Pass The Blutwurst, Bitte (1986 & 1995)

The story of Viennese Expressionist artist Egon Schiele (1890-1918)
Choreography and Direction: John Kelly
Music: Adolphe Adam, Ludwig von Beethoven, Alban Berg, Arrigo Boito, Witold Lutoslawski, Gustav Mahler, Modest Mussorgsky, Henry Purcell, Richard Strauss, Vienna Choir Boys, Hugo Wolf, traditional Tyrolean
Film Sequences: Anthony Chase
Props & Furniture: Huck Snyder
Lighting Design: Stan Pressner
Costume Design: James Reilly; Gary Lisz; Trine Walther

Version I premiere: Inroads, New York, January 1984
Version II premiere: Dance Theatre Workshop, New York, November 1986
Revivals: La MaMa E.T.C., New York, 1995

WITH: John Kelly (Egon Schiele); Marleen Menard (Valli Neuzil); Vivian Trimble/Dina Emerson/Victoria Boomsma (Edith Schiele); Hayo David/John Beal/Jonathan Kinzel (Alter Egon I); and Jan Barzac/Anthony Chase/Steven Craig (Alter Egon II)


Pass the Blutwurst, Bitte is an ensemble work for five performers that tells the story of the short and tragic life of Viennese Expressionist artist Egon Schiele (1890-1918). As an art student, I’d been deeply inspired by Schiele’s work. My goal as a visual artist was to draw as well as he did, to find that incredibly accurate and expressive line, the total response.

            My obsession began with emulation, and I eagerly adopted a device Schiele had advanced in a profound manner––the self portrait. Creating these paintings and drawings cast me once again into a relationship with the mirror––an object that has become a major companion to my creative life. A refuge to linger in reflection, a window open to the mystery of reality, a tool for establishing a sense of self.

            Unlike the dance studio mirror where the emphasis is on the bigger picture, the body as seen in distance and full proportion, the physical self moving from shape to shape, my use of the mirror in my attempts to draw my own likeness was about grasping moments witnessed in time and giving them life via the accumulated recording of detail, like the progressive completion of a puzzle or a highly active visual diary, a way to tangibly capture the self. Working alone, I would locate a pose. With music as my soundtrack, I then began a journey of scrutiny and confrontation. I worked harder than I had worked on anything before. With my hero Egon Schiele pointing the way, I aimed to penetrate his aperture but to emerge into a place that I could call my own.

            Years later, in Pass The Blutwurst, Bitte, I merged performance techniques with these memories of the intense act of drawing. Searching for ways to communicate the private experience of drawing into a theatrical language, I combined my experiences as draftsman and dancer and aimed to become Schiele––to arrive at his essence and to understand his creative process. Through choreography, film, on-stage drawing and music, a series of scenes and tableaux show Schiele in his studio, with his lover-model Valli and being thrown into jail on trumped-up pornography charges. Upon his release, he attempts to gain respectability through marriage. Finally, on the threshold of happiness, his wife Edith, who is six months pregnant, dies in the terrible influenza epidemic of 1918. Egon, twenty-eight years old, dies three days later.

            In an early climactic moment of the piece, I crouched on the stage floor, gazing with laser-beam intensity at a blank rectangular piece of foam core. After a film projection of me as Egon successfully painting a self-portrait, I danced with that universal white rectangle, symbol of canvas, of paper, of soul transferred to surface––dancing with a fury to illustrate the ecstasy that results from genuine effort, an ecstasy that obliterates the ego and reveals unfeigned spirit. My obsession with trying to understand Schiele’s essence had helped me to discover my own.

© John Kelly 2019/2001

  • Photo by Paula Court