Questa intervista è la traduzione in inglese dell'intervista apparsa in italiano su XL -La Repubblica il 22 Gennaio 2015 col titolo Linsday Kemp: il carisma e la grazia di un maestro (la trovate QUI).
Domani uscirà sul domenicale, l'inserto culturale di Repubblica, il racconto del nostro incontro, proprio per la rubrica INCONTRI.
Kemp is an extraordinary artist who has lived through nearly 50
years of underground culture, with the charisma and the grace of a
is considered one of the gurus of contemporary dance theater and in
his long career his art has attracted true legends of art such as
Nureyev and Fellini, Mick Jagger and Ken
Russell. Above all, he had a decisive influence on the history of
rock. Suffice to say that among his pupils we can include Kate
Bush, Peter Gabriel, and especially David Bowie,
who more than anyone has admittedl his influence.
finally is back on stage around Italy.
his show Kemp
will perform on the 13th
of March in Rome
at the Teatro Brancaccio and on the 25th of March in Genova
at the Teatro Politeama.
article is indeed is a crime against humanity. No written
transposition, in fact, can express the delight of conversing with
the greatest living mimic artist .
joke, every memory, every nuance or allusion of Kemp is indeed
amplified and made memorable by the enchantment of his elusive
iridescent facial expressions, the playful dance of his voice, now
mocking, now moved, now deep, now touching.
met him at his residence in Livorno, the day after Marianne
Faithfull 's concert in Lucca. This coincidence was an
opportunity to rewind the thread of memories that evoke a wonderfully
rich career .
did you meet Marianne Faithfull?
met her years ago, and I can certainly call myself one of her
admirers. She's very talented; she is a singer, an actress, a
performer at 360 degrees. I met her many years ago, in the late '60s,
I think thanks to Mick Jagger. I do not remember ... maybe
Marianne knew him from before. Yes ... I met Mick Jagger
through Bianca. She followed the tip tap lessons of a colleague of
mine and during an exercise she broke her ankle. We went, therefore,
to visit her in the hospital, and I found myself sitting on the other
side of the bed of Mick Jagger. It was love at first sight!
Jagger was already an international rock star at the time. "
you tell us something of your friendship?
of course, he was already a big rock idol. I remember he came to see
me during the first version of Flowers in London, in 1974. He
became a great admirer of mine, and when we moved to Broadway he sent
me a bouquet of 101 white lilies. At least, I think they were 101,
every time I tell this story I increase the number (laughs)! A few
days later I was interviewed by a major magazine, and I got them to
photograph me while I embraced that bouquet... I held the flowers
until they were completely dead! "
of the keys to your new show, Kemp
is the constant reinvention of yourself. Can you talk a bit about the
presented the preview last summer, then in Parma a few weeks ago,
and then we will return to Rome, at the Brancaccio, on tthe 13th
of March. I will be accompanied by David Haughton, Daniela Maccari,
Ivan Ristallo and James Vanzo. In the first part of the show we will
present a new adaptation of the History
of Free Soldier
The second part consists of some of my classics alongside some new
stories. After Rome we have a show in Genoa on the 25th
of March, and then we will go to Spain. Finally, I'll be on the road
again! I used to be constantly on tour but it's a long time since
doing one, I miss the road. Before I complained that there was too
much to do ... now there's too little! "
a line from Bob Dylan says,: "Yesterday everything was going too
fast. Today, it's moving too slow "... not surprisingly he's
been constantly on tour since years...
your great career, one would think that Kemp Dances is a sort of
anthology of your work, is that correct?
I didn't imagine it that way. Yes, in some parts we will perform
pieces I already proposed several times, but every time I go on stage
it is always a reinvention. That's why the subtitle of this show
because they are works that I love to run, but each time I play them
in a different way."
mentioned Stravinsky but we can not avoid to mention Nijinskij, the
legendary dancer who you've played many times on stage.
is one of my classical interpretations, that Kemp
brought back to life. He was an incredible character, worshiped as
the greatest dancer in the world, a living legend who was mad,
invaded by a visionary and even paranoid mysticism. He wrote a diary
when he was already in a mental hospital in the Swiss mountains, that
is impressive ... suspended between ecstasy and tragedy ... then he
locked himself in silence for more than 30 years. "
it is a pity that practically we do not have any videos of his
performances. How could you interpretate a legend of the dance with
very little documentation, if not his famous diaries?
