With seemingly the entire dance world obsessed with some combination of the tribulations of training for Black Swan and real-life dancers being accused of eating too many sugarplums (gee: BALLET IS HARD!), John Kelly went about his Zen-like way, channelling Egon Schiele in Pass the Blutwurst, Bitte, at La Mama, which ends Dec 19. Artistic polymath Kelly taps choreography, acting, vocalization, and film to craft a multi-faceted, sublimely poetic portrait of the painter which was first performed 28 years ago — coincidentally, the terribly young age at which the painter passed away.
The performance feels pared away rather than built up, as reduced to its structure as Schiele painted himself in his portraits. The Vienna Secession seemed to embody the conscious correction of excess with an imposed asceticism. Schiele embraced this reductive attitude, in opposition to fellow Secessionist Gustav Klimt’s visual opulence. Schiele boiled down his fraught portraits into a spaghetti bowl of lines and some strategic patches of acid hues against a white ground. Kelly relies surprisingly little on depicting Schiele’s actual artwork, though one of the few instances is memorable — he scrapes away a thick layer of vanilla pudding paint to reveal the portrait of muse Wally, intriguingly played by Timberly Canale (who impressively chugged several steins of beer to accompany her wurst).
Schiele’s complex personality and dominance are represented by two clones similarly dressed in white shirts and black pants (Luke Murphy and Eric Jackson Bradley). Besides reinforcing the artist’s character, they double as stagehands. Film clips add to the dimensionality of the portrait; deliberately antiqued, they feature Kelly drawing on the lens, the outline of which serendipitously aligns with the artist’s face. Kelly takes some of Schiele’s signature alien contortions of the elbow, fingers, and posture and parlays them into powerful, simple dance phrases. When his pregnant wife Edith (MacKenzie Meehan) falls ill, she drops a bag of oranges, which thud sickeningly and scatter around her feet like measles. The vicious influenza plague which took her life just three days before Schiele’s is here represented by a red-cloaked figure and fog. Kelly sings a haunting coda in the finale, displaying his formidable voice for what he has said is, sadly, his last turn in the role. Miss the final performances at your own risk.