Monthly Archives: July 2012

Performance artist John Kelly :: ’The hustle doesn’t stop’

*published on 16 July 2012 on THE EDGE

John Kelly sits across the table from me at Cafe Grumpy holding a bright orange cup of tea and his soulful face fills the room as his countenance cocoons the noise, creating somber rumination. Kelly does this with no effort. It is as if even tea is a performance piece.

John Kelly grew up in Jersey City, a second-generation Irish kid in a working class family and then he zoomed onto the road less taken. Kelly trained as a dancer with American Ballet Theatre, the Harkness House for Ballet Arts, with modern dance pioneer Charles Weidman, and James Waring.

As a visual artist he studied painting and drawing with Larry Rivers and Barbara Pearlman at Parsons School of Design, and painting at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts School.

John Kelly as Jean Cocteau  

Transformative work

His performance studies include Decroux corporeal mime at the Theatre d’lAnge Fou in Paris, trapeze and tight-wire with the Pickle Family Circus in San Francisco, and voice with Peter Elkus at the Academia Musicale Ottorino Respighi in Assisi, Italy.

When you see him perform, really embody Joni Mitchell, a crowd favorite, or Egon Schiele, or on Broadway in James Joyce’s “Dubliners” or as Spencer Reese in “The Clerk’s Tale,” a film by James Franco, you see not only the moment in front of you, but all Kelly’s connective tissue. He is fraught with purpose.

Kelly’s personal works embrace the autobiographical, cultural and political phenomenon such as the Berlin Wall, Troubadours, the AIDS epidemic, and Expressionistic Film. He also created ambitious character studies based on historic figures such as Caravaggio, Antonin Artaud, and Jean Cocteau.

Every piece of his diverse, perhaps even obscure training is incorporated into the salmagundi that is Kelly. His work is transformative for the audience and for him as well.

John Kelly as Joni Mitchell  (Source:Frank H. Jump)

A middle-aged artist

Kelly’s relationship to the mirror began in the dance studio, and extended to include a practice of self-portraiture, comprised of drawing, painting, photography and video.

He is a relentless seeker and questioner. Even before we began to delve into his background and training John Kelly was off discussing our times. “Catastrophe, at this point economic in nature, but it has been the AIDS crisis too, it forces all of us to reconfigure and artists are in the vanguard. I am looking to see how can this ground swell of frustration, as evinced by the Occupy movement, be built upon to have an effect on others. Many of us are asking this. A big part of being an artist is the capacity to sustain yourself while questioning.”

In order to do this John Kelly has been participating, as a self-described middle-aged artist, in a series of workshops offered by the New York Foundation for the Arts, aimed at fiscal wisdom. He mentions this as a segue to discuss the importance of artists knowing themselves as both a product and muse.

“Being an artist, I now see is a mission and one must have skills to ensure that you can sustain and have longevity. The American culture does not value art and artists the way the European culture does and so often artists are almost forced to travel to have their work fully appreciated. I know in my case that is true. And so I have become very peripatetic. I have been in a relationship with an actor, Brent Harris, for eight years, but so much of that time is spent apart.

“The hustle doesn’t stop for me. I am looking for a curator for my art work. I need to constantly connect the dots to who I am to explore performance and visual art.”

John Kelly in the poster for his work, “The Escape Artist,” 2009  

Performing in drag

For some folks, of a certain age, John Kelly is evocative of the time in the 1980s in the East Village, when great art could be found in bars like Limbo, and the Pyramid Club; Kelly certainly participated in that surge.

“I performed in drag, yes I was an artist at heart, but drag felt like the nastiest, most fucked up thing you could do and it felt powerful. But while I was doing drag I was also painting my self-portraits seeing myself as a possibility and as someone who was full of wonder. As I painted I was wondering and conjuring something into existence. It was a time of stretching and defining the parameters of your psyche and creating a template for my creative life.”

This template is rich and includes exhibitions at MOMA, The Kitchen, the American Academy in Rome, and Biagiotti Progetto Arte. Residencies at Yaddo; The MacDowell Colony; The Sundance Institute Theatre Program; and the P.S.1 National Studio Artist Program. Kelly’s has garnered 2 Bessie Awards; 2 Obie Awards; 2 NEA American Masterpiece Awards; a Guggenheim and an American Choreographer Award.

John Kelly ’Gravel’, archival digital print, 30″ x 45″, 2010. From the exhibit, ’Schiele-Kelly’  

Daunting breadth

I want to continue because his breadth is daunting. As a singer he performed John Cage with the San Francisco Symphony and with Laurie Anderson, and Antony and The Johnsons. The range of performers and venues in his music is enough to gain him a vaunted place in the pantheon of high art.

