Watching a dancer who’s not supposed to be jumping jump is a lesson in pain, vulnerability, and drive.
Jack Ferver was the dancer who was grounded for medical reasons and yet persevered. He was also the choreographer and writer of the evening of dance performance called Everything Is Imaginable at New York Live Arts.
The two-act show worked in contrasts and complements through stories, vignettes, and performances of queerness, adversity, obsession, and pain. Through light and dark, vivid color and blackness, the differences in the pieces still added up to a whole that gave physical expression and voice to queer culture, experiences, and lives.
Ferver opens Act II with an explanation of how he tore both of his calves while dancing. For his recovery, his physical therapist did not want him jumping or walking forward in his choreography–a major setback for any performer but a pretty serious impediment for a dancer and choreographer who might occasionally need to move in all directions. For a time Ferver lay on the floor. But that cannot be a whole show. He stood for a time with his leg held out, just so, drawing attention to his calf. After setting this scene, he proceeded to dance. I anticipatorily winced every time he leapt or propelled himself towards us. I could not let go of the image of his injuries and his compulsion to just push through them.
Yet the work centering his queerness, defiance, and persistence was anything but painful itself. Act II looked at resistance in all forms—bullies, bodies, critics, and time. He relayed stories of childhood traumas, adult conflicts, death, therapy, writing, and his desire to help queer young people. But he did not stop moving and his fragility, as a human with muscles that sometimes give out, was always present.
It created an interesting tension between watching and wanting him to move and wishing he would protect himself by not. But as his stories about being deeply hurt by friends and family made evident, he’s pushed through a lot of pain in life, what’s a calf tear here or there.
While Ferver and performer (and costume co-designer) Reid Bartelme were dressed in black for Act II and the idea of emotional and physical agony was foregrounded, Act I was variations on silliness, levity, and images popping with color (with an element of suffering still haunting the background).
Ferver had asked his dancer friends about their childhood idols and he created pieces that played with those inspirations and obsessions from their youth. Bartelme and Harriet Yung’s costumes in Act I were full of sparkle, texture, and brightness. The hand-drawn style set by Jeremy Jacob evoked something out of Hilary Knight’s illustrations for Eloise. Curlicue swirls of pillars and a chandelier towered above the dancers–like a child’s interpretation of fanciness and glamour. The same set appeared in miniature at Ferver’s feet in Act II. He was the choreographer-giant looming over what had come before and the perspective shift made me think of creators, power, and yet also growing up.
Each of the four Act I childhood pieces struck a slightly different tone. James Whiteside’s dance on Judy Garland was frenetic, frustrated, and emotional. Dressed in high collared sequin dress, replete with Garland style face clutches, he lip-synced along to Garland singing “I Happen to Like New York.” He soft-shoed and stomped his way through part of the number falling to the ground at the end in a breakdown.
Lloyd Knight’s tribute to Martha Graham was more studied, sweeping, and reverent. Wearing a diaphanous white body length dress, he swirled and his limbs moved in fluid arcs and bends in fealty to her.
Garen Scribner’s interpretation of Brian Boitano was playful, smart, and funny. To the sound of skates screeching on ice, he created the illusion of an ice dancing routine while standing quite decidedly on solid ground. With the slow turn of his head towards an imaginary audience, he’d stand in one position suggesting he was gliding around a rink all the while standing still. It was a slowed down (to the point of stillness) version of an ice show and we could watch each gesture in isolation rather than fast, fluid, and on ice. The exaggeration of time made each movement uber-deliberate and over-pronounced giving the whole section a strange familiarity juxtaposed with the unconventional.
Reid Bartelme as a My Little Pony pony was surprisingly (or perhaps not) Dada-esque. With a dramatic pink ponytail used for punctuation and exaggerated birdsong in place of speech, it was not as playful as the subject matter might make you think. I found it the most impenetrable of the solos but not in a bad way. Rather it operated within the bizarre–as a child’s imaginary world might be with its own logic and rules.
When each of these individual solo pieces ended, the colorful lighting bled away into monochrome and the sound disappeared into silence. All that was left was a heap of a human on the floor. Sometimes with chest heaving. Sometimes leaving splat of sweat on the ground. The dancer was now the danced-out–which foreshadowed the darker aspects that would come in Act II with Ferver’s dancer who should not dance but does. Everything may be imaginable but everything has a cost.