Review: Dancing Their Friends and Heroes (and My Little Pony)

Reid Bartelme, left, with Jack Ferver in Mr. Ferver’s “Everything Is Imaginable.”

It’s hard not to be instantly won over by Jack Ferver’s “Everything Is Imaginable,” which opened with a bespangled bang on Wednesday night as James Whiteside, the American Ballet Theater principal, lip synced and tap danced in heeled jazz shoes and a shimmering dress to Judy Garland’s rendition of “I Happen to Like New York.” As with much of Mr. Ferver’s work, darker currents coursed beneath a surface of spectacle and humor, here in the form of Mr. Whiteside’s almost maniacal allegiance to the song. At the end, as if exhausted by his own tenacity, he collapsed to the floor.

The solo was the first of five to take shape — and then deflate — on the stage of New York Live Arts, in a two-act work dealing with fantasy, friendship, loneliness, sexuality and the trauma of growing up gay in America. Assembling a cast of his well-known dancer friends, Mr. Ferver asked each to channel a childhood idol. Lloyd Knight, of the Martha Graham Dance Company, chose Graham. The Broadway performer Garen Scribner chose the figure skater Brian Boitano. Reid Bartelme, who with Harriet Jung designed the work’s artful collection of sheer and slinky costumes, threw a curveball with his selection of My Little Pony. Mr. Ferver, whose danced and spoken soliloquy makes up the second act, chose Catwoman in “Batman Returns.”

Mr. Ferver began his monologue by explaining that he was injured; two weeks ago in a rehearsal, he tore his calf muscle. His physical therapist, he said, advised him to imagine new choreography and, “most confining of all,” to not travel forward. It’s unclear to what extent this unexpected limitation shaped the work. But if “Everything Is Imaginable” feels fractured, its two acts inhabiting separate planes, that might be more intentional than accidental, reflecting the themes of isolation and self-fragmentation that come up in Mr. Ferver’s largely autobiographical text.

The solos in Act 1 — Mr. Whiteside’s ode to Garland; Mr. Knight’s scything, devotional sequence of classic Graham vocabulary; Mr. Scribner’s skating in socks to the sound of blades on ice; Mr. Bartelme’s starry-eyed, mane-tossing embodiment of My Little Pony — build to a bacchanalian cross between a pas de deux and a nightclub orgy as the four dance together. When Act 2 begins, Jeremy Jacob’s cartoonishly grandiose set — four columns and a fake chandelier framing the stage — has shrunken to dollhouse size. The petite Mr. Ferver, his back to the audience, towers over it. But what at first seems like his presiding powerfully over a world soon reads as his detachment from it. He is mostly alone, joined briefly by Mr. Bartelme in a duet to what sounds like a horror-movie score on repeat.

As he scoots and staggers through empty space, assuming deliberately awkward positions, recollections from his past pour forth. We hear about harassment by a high-school bully and a newspaper critic, the two conflated into one. Reality and illusion blur in stories of losing touch with himself and the people he loves. Mr. Ferver may at times hide behind humor, but here he reaches a more vulnerable state, throwing into relief the human need for friends and heroes, real and imagined.

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