Yes, Kelly is lauded and applauded and yet still an artist of his caliber and genre is awarded no security to produce work, just the electric verve of desire to create and be seen. If the lesson of Kelly’s work and life can enlighten us, it is to value, visit, and actively support artists wherever we find them. One would be hard pressed to discover any artist as multi-talented as John Kelly.

Writing includes ’JOHN KELLY’, a visual autobiography, published by the 2wice Arts Foundation in association with Aperture; essays for Movement Research Journal, Inside Arts, Metro New York, The Italian Journal, and Performing Arts Journal. He is currently working on a memoir.

To learn more about John Kelly and learn about upcoming appearances, including a cabaret performance at Joe Pub’s in the fall, visit his website. To purchase the ’Schiele-Kelly’ visit this website.

Watch John Kelly as Joni Mitchell perform “Blue”:

Watch John Kelly perform a sequence from his performance piece, “”Pass The Blutwurst, Bitte”:

Cirque du Soleil: Zarkana

*published on 23 June 2012 in The EDGE

Cirque du Soleil started nearly 30 years go as a gaggle of 20 street performers in Montreal. Now a mega-brand with 5,000 employees including more that 1,500 performing artists from nearly 50 different countries, Cirque still regularly evokes the ethereal magic that seduced so many of us decades ago.

Hoop dancers from "Zarkana"

Hoop dancers from “Zarkana”  (Source:Publicity Office)

Even though more than 100 million spectators in nearly 300 cities on six continents have seen Cirque du Soleil, on the night of the summer solstice in New York’s opulent Radio City Music Hall, it seemed that my guest, a first time viewer, was enchanted and transfixed. This newest show, “Zarkana,” is written and directed by Francois Girard and it seems loosely to be a quest for identity in the boundless abysses that is one’s inner space or in outer space.

What I find with quality circus is that it exhorts me with the best of what we humans can be within our physical limitations. We see acrobats, high-fliers, jugglers, dancers and they all seem to have transcended the slowness or clumsy moves with which normal humans struggle so regularly. And they also make giant mistakes right in front of us.

The ball bounces wrong, the catch from the flier is missed, or the ladder wiggles and the tower of acrobats jumps to the ground. And they do it again. They take it from the top right before our eyes. There is no CGI to make things bigger or faster, more colorful or safer. No, the allure is in the vibrant reality. And we do watch on the edge of our seats.

Zarkana spun a web of seduction where as each act took the stage, artfully interspersed with a duo of clowns who could have come out of Waiting For Godet for all their hapless wonder, I thought “Oh this is the one I most love, this is definitely the one.” And so it went all evening.

My first love was the sturdy Asian acrobat who walked up a straight ladder which he balanced on the stage floor. He also deftly balanced a teetering ballerina in canary yellow tights on his forehead. Then she took a ladder and climbed up it as it rested on him, until they were a weaving tower of terror and beauty.

Then my crush was a princess high above the proscenium in a nest of purple feathers wriggling and rolling as she sang a mournful tune. Quickly an athletic blond in peach colored spangles was tossed and somersaulted on a flexible balance beam flying high into the air and snagging my attention and affection. Then there were fire breathers in a Venetian palace, and a clown shot from a cannon floated right across the audience dripping white feathers. From his launch into space came another reality where everyone from projections to real cast members were inside metal hula-hoops of varying sizes running, spinning and becoming planets.

The evening is packed with dream-like images, ones you can call up when the fitfulness of modern life threatens to unseat your ability to drift off into the arms of Morpheus. Save the vision of a stage filled with upside-down umbrellas all glowing as performers dangle as if portraying a dyslexic Mary Poppins dance. Or the beautiful sand drawings rendered on an enormous glass desk, which resembles a snowball.

An artist sits at the desk drizzling blue sand onto the desktop and we see everything enlarged on an overhead projector. Images of the scenes we just marveled out are replayed for us in ever changing sand drawings to oohs and ahhs. A young prince in loose clothes dances; really his pace is so languid that he drawls his dance, as if his movements echo the slowness of the South. He is almost limpid as he melts down, flips over and drips his body to and fro.

The music is a combination of drones, songs mostly rendered in indecipherable tongues and is trance inducing. The entire show lasts about 90 minutes, but is packed with enough visual beauty, awe inspiring athletic prowess and wonder to inspire a full summer’s worth of reverie.

