JACK FERVER with Ivan Talijancicby Ivan Talijancic
Everything is Imaginable | New York Live Arts (April 4–7, 2018)
Never the one to shy away from difficult subject matter, Jack Ferver has created an idiosyncratic body of work over the past decade, managing to pull off an audacious feat of making his audience flinch and laugh simultaneously. In the press, his contemporary performance works have been referred to as “darkly humorous” (The New York Times), while The New Yorker went so far as to declare that they “look and feel like exorcisms” In his newest work, Everything is Imaginable, which premiered last month at New York Live Arts, Jack Ferver and his committed coterie of stunning performers (James Whiteside, Garen Scribner, Lloyd Knight, and Reid Bartelme) collectively exhume their personal queer histories and celebrate their childhood icons: Judy Garland, Brian Boitano, Martha Graham and…My Little Pony. In spite of the overtly humorous tone of the piece, an undercurrent of childhood bullying, the challenges of growing up queer without public role models and the AIDS crisis runs throughout. I caught up with Ferver in the aftermath of the premiere of his new work to discuss these issues.
Ivan Talijancic (Rail): I’m always interested in origin stories from fellow performance makers. How did this project come about?
Jack Ferver: It was commissioned [by New York Live Arts] two years ago. I started working on it in August of 2016. I had been on James [Whiteside’s] podcast and he told me a story of how when he was a child, he and another boy would squeeze lemon wedges over a candle to receive communication from Judy Garland. I loved this story so much, and began to think about friends in childhood. My childhood was isolated; I was bullied a lot. I wondered what it would be like to create a situation of “play” for queer men in their adult life.
However, the material I made was pre-election, and it didn’t make sense after it. I cut nearly all of it. I did, however, stay with a desire to create solos for my performers based off their childhood icons. Our generation didn’t have queer content in popular culture when we were children. Not that we have much now, but at least there is some. With this in mind, I wanted to uncover early fantasy identification, and how that would translate [to us] as adults with the rigor of our respective trainings as artists.
Rail: Each performer identified a childhood idol at the outset—how did you develop the choreography from there?
Ferver: Part of the gift of my NYLA commission was also the Live Feed residency. I worked on James’s, Lloyd’s, and Reid’s solos there. I cast Garen later, and I made his and mine through my Gibney DiP [Dance in Progress] residency. I am so grateful for how much time I had for this work. Each solo was a very different creation process, and I realized after I arranged the order, that they also follow a historical arc with my own relationship to dance.
James (Judy) comes from my youth doing musical theater; Lloyd (Martha) from my Graham training, which, while I started at thirteen, continued when I moved to New York; Garen (Brian) gets into a more post-modern landscape of abstraction, in this case, watching figure skating videos, reading about moves and then making that for socks on a stage; Reid (My Little Pony) is that uncanny thing that happens for Reid and I in rehearsal where I intuitively create [choreography] on him; mine (Catwoman) is a mix of my use of film abstraction for live art and my psychology-based choreographic practice.
Rail: I think there is an even deeper, uncanny layer to your practice. Psychological, yes, but also psychic.
Ferver: Channeling is important. A large part of my practice is a sense of being haunted. There is that curiosity between psychoanalyst versus psychic. If we are open, we can hear a lot, see a lot, make guesses that are true. I think of Ferenczi and Freud.
Rail: This work connects with and draws from early childhood trauma. When you got injured, two weeks before your premiere, was that scary? Or did you just go—”Duh, bring it on”?
Ferver: Both. I’m always scared making work. However, I remember being told that “Courage is being afraid and doing it anyway,” so I always keep that in mind.
I want to hit my mark as best as I can. I’m editing and adjusting all the way until premiere. We put in the intermission opening night.
Rail: Well, there is a reason why the kind of work we make is called “live art,” right?
Ferver: It is capable of creating experiences unlike anything else. The direct communication of live bodies telling a story to live bodies is a medicine that we need more than ever as we see how isolated we can get, holding our phones under the covers, or worse, in front of each other.
IVAN TALIJANCIC is a founder and artistic co-director of WaxFactory, a New York-based interdisciplinary art group. He is currently completing his first feature film, 416 MINUTES, and regularly writes on the arts for BOMB, London-based Bachtrack, and the Brooklyn Rail.