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Review 1, 1-9: Altogether Out of the Past
John Kelly's 'Skin' Games
By Susan Yung
Copyright 2004 Susan Yung
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NEW YORK -- John Kelly
may have been better off born a century earlier than he was, destined
to follow a career as a great opera singer, artist, or silent film
actor. Instead, we got him, bag of tricks and all, and now he channels
for us all of those incarnations. Kelly kicked off Altogether Different
2004 at the Joyce Theater Tuesday. Five performers joined him in
"The Skin I'm In," a quasi-retrospective comprising performance,
film, and projections. The seamless evening offered up many of the
engaging characters Kelly has developed over the past decades, but
sadly felt more like a musty curio cabinet than a vibrant showcase.
A mantra of Kelly's
led off the program: "If I love something enough, I feel compelled
to inhabit it completely." On film or in live performance, Kelly
channelled Dagmar Onassis, daughter of Maria Callas; the Mona Lisa;
visual artist Egon Schiele; Vander Barbette, cross-dressing trapeze
artist; and Baptiste, the mime from the Marcel Carne film "The Children
of Paradise." (To read my review of Kelly's expanded show on this
character, "The Paradise Project," click
here.) He tied together the disparate characters by creating
a projected personal ad for each. This unifying ploy, while providing
some insight into his creations' psychological profiles, came off
as personals do -- a somewhat desperate fiction of one's idealized
self. Then again, many of Kelly's characters contain a thread of
desperation, an admission of his own obsessions and attempts at
inhabiting these other lives when ultimately he wakes up each morning
as John Kelly, 21st-century performance artist.
The film segments, by
Anthony Chase, best captured the pre-talkie era that Kelly seems
most comfortable with. Flickering, chiaroscuroed, burnt sienna images
were often accompanied by music recordings just as dirty, coughs
and all. (Kelly employs his noteworthy countertenor voice in the
finale.) Egon Schiele emerged as the most resonant live performance
character, centering around a nude model sketching session for three
Schiele figures ("alter-Egons"). The Egons, arranged in a circle,
leapt over one another with sharply defined legs and spun, whirling
their tablets overhead. In an fine example of low-tech special effects,
a couple stuck their heads through a hole in a painting, extending
the visual depth of the work even more.
The least successful
segment focused on the character of Orpheus. A nightclub in Paris
was the setting for the underworld, and its denizens jitterbugged,
mugged and posed endlessly, like a high school pageant. The scene
offered up one moving moment, when Orpheus asks in French where
he can find the Champs d'Elysee. He is greeted with indifferent
shrugs, and translates his question into English: "Where can I find
the Elysian fields?" In the end, Kelly's work seems at its best
on film, where his extensive preparation is visible through the
precision of the caricatures, and editing and effects focus the
character's context and era concisely. In any case, would-be time
traveller Kelly is stuck here in this lifetime; at least he has
company in his pantheon of characters, and us to visit with them.
Nina Goldman, Rebecca
Jung, John Kelly, Daryl Owens, Christopher Williams, and David Zurak
performed; Agnieszka Kunska designed the lighting.
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