played the music on which Nijinskij danced. And, somehow, I was
able to summon his spirit. Before going on stage, I merge myself in a
sort of trance. For me it is very important. "No trance, no
dance!". So, it is as if we enter in another world. In the case
of Nijinskij, the world of the Des Ballets Russes company
and the art of the avant-garde. I studied very deeply Nijinsky
and I met him through his own words, photos, biographies, through the
stories of those who saw him dance. I always felt that Nijinsky was
present in spirit when I played him, I feel the same about Garcia
Lorca or Isadora Duncan when I impersonate them. But at
the same time, I am not imitating them. I am myself in the role of
Elizabeth I, Lewis Carrol, Puck or during Salome's dance of
the seven veils. In my interpretation there is just me as there are
all the great personalities that I embody on the scene. "
you talk about trance, would you define it a as some kind of
I would say that it is my type of personal meditation. I have had
experience of meditation but I never followed a particular fixed
teaching. But I've been there, like so many, in those years, Mick
Jagger, Bowie, everyone was interested, the Beatles went to India
etc. I studied in particular Tai Chi. All my classes start with a
moment of peace and quiet, some form of meditation. And then the
music. And then you surrender to the music, like a tree surrenders to
the breeze, allowing the music to transport you to another world. And
so suddenly ... we are in Japan! Or Spain. I always hope that this
trance is what Garcia
called the Duende, the other side of the moon that is within
ourselves. I do not recite, I actually live the experience. Like the
children when they play, for them that is the reality. Do not act, be
yourself. If you can follow this principle, you are never repetitive.
You're real. "
this approach you made shows like Onnagata and Mr.Punch,
which are intimately linked to the concept of "mask".
characters were similar to those of the "Commedia dell'arte".
Their faces were not actually "their" faces. Mr.Punch,
well I played him with the mask of my face. But, in fact, instead of
a mask I used makeup! I painted my face with my imagination and what
I saw in the mirror. When I put makeup on my face, I paint what I
imagine. I think it's a little how to bring outside the inner and
bring inside what is external. Making visible what is invisible. "
attracted you in Mr.Punch's character? It almost seems that you want
to reinvent the tradition.
characters I play are the characters that I could be, or want to be.
And with which I identify. I'm not an actor, see: the actors identify
themselves with what they are not, but I identify myself with what i
am. These are all aspects of myself, loving and aggressive, wise and
foolish, all aspects of our personality which is composed, as pieces
of a jigsaw puzzle. I've always been attracted to Punch because he is
a lot like me! Punch is the other side of Divine, the character of
Jean Genet that I played in Flowers. Punch is the
aggressor but also he is the rebel. This makes me identify with him.
Punch tends to destroy everything that he does not like, especially
the authorities, he always fights the law, committing horrible crimes
... to the delight of the audience (laughs)! But the lies of Punch is
a game, a game carried too far. I was always excited about his
passion, his exuberance, his anarchy, the absolute freedom of his
personality. And, of course, his costume; orange and yellow, his
disturbing makeup, his grotesque teeth, the whole thing expressing
excess, and all the wonderful elements, typical of the characters of
the "Commedia dell'arte"
which are worldwide adored, like David Bowie, Peter Gabriel and Kate
Bush, were your students. How do you feel about having fed the
inspiration of people who have become, in some cases, living legends?
time the BBC calls me and says," We wanted to contact you for a
documentary" and I say "Finally! " ... But in the end
I always discover that it is about Bowie or Kate Bush
(laughs)! The current BBC do not want to deal with me, I am too
outrageous, the cultural establishment in Britain today is very
boring, always suspicious, conservative. I have always been
considered, and I will always be considered a foreigner at home. Now
that I live in Italy, I am happy because I am no longer a stranger. "
your career you have been a magnet for nonconformist artists, such as
Ken Russell and Derek Jarman. You've worked with them in Savage
1972, the year after the scandalous film The
What are your memories of that experience?
know so many things, I'm glad! Yes, Derek Jarman was the art
director, I met him for the first time on that occasion, later we
became good friends. Working with Ken Russell was not easy, because
he acted a bit like a diva, he could be very kind and then suddenly
very hard. I was a little "boy", the"new one" on
the set so he didn't treat me gently, indeed, with great impatience.
