Egon Schiele Paints Again in Pass the Blutwurst, Bitte

John Kelly and Mackenzie Meehan travel back to Austria.
Steven Schreiber

The current revival of John Kelly’s Pass the Blutwurst, Bitte—a tribute to the Viennese painter Egon Schiele—is itself such a lovely sausage that it practically begs for a side of sauerkraut. Kelly crams the show full of biography, symbolism, expressionism, and eroticism, stuffing the whole into a sturdy dance-theater skin. Though Kelly is now far older than Schiele ever was (he died of influenza at 28), he convincingly inhabits that slight, shock-headed artist. In this wordless piece, Kelly and two similarly dressed dancers (called Alter Egons) portray Schiele’s affair with his model, his arrest for pornography, his marriage, his painterly success, and that premature death. Live dance and mime, all lavishly scored, alternate with black-and-white filmed sequences.

Many of the techniques that Kelly employs—deconstruction, bricolage, a sweetly ironic detachment—likely seemed fresher when the piece debuted in 1986. Adjectives such as “fierce,” “extravagant,” and “spectacular,” all used in various reviews to describe the original, do not now apply. But intervening decades have dulled little of the show’s grace or its gentle humor, and Kelly remains as compelling a performer as ever, edging away from mere camp toward something more tender and more true. Twenty-four years on, Blutwurst remains a wiener . . . er, winner.

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