“Zarkana” runs through September 2 at Radio City Music Hall, 1260 6th Avenue in New York. For info or tickes, call 866-858-0008 or visit or

Protect 30,000 Women’s Lives In Ghana Now

The silo is up in Gushie…women flood in to join the program.

By Danielle Grace Warren and Wicki Boyle – Project Founders

Kids at first Just Shea safety gear distribution.

Kids at first Just Shea safety gear distribution.

On June 4th we had our first “Collective Welcome to Summer” to benefit the Just Shea Program under a full moon on the terrace of a fellow GlobalGiving supporter’s office in mid-town Manhattan.

We were inspired to create this event for our supporters because of the success of our GlobalGiving Campaign. Many of you came to toast to these incredible women with us, and the overwhelming sentiment, what we found ourselves repeating to one another throughout the evening: It doesn’t take a whole lot to create an enormous impact in the lives of so many.

Since our last update we’ve raised enough funds to include an additional 25 women in our Just Shea Program. That means 25 more women will be provided with safety gear so they can harvest without fear of vipers and mambas, and become members of the Gushie Women’s Shea Nut Collective. This will help them earn more income from their Shea so they can better provide for themselves and their children.

In April we we’re thrilled to report that we completed the construction of the first-ever cooperative women’s storage silo. (Check out the photos of the building going up here!) Since then, more than 100 additional women in Gushie have come forward, asking to participate in the safety gear and silo program. And we are committed to raising the funds to make that happen.

With your help, the Just Shea Program is giving women the collective leverage they need to create, from the village up, one village at a time, a just and equitable supply chain for their Shea nuts—and it doesn’t take a whole lot to make that happen.

Tipagaya (“We Appreciate”)

The Gushie Silo is on the main N.S. Hwy in Ghana

The Gushie Silo is on the main N.S. Hwy in Ghana

Their mom

Their mom’s are in the Gushie Sheanut Collective.

And we think we

And we think we’re pressured into multi-tasking?!

A Collective Welcome to Summer.

A Collective Welcome to Summer.


Music Man: Violinist Charlie Siem plays the heartstrings of the fashion world

*published on CBS Watch magazine

IF MUSIC IS THE FOOD OF LOVEmay Charlie Siem play on. A one-man argument that there is an instrument sexier than the saxophone, Siem has managed to bridge the classical world with the cutting edge. He has played with the London Symphony Orchestra—with whom he recently released his third recording—and he’s performed with Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend and Boy George. He’s privately serenaded the likes of Lady Gaga, Patti LaBelle and theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, and he’s the face (and body) of the British fashion house Dunhill.

Not bad for a 25-year-old whose instrument of seduction is a circa 1735 Guarneri del Gesu d’Eguille violin.

Siem, who was educated at Eton and Oxford, remembers being 3 years old and hearing his first Beethoven violin concerto on the radio. The London native begged his parents to learn to play, and he has never looked back. He rakishly describes the relationship with his violin as one with a lover: “She is an intense mistress. My life is consumed by playing the violin. It requires unending attention from me, and I so happily give it. Day in and day out, for now it is the most rewarding relationship in my life.”

Which isn’t to say Siem doesn’t dabble here and there. After meeting the fashion photographer Mario Testino, he was asked to play at a book party for supermodel Kate Moss. “I went and played Paganini’s Caprice, and as luck would have it the casting agent from Dunhill was at the party. He asked me to do the campaign and that’s it. Really, it’s random.”

Perhaps random if you look like that. Yet Siem seems unfazed by the notoriety in his native England, thanks to what he calls a “watertight mind.” Siem explains, “It’s basically the idea that you don’t let anything creep in to corrupt. The slightest little drop of water will creep in and ruin the entire temple. All it takes is the glimmer of a doubt to creep in and ruin the entire project. You seal up your mind so that you don’t let insecurities or personal issues ruin the overall well-being.”

Siem has faced criticism for his theatrical playing style, which he calls “the virtuosic side of the violin,” but it is wrought from endless practice. “I am at the beginning of my career where you develop your technique and add tools,” he says humbly. But his modesty masks a determination that would make the most ambitious pop star proud: Inside his violin case is a photograph of the eyes of a tiger, which remind him to stay the course.

“They are a metaphor for me as a performer dealing with pressure. Just see the eyes of the tiger,” he says. “Go to the edge of risk. When you feel at your most challenged is when you will do your very best. It is the challenge to overcome your biggest fears, which are also your biggest desires.”