Actually he liked me, he invited me to his house after the movie, to
drink champagne ... but there was nothing! He had spent all his
money, he had mortgaged his house to make Savage Messiah. I
think it was a good movie. Obviously, there was Dorothy Tutin,
an extraordinary actress, who was marvelous. Russell called me for
his film in 1977, but in the final cut my scenes were gone! He
recited very seriously the part of the director, with coat and scarf,
very serious ... but he was also able to look around, he knew he was
playing a part. I invited him to play Herod in my Salomè, but
he declined at the last minute. Later I had great actors in that
part, especially the great Anton Dolin. We became friends and
the Russian Ballet Company got in touch with me. "
Nureyev in Valentino
of Russian ballet, I have to ask you about Rudolf Nureyev who was the
protagonist of the film Valentino. You were friends, is that
He came to see Flowers when I was in London. We became friends
and mutual admirers. Many times he came to my shows. We had many
projects together, I was going to go to the Paris Opéra to dance
with him in a gala! We were about to stage The Spectre de la Rose
together, I would have played Rose, the young girl. We had a lot of
projects that unfortunately we could not realize because of his
tragic disease. "
Bush dedicated a song to you. Do you remember how you met each other?
was talking the other day with Guido Harari, the great photographer,
about the last time I worked with Kate for his short film The
Line, The Cross and The Curve. Kate came to see me at every show,
anywhere I was playing . She found me at the Dance Center in Covent
Garden, where I was teaching dance. I used to teach to anyone who
wished to learn, my students were actors, singers, dancers, painters,
musicians, and very normal people. When Kate was there, there were
often students like Peter Gabriel and Miguel Bosé. "
everyone knows, your greatest influence was on David Bowie. Can you
share with us some of your memories?
to see my show in a small theater. Someone had given me his LP, the
day before, the one calledDavid
by the label Dram. I remember the song: When
I live my dream.
And I fell in love immediately with his music, his voice. I played
the disc before the show and then I made my entrance into the scene.
He was present and he was very flattered. He came to see me in the
dressing room, and it was really love at first sight! The next day he
came to see me in my apartment in Soho and we began immediately to
plan everything that we could do together. He fell in love with my
world, he was enchanted especially by my version of Pierrot. He began
to come to my classes at the dance center the very next day, and we
prepared together the show Pierrot
... the story with Bowie is long and dramatic, usually I do not want
to talk about it ... but I can reinvent it every time I want! "
have designed and staged the show of Ziggy Stardust and the
Spiders from Mars. How do you feel when you think that your work
has been so powerfully influential on rock history?
am pleased and flattered that my influence is so widespread. For me
it is very important, it makes me feel a useful person. In my dance
lessons there were rock stars and Hollywood actors. There was not
only Bowie and Peter Gabriel, there was also Mia
Farrow and Sandy Powell, the famous costume designer, who
studied, with passion, my teachings. They came to my lessons after
they saw my shows, because they wanted to become part of my world.
Sandy first worked in fashion and then decided to work for the
theater. The first work she did was to be my first assistant on
Nijinsky show. Years later, she won three Oscars! But even
after that, we have continued to work together, she has designed
costumes for Elizabeth, for example. Many people came to my
classes and they were influenced. You know, I never wanted to take
too much credit, I never wanted to emphasize my influence, but now
that you tell me so I'm thinking ... Fuck (laughs)! Bowie, for
example, as a dancer he does not move very well to begin with, which
we can not say about Mick Jagger or, for example, Michael Jackson. He
had, of course, a natural grace, but it was, let's say, a Mr.
Bojangles! Sure, he was fabulously charismatic and he had a versatile
talent. We went to see many shows together. I remember especially a
Jacques Brel's concert, whom we both loved. As you know, in
the Ziggy Stardust show David made his version of Brel 's My
Death. That interpretation was beautiful, simple, essential. I've
always encouraged him to be simple and direct. The histrionism was
not so much suggested by me, even though at that time I was at the
peak of my Baroque period. Now my shows are much simpler, as you will
see in Kemp Dances. Well, simple... they're not "so"
simple! They are designed and lit in a more essential way. "
some parts of the Ziggy Stardust show your influence is clearly
recognizable, such as in the facial expressions of the performance of
The Width of the Circle, but also in the use of kimonos.
shared with him my passion for Japanese culture in particular,
especially for the Kabuki and No theatre. Bowie asked me to direct
and, above all, how do you say ... assemble the show. What I have
done was giving a shape to the whole thing, building the show. He
made me listen to the songs and with those songs I built a show. We
worked a lot together, we fell in love, then we broke up ... Oh, you
may have read somewhere that I cut my veins ... well, let's say, that
was a slight exaggeration! However, just before Ziggy Stardust,
I and his wife, Angie, we were already friends. She came to the
theater where I was playing Flowers, and she asked me on
behalf of Bowie to direct the Ziggy show. And I took the tape
with the songs that Bowie wanted to use, including I'm Waiting for
My Man by Lou Reed, the covers of Jacques Brel, Lady Stardust,
a really lovely song... "
say he wrote it for Marc Bolan ...
he wanted to project images of Marc
the performance ... but I was not so sure of the choice ... I wanted
Lady Stardust to be me (laughs)! I could interpret it on stage,
wearing my Flowers
with pearls and a silver dress! But he kept saying, "No, I want
Marc, Marc!", And then we put together this video projection for
the exhibition. At that time he met Kenneth
the author of Life
video, and he was developing a passion for this new discovery of
music videos. He was always deeply interested in exploring new
technological possibilities. "
to your great influence on the glam rock scene, you were invited to
participate in the Velvet Goldmine movie.
Do you think the film has managed to restore the atmosphere of those
I'd like to say yes, because I really like Todd Haynes, but I
did not recognize the spirit of those years. And I was also quite
confused by the story, it was all mixed up. "
in the movie the figures Iggy Pop, Mick Ronson and Lou Reed have
merged into the character of Curt Wild, played by Ewan McGregor.
Jonathan Rhys Meyers in Velvet Goldmine
you know Iggy Pop well?
yeah, I loved him. I remember, he was always around during the
rehearsals of Ziggy Stardust. He was always very focused on
what I was making with Bowie. Lou Reed was also always around
the show, but I never got to know him very deeply. I loved Iggy and
I'm really his fan. Iggy was really smart, a kind of genius. "
you tell us your encounter with the legendary mime artist, Marcel
Marceau, at the beginning of your career?
was just like when Bowie met me. When I saw for the first time
Marcel Marceau I was completely hooked. His white face, the
elegant costume, everything looked just like the embodiment of the
French concept of "class". He had a real skill and a
wonderful charisma. It was nice but also credible. He believed in
everything he did on stage. When he mimed to meet a lion and screamed
with fright ... he lived that fear! As Anna Pavlova and
Nijinskij used to do. I saw him and he changed my life. I painted
my face white and I made my version of his mimic numbers, like the
one about butterflies or the one with the lion. So, I put on stage a
little show called Clown's Hour. I introduced it to the Edinburgh
Fringe Festival. I was 21. Just before going on stage, I threw a
look to the public and I saw him, Marceu! And I thought, "Oh,
shit! Now what do I do?". My show was almost completely stolen
from his, and now I was going to play it in front of the original!
So, I had to completely reinvent the show! The entire show from start
to finish, it was improvised. He came to see me after the show and I
was shitting in my pants, but he was very kind to me and said, "I'm
starting to form a new company and I would like you to join us."
We met in London a few days later and we started doing lessons
together every day. I owe him my hands, he completely changed the way
I move my hands on the scene. We became friends. "
knew that Fellini wanted you in his film, it is that true?
wanted me, it's true. I met him with Jack Birkett - the
Incredible Orlando - in 1965, when I was in Rome for the first time.
We played in the street, in the streets of Trastevere, we did not
have any money, not even for a crust of bread. We risked being
arrested many times, the atmosphere was very conservative at the
time. Fellini really wanted me to work with him. I met him
many times when we danced in Piazza Navona, I played the tambourine,
and he loved to walk at night in that square. He came later with
Giulietta Masina to see my shows. Fellini wanted me in his Casanova,
it was a nice role. I waited for the film to start, almost one year.
Then I went to Australia, and then Fellini wrote to me, but I was
busy with the Australian tour and could not accept the invitation of
is your opinion of contemporary dance?
see many dancers nowadays, which are also good, but they do not make
me shake my wrists when I watch them dance. They all define
themselves as contemporary dancers, but dancing is always
"contemporary to its time." My work has classic bases but
today has become avant-garde. In the dance of nowadays I miss too
often the story, the emotions, the deeper communication, the
relationship with the public. The true, great contemporary dancers,
such as Martha Graham, are primarily great storytellers. "
would you define art?
shape to the emotion to communicate it to the public."