PerformanceWeekend

Dancing with Jack

Performance still from "Two Alike"
Performance still from "Two Alike" (all performance photos by Paula Court)

1.
You have to admire how much it takes to perform a piece by yourself about yourself. I’ve seen solos that have failed — memorable only for bad decisions. I have also seen solos that have shifted the way I think about live art; a single gesture has moved me to tears. I have felt a facial expression ripple through my body. There is a tremendous amount of courage involved when choreographing and performing a solo for oneself: one does not form relations with other bodies on stage — instead it’s the dancer’s body in relation to itself, leading the way.

2.
Jack Ferver and Marc Swanson met in 2008. Both grew up in rural America, both are queer, both have created imaginary worlds. Two Alike, which premiered at The Kitchen last weekend, is their first collaboration, in which Swanson provides the setting for Ferver’s dreams and nightmares. I am familiar with Swanson’s cultish objects, but this is the first time I have ever seen Ferver dance.

Swanson’s gothic-like aesthetic, which explores identity in relationship to mythmaking, has a strong potential for fantasy. For Two Alike, a forest of mirrors, thin, gray column-like structures hanging from high ceilings (they swing back and forth upon Ferver’s touch). Darkness pervades.

Ferver comes out and lays a dark gray blanket on the floor. He lies down on his side, back towards the audience. His right arm extends upward and begins to steadily tick back and forth like a metronome. It’s almost like he’s in a therapy session. Time is passing.

We are in his psyche.

Performance still from "Two Alike"
Performance still from "Two Alike" (click to enlarge)

3.
“I had a dream about someone killing me,” Ferver begins.

Two Alike feels like a collage of diary entries interwoven with movement and sound — monotone chords by the musician Roarke Menzies. As a child, Ferver created invisible worlds often conceived from adolescent anxiety, fear, and flickers of hope.

Ferver positions himself on all fours, rear angled towards the audience. He heaves heavily while arching his back up and down in rapid succession. His head violently rocks back and forth in a steady head bang. He is trying to purge something — painful memories, images, stories, experiences that defy such easy categorizations — I am not entirely sure.

“Blackout.”

4.
As a child, Ferver reenacted scenes from his favorite movie, Return to Oz (1985), an unofficial sequel to the children’s classic The Wizard of Oz (1939). Here, he casually sits and narrates his favorite scene in which Dorothy (played by a young Fairuza Balk) escapes from the evil mental asylum:

… And the little girl yells, “Run Dorothy, run!” The girls make it out the door and run into the woods and the nurse is close behind them yelling “Come back!” … and the little girl is like, “grab onto this,” and it’s a piece of driftwood or something and they both go under the water …

He then reenacts the scene three times. He tiptoes quickly across the mirrored back wall and tumbles to the ground; his body is thrashed back and forth by fictional waves. Each time, I imagine Swanson’s set transforming in the background for Ferver’s Hollywood fantasy, and each time, I laugh along, even though it becomes less funny with each repetition.

5.

Christine Shan Shan Hou, "Dancing with Jack"
Christine Shan Shan Hou, "Dancing with Jack" (2012), gouache and collage on paper, 4.5 x 7 inches

6.
Ferver, in camouflage-esque shortalls (overalls with shorts for the bottom half, designed by Reid Bartelme), is an extremely poetic mover. He spreads his arms out like a winged creature while crossing his legs and stiffly walking towards a mirror positioned across the entire back wall of the stage. The wings come back several times in the piece; sometimes they tilt heavily to one side as if the weight were just too much to bear.

Repetition becomes necessity in Two Alike; it defines him. Swanson’s eerily reflective environment heightens Ferver’s fractured psychological space. The slips and cracks of Fever’s adulthood reveal themselves in his stories, and relived moments of desperation. In one of my favorite scenes he crawls around the stage with the blanket draped over his entire body, reminiscent of Janine Antoni’s disturbingly humanlike sculpture, “Saddle”:

When I was a kid they called me, “I’m going to kill you faggot!” And I would think about how if I killed them, and then I killed their friends and family … and on and on … and then I could be alone. As opposed to just feeling alone.

Two Alike is painted in gray and black hues and is also inhabited by imaginary animals:

And all the woodland creatures come out to be with me. There is a robin on my toe. Two squirrels under each wrist … And the animals are speaking … They are telling me things.

Fever’s monologues occasionally feel too obvious and didactic in their anti-bullying message. I wonder what Two Alike would be like without these speeches. Are there ways of conveying such intense feelings solely through movement? However, I respect Ferver for going into this dark space alone. I deeply admire his courage and queer sensibility, particularly his ability to grow and transform his stories into a public performance. I see Ferver as a child and I see him as an adult. I see his fear and his ambition. He is entirely himself, by himself.

7.
Near the end of the performance, he removes slate planks from a structure that resembles a dressing partition or a portion of a large open book, revealing a black sparkling surface, the bedazzled night sky.

The snow is falling. The snow is falling. My eyes are open and I can feel it falling into them…it’s just a big mirror overhead.

I am drawn to the simplicity of Ferver’s performance. There’s something magical about it. His large eyes gaze out into the audience; they are like mirrored doorways.

I am dancing with Jack — or, inside him.

Jack Ferver and Marc Swanson’s Two Alike ran at the Kitchen May 17–19, 2012.

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