at California State University East Bay. “Mostly, for us, it’s about music, live and often original.” For “Tongues,” built on text and movement, as well as for “Gather,” based on singing, the score was composed by Ysaye M. Barnwell, former vocalist with Sweet Honey in the Rock, and is played live onstage on a variety of instruments.

“As we followed the stage instructions,” says Kupers, “a kind of story began to emerge for me, about a man approaching his own death. So I started to work with those images a lot, this idea of this moment of death and reckoning and how to move on to whatever’s next.

“‘Gather’ is what happens next,” he adds. “Both pieces to me are very much ceremonial, a ritual.”

Taking an entirely different approach to dance-based performance with text, Post Natyam Collective’s comic-bookish world premiere, “Super Ruwaxi: Origins,” includes narration with live camera feed, improvisation, music and movement (July 9-10 and 12 at NOHspace). The Collective is feminist and politically engaged, mixes modern dance, Indian classical dance forms and South Asian performance techniques and is transnational; its members currently live in Munich, Los Angeles and Brooklyn and create their work by communicating via the internet—exchanging text, images and videos, and giving each other “assignments” and feedback, each member functioning at various times as choreographer, director or performer.

They used that process to create “Super Ruwaxi,” explains Cynthia Ling Lee, who lives in Los Angeles. It grew out of an online exchange in which the members were considering “the trials and tribulations of being a woman in this world,” she says, and also looking at American and Indian comic books. One of her assignments was to create a super-heroine who challenges cultural stereotypes. That character, says Lee, became “a combination of Superman and a latter-day reincarnation of Urvashi, a celestial dancer in the Mahabharata … by day a nerdy Chinese-American teenager, a good Confucian girl, and by night an angry butch feminist” whose magical body odor can “overturn the course of patriarchal oppression.”

The New York multimedia and multidisciplinary ensemble WaxFactory drew upon a host of literary and historical sources for “#aspellforfainting” (July 11-13 at NOHspace). Inspired by 19th-century French neurologist Jean-Marie Charcot’s infamous lecture-demonstrations at the Salpêtrière hospital, during which he induced “hysteria” in female patients, the short, dense piece is performed by company artistic associate Gillian Chadsey. She embodies five different characters in various emotional states.

Of the festival’s eclectic lineup, Yalom notes that the various companies complement and contrast with one another in interesting ways. FoolsFURY, in partnership with Z Space’s Lisa Steindler, selected applicants carefully to achieve that artistic balance.

He professes to be especially excited about WaxFactory (“very cutting edge in its integration of technology and movement”) and the return of a comedy troupe from Kansas, Under the Table, with “The Hunchbacks of Notre Dame” (July 16, 17 and 19 at Joe Goode Annex), about a theater troupe of hunchbacked siblings (“Every time I’ve seen one of their shows I’ve found myself laughing through the whole thing and at the end felt moved, and surprised to feel moved”).

Programming a festival like this, says Yalom, is analogous to putting together an ensemble cast: “You want the whole spread of the festival to fit together, and the whole to be greater than the sum of the parts.”

July 6 → 20

Various venues at Project Artaud