giovedì 12 marzo 2015

LINSDAY KEMP: The graceful charisma of a Maestro

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.

Linsday Kemp is an extraordinary artist who has lived through nearly 50 years of underground culture, with the charisma and the grace of a natural master.
KIemp 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.
Kemp finally is back on stage around Italy.
With his show Kemp Dances he 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.
This 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 .
Every 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.
We 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 .

How did you meet Marianne Faithfull?
"I 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. "

Can you tell us something of your friendship?
"Yes, 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! "

One of the keys to your new show, Kemp Dances, is the constant reinvention of yourself. Can you talk a bit about the show?
"We 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 by Stravinsky. 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! "

As 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...

Contemplating your great career, one would think that Kemp Dances is a sort of anthology of your work, is that correct?
"Honestly, 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 is Inventions and reincarnations, because they are works that I love to run, but each time I play them in a different way."


You mentioned Stravinsky but we can not avoid to mention Nijinskij, the legendary dancer who you've played many times on stage.
"Nijinsky is one of my classical interpretations, that Kemp Dances 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. "

Really, 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?
"I 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. "

When you talk about trance, would you define it a as some kind of meditation?
"Well, 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 Lorca 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. "

With this approach you made shows like Onnagata and Mr.Punch, which are intimately linked to the concept of "mask".
"Those 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. "

What attracted you in Mr.Punch's character? It almost seems that you want to reinvent the tradition.
"The 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"

Artists 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?
"Every 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. "

In your career you have been a magnet for nonconformist artists, such as Ken Russell and Derek Jarman. You've worked with them in Savage Messiah of 1972, the year after the scandalous film The Devils. What are your memories of that experience?
"You 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
Speaking of Russian ballet, I have to ask you about Rudolf Nureyev who was the protagonist of the film Valentino. You were friends, is that true?
"Absolutely. 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. "

Kate Bush dedicated a song to you. Do you remember how you met each other?
"I 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. "

As everyone knows, your greatest influence was on David Bowie. Can you share with us some of your memories?
"Bowie came to see my show in a small theater. Someone had given me his LP, the day before, the one called David Bowie, 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 in Turquoise ... 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! "

You 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?
"I 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. "

In 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.
"I 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... "

They say he wrote it for Marc Bolan ...
"Yes, he wanted to project images of Marc Bolan during 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 costume, 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 Anger and Mick Rock, the author of Life on Mars? video, and he was developing a passion for this new discovery of music videos. He was always deeply interested in exploring new technological possibilities. "

Due 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 extraordinary years?
"Oh, 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. "

Yes, 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

Did you know Iggy Pop well?
"Oh 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. "

Marcel Marceu

Can you tell us your encounter with the legendary mime artist, Marcel Marceau, at the beginning of your career?
"It 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. "

I knew that Fellini wanted you in his film, it is that true?
"Fellini 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 Federico. "

Federico Fellini
What is your opinion of contemporary dance?
"I 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. "

How would you define art?

"Giving shape to the emotion to communicate it to the public."

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