Jack Ferver unveils All of a Sudden at Abrons Arts Center

The witty Jack Ferver talks about his new work, All of a Sudden, a dance-theater twist on Tennessee Williams

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Time Out New York: Are you dancing in this?
Jack Ferver:
I am, and I’m really excited. Working with Jacob has changed something. I haven’t had a male partner to dance with like this before. We have a Showgirls duet, which is just fun. We have another duet that I really love. It’s pushed me in a new direction. A lot of it is about a sense of intimacy. I think most of the relationships in my work have been pretty harsh and pretty violent. There’s definitely still neurosis in the piece; I’m still interested in showing that side of people so that we ventilate it and have some catharsis in laughter or unease—both generally. [Laughs] But there’s a real sensitivity to my relationship with Jacob and also to my own feelings about friendship and support. Before, things were pretty dark. It’s dark and light now. I also have a solo. I can see going forward where a script will become less and less for me as I learn more how to do the script part and dance. There’s so much humor in the text, as well as the despair and fear; in dance, it’s also about how there are all those layers in that as well, so it’s not so heavy. So the dance part isn’t the dance part. I’ve become less interested in seeing that in dance. 

Time Out New York: In seeing what exactly?
Jack Ferver:
In seeing a sense of heaviness and self-importance, which can happen pretty quickly. The sense of self-pity and indulgence. For this, I’m looking at it all—the humor and the sensitivity and fear and strength. It’s why I keep going to dance. It’s why I haven’t just written a play. This piece has about a 30-page script, but then there’s also all this dance and much of the script is choreographed on top of it. We talked about that a couple of years ago—how the text itself reads choreographically. That’s where I go. It’s how I operate. Otherwise I would have written a pilot by now. [Laughs] I would have figured out how to take these relationships and put them into a bunch of kids living in Greenpoint.

Time Out New York: For instance.
Jack Ferver:
For instance! [Laughs] I love that dance can do something that theater alone cannot. There is an immediate effect. Words can lie and, as Martha says, movement never lies. What Josh has pointed out is there’s this script, and then the dance comes and the dance puts the script in a vice grip and then the script gets better, and then the dance puts the script in a vice grip. What I’m looking to do in the next one is to build dance using script and then take the script out. In my work, dance comes at that place where the words run out. Or, for example, in Rumble Ghost, it’s Reid and Breanna [O’Mara] doing this pretty extreme adagio with attitudes and battements and extreme developpés that were made to create a dissociated stage so that you were aware of this other thing happening while the script is going on so it kind of kept pulling you or haunting in this way: You couldn’t quite be in the middle of the action.

Time Out New York: And that’s great when you’re not completely aware of it.
Jack Ferver:
That’s what I was thinking about in terms of haunting—a feeling that something’s moving over there while this domestic, quotidian fight is going on over here. In [Michelle Mola,] Me, Michelle, we made a last dance at the end of it; it was the poison dance. In Two Alike, the whole piece was a dance poem.

Time Out New York: How exactly do you incorporate dance in All of a Sudden?
Jack Ferver:
First, we have the Showgirls dance, which is the big, fun, explosive thing. It’s also the campiest use of dance in the piece and a lot of the work has been about a big moment of camp and then everything underneath that: Why does anyone use camp in the first place? How do we shield ourselves to mask insecurity? Then as we shift into Suddenly Last Summer, that whole scene is highly choreographed. We’re doing it—we’re dancing our way through it, because it’s a really outrageous play. Williams wrote these plays that are scripted to have all this music going on over them. In the play, there are all these cues of where music should be coming in as well as a sound of the jungle and all these beasts and so that’s where I thought we would do dance. The dance is what’s taking the whole scene on its journey.

Time Out New York: Tell me about the second duet.
Jack Ferver:
It feels like the turning point in the piece, which is very much the dancing of numerous relationships that are perhaps more spelled out through the text in other places, and this being the psychic choreography. That’s what most of the choreography is: the psychic manifestation. In terms of teaching, I begin by teaching people how to make dance based on authentic movement, so it is about coming into states of being and building choreography from there. And the same thing with the solo. The simplest way to answer that is that the dances are these psychic manifestations. Even in Suddenly Last Summer: it’s dramaturgically choreographed off the lines. The next piece I’m working on with Marc is The Maids by Jean Genet.

Time Out New York: Do you play Elizabeth Taylor in All of a Sudden?
Jack Ferver:
I do, kind of. You’ll see it in the piece. There’s some onstage argument about that. I don’t want to give too much away, but Josh has a pretty funny line, and I’m pretty sure my response to that line is what happened in rehearsal. Someone asked how much of the parts where I’m playing myself come from rehearsal? How much is real? And it’s such a question that I don’t want to answer. I feel it takes away the tension for what is going on for people. I feel it’s very true to life. I’ve had interactions with people—I think something’s happened and then you go out to coffee with them and say, “What’s going on?” and your whole story line is off. Where you feel something’s gone down between you and a friend, you get together, and they were upset because of the taxes they had to pay that day. It didn’t end up being about you. That uncertainty and ambiguity is in life.

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