Jack Ferver is Playing Tinker Bell, But He’s Not a “Playful Queer Person” Right Now

March 16, 2020

“I’m in heaven right now,” Jack Ferver smiles over the phone. He was enjoying a leisurely breakfast with a couple of his castmates the morning after Leonard Bernstein’s Peter Pan had its first preview performance. This production of the lesser-known Bernstein score, officially opening tonight at The Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College (where Ferver teaches), doesn’t just feature choreography by the genre-mixing dancemaker: It has Ferver himself performing as Tinker Bell.

Why he begged to choreograph Bernstein’s Peter Pan

“Not a lot of people know about this Bernstein Peter Pan, but I listened to it well over a year ago and I fell in love with it. There are parts of it that remind me of Stravinsky, but are in the Bernstein aesthetic. I told Gideon Lester [Bard College’s artistic director for theater and dance] that I had to choreograph it. They weren’t sure if the director, Christopher Alden, even wanted a choreographer, but we met and I explained that my use of choreography is where language drops off. He was interested in that, and he looked at my work and agreed.”

Becoming Tinker Bell

“James Whiteside had asked me to be in a music video of his called “Duck Hunt.” Gideon sent that to Christopher, and then Christopher reached out to me about playing Tinker Bell. I didn’t think I wanted to do that. It seemed like a little much to bite off.

“My concern was that I would be asked to be some sort of arch, emcee character who looks like they’re controlling the whole thing. I was interested in what it means to draft a queer man to play this role, and how to subvert that. I don’t feel like a playful queer person right now. I am a body under attack, always have been, so I need to be able to work with that. I can’t just portray this as light.

“I felt really obsessed with the images of PJ Harvey from 1995, when PJ was essentially doing drag. She developed this persona with heavy eye makeup and big fake eyelashes, and the persona corrodes as the show goes on; it’s playful and terrifying all at once. That was my image of Tinker Bell.”

Photo by Maria Baranova, Courtesy Blake Zidell & Associates

Why concert dance needs previews

“I wish we had previews in dance. We need them. To not have them is to say that the audience isn’t a collaborator. And it is different because my personal work has text in it, so when people laugh or gasp you understand how it’s impacting people. Previews are the most luxurious residency I could imagine!”

Photo by Maria Baranova, Courtesy Blake Zidell & Associates

Taking a psychological approach to Tinker Bell

“If we think of Tinker Bell in terms of the non-gendered things, it’s a mercurial mood; Tinker Bell is borderline, they only have the capacity for one emotion at any time. I let the idea that our moods forget each other inform my choreography.

“The choreography is all over the map. Some of it is controlled, icy, lethal, sonic, a Dionysian quality. Tinker Bell hates Wendy—but how do we have this relationship without it becoming misogynistic? How does Tinker Bell fall in love with Wendy? How does Wendy come to save herself and join Peter and Tinker Bell psychically? How do the three of them triumph over evil?”

Ferver as Tinker Bell and Peter Smith as Peter Pan. Photo by Maria Baranova, Courtesy Blake Zidell & Associates

Hook and Peter Pan fight—without actual fight choreography

“This confrontation between Peter and Hook, I’m having Hook facing downstage, not Peter. He’s fighting Peter—fighting youth. Peter comes rushing down and starts dancing with the pirates. They become Lost Boys again—this is pleasure, this is the love that can always spring up even in tyranny. Peter keeps dancing. And that’s what exhausts Hook.”

How he chooses performers

“I feel really lucky that when I make my work, I make it for the people I fall in love with and want to make something for. I’ve never had auditions. I know what it is to be a performer. I know what it is to be treated like a puppet. And that is not the kind of maker that I am. I’m hyper-interested in people and what they have to say in a live setting.”

Tinker Bell (Jack Ferver) looks on as Wendy (Erin Markey) and Peter (Peter Smith) dance. Photo by Maria Baranova, Courtesy Blake Zidell & Associates

The luxury of live music

“It was a luxury to have Michael A. Ferrara, our music director, able to play live on the piano for rehearsals, and then being able to work with the live band as we’re setting the work. I’ve never had live music before, it’s such a huge gift. Now I want it all the time!”