Celebrating the Life of a Legend: Lindsay Kemp

❉ Today we mourn the loss of Lindsay Kemp, who is THE foremost performance art talent of this country. He died today at the age of 80 and leaves a legacy of talent in the stars he inspired, including Kate Bush, Marc Almond and most famously David Bowie.

“My performance is exactly the same as my life,except that it’s even more fabulous because it has to be noticed from further back. My make-up, for instance: people talk about the actor wearing his “mask,” but there’s no mask; it’s merely an exaggeration of what already exists. I paint in more hair; it’s not painting in hair that doesn’t exist – just painting in a bit more. My lips merely become redder than usual. My skin is very white anyway; I simply make it whiter. Most people think my life is very theatrical anyway because it’s played to the hilt. I like to do everything fully. I drink until I’m drunk. I eat until I’m full, frequently until I’m sick. I don’t fancy people, I fall in love with them. Leave out hate – it doesn’t come into my work at all. I’m terribly into intoxication – that’s the only thing that counts…” – Crawdaddy! – September 1974

Without Lindsay, there would be no Ziggy Stardust, the character that effectively forged Bowie’s flamboyant and varied-imaged career.

Without Lindsay, Marc Almond’s self confessed “nervous breakdown committed to vinyl” seminal album, Torment and Toreros, would not have been the album it was.

“Lindsay’s work with choreographer Christopher Beecham and Ballet Rambert “Cruel Garden” based on Lorca, was one of the main influences for Marc and the Mambas landmark album”, said Marc Almond on Instagram today.

Finally, without Lindsay, Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights would be been somewhat lacking as Lindsay inspired Kate to express herself to dance freely. Could you imagine that song without Kate swirling and dancing with such selfless abandon? No, me neither.

Marc Almond, Kemp and Holly Johnson attend Lindsay Kemp: My Life & Work With David Bowie – In Conversation With Marc Almond at the Ace Hotel in Shoreditch, London, 17 May 2016 Photograph: Dave Benett/Getty Images

Kemp was born in Cheshire, later moved to the North East and died in his adoptive country, Italy.

From an early age he had a passion for dance:

“I’d dance on the kitchen table to entertain the neighbours. I mean, it was a novelty in South Shields to see a little boy in full make-up dancing en pointe. Finally it got a bit too much for my mother, and she decided to send me to boarding school at the age of eight, hoping that it would knock some sense into me.”

Kemp’s father, a merchant seaman, died when Lindsay was very young. He and his Mother moved to Yorkshire where Kemp attended Bradford Art College before studying dance with Hilde Holger and mime with Marcel Marceau, who greatly influenced the performance side of Lindsay’s art.

Kemp formed his own dance company in the early 1960s and first attracted both the public and media’s attention, with an appearance at the Edinburgh Festival in 1968.

His stage performances famously included Pierrot In Turquoise, Flowers, and Salome amongst many, many others. In Pierrot In Turquoise, a young David Bowie took the role of Columbine, and the pair enjoyed a close relationship. Kemp opened Bowie up to new influences and taught Bowie much about mime, movement and stagecraft; it’s fair to say that without Lindsay Kemp, Ziggy Stardust would not have been born.

“I taught him to exaggerate with his body a well as his voice, and the importance of looking as well as sounding beautiful. Ever since working with me he’s practiced that, and in each performance he does his movements are more exquisite.”

In 1979 Kemp left England, first for Spain, and then for Italy where his love of opera sparked another facet of his flamboyant character. By 2002 had homes in both Rome and Todi. He later returned to Livorno, where he sadly passed away.

His last public performance in the UK was a collaboration with singer songwriter Tim Arnold at Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall in a multimedia live arts installation of Arnold’s song ‘What Love Would Want’ in June 2018.

Lindsay leaves a legacy of talent in the the wake of his art, and will be an inspiration for generations to come.


 Ange Chan is a poet and novelist. Her latest collection of poetry, Songs of Sorrow and Heartbreak, was published in October 2017.  Her third novel Champagne Flutes and Pixie Boots is currently a ‘work in progress’.

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