The Dagmar Onassis Story (1984/1990)

Written, Directed & Performed by John Kelly
Film Sequences by Anthony Chase
Set Design by Huck Snyder

Music by Bellini, Verdi, Proch, Gounod

Kelly’s admiration for the opera singer Maria Callas prodded him to create a somewhat autobiographical work in which he portrays a fan who is driven to embody her through the creation of her fictitious daughter, an obsessed punk diva named Dagmar Onassis. The antics of this female alter ego drives him to near self-destruction. He survives, as does his love of ‘La Divina’ Callas.

Originally performed live as a solo performance that interacted with super 8mm film projections by Anthony Chase, and the hand-painted sets by Kelly’s partner the visual artist Huck Snyder, who died of AIDS in 1993. The film sequences provided cinematic close-ups of the live stage action, debauched party locations, and documentary-style footage on the bar and in front of The Pyramid Club. This was Kelly’s first evening length performance work, an early collaboration with Mr. Chase. It premiered at the Pyramid Club in 1984, and was subsequently performed at the Collective for Living Cinema, Café Schmidt, in Berlin and Munich, and The Decade Show at the New Museum in 1990. CLICK HERE FOR LINK TO LIVE PERFORMANCE of THE DAGMAR ONASSIS SHOW on NEW MUSEUM ARCHIVE.

Kelly’s live performance was subsequently filmed (on the stage of the Pyramid Club) by Mr. Chase and edited with the existing projection sequences to form this valuable 30-minute version of the work of these seminal East Village artists.

The work also includes appearances by Tanya Ransom, Marlene Menard, The Mona Lisa, Paula Swede (The Swedish Housewife), George Carstens, Tabboo! (Stephen Tashjian), Hapi Phace, Philly, Hattie Hathaway, Jimmy Paulette, David Crocker, Robin Cradle, Ira, and Kuka the South African Flying Pig Dog.

‘THE DAGMAR ONASSIS STORY” film is in the permanent collection of The Museum of Modern Art

  • Photo by Dona Ann McAdams