Adapting a text from his subject’s diaries, novels, and letters, performance artist John Kelly has fashioned a dance-theater piece based on the fantastical life of Samuel Steward (1909-1993), a gay novelist, tattoo artist, author of erotic fiction, and, according to Kelly, unabashed sexual adventurer.
Underneath the Skin, commissioned by the NYU Skirball Center in New York, introduces audiences to the brave creative spirit who was Rudolph Valentino’s lover; a friend of Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, Thornton Wilder, Andre Gide and Thomas Mann; collaborator with sex researcher Alfred Kinsey; tattoo artist, and author. The piece features Kelly as Steward, joined by three dancers.
In an artist’s statement, Kelly says, “My aim is to utilize my experience as a way to evoke – through the ‘character’ of Samuel Steward – the details of a life that was driven, dark, sexy and cerebral, but also virtuosic, courageous, celebratory – and in its own way a liberated manifestation of human expression.”
John Kelly is a performance and visual artist, vocalist, and dancer specialized in autobiographical or character-driven performance work. He has received two Obie Awards, two Bessie Awards, two NEA American Masterpieces Awards, and fellowships from The American Academy in Rome, and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.
There is a book on Steward that accompanies the performance: Secret Historian (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2011). The author is Justin Spring.
Underneath the Skin | NYU Skirball Center, New York | Oct 11, 12