Lindsay Kemp RIP.

Anyone around in 1970’s London will probably have seen Lindsay’s masterpiece Flowers. Based on Jean Genet’s book Our Lady of the Flowers, the story of Divine, it strongly evokes 1920s Paris, and was a mind-blowing experience. Although of it’s time, the various film clips show it is still captivating, and the lighting by the late John Spradbury is magnificent. Many great gems include:

the masturbatory scene in a men’s prison;

David Haughton as the Angel descending a ladder, who produces a lighter from his sequinned jock strap to light Divine’s cigarette, Billie Holiday singing You’re My Thrill;

the cafe filled with beautiful waiters and sailors and the Incredible Orlando, Jack Birkett, belting out a heart rending rendition of Over the Rainbow;

Neil Caplan as the Lover, who deserts Divine prompting her descent into madness;

blood spurting from Lindsay’s mouth down his white body, his eyelids a frenzied quivering, holding the dead body of the Angel in a Pieta image of lamentation;

the final spotlight on his open-mouthed scream.

I was straight out of ballet school in 1973 when I first joined his legendary classes at the Dance Centre, Covent Garden. My fellow classmate, and friend for a while, was Kate Bush, who kept mysteriously disappearing for singing classes. Wuthering Heights was released a year or so afterwards, and we finally understood the importance of those singing lessons. He encouraged us to see and experience all bohemian London had to offer, and took me to the Roundhouse to see a fabulous street theatre troupe Le Palais des Merveilles, led by the charismatic fire-eater and tightrope walker, Jules Cordiere. I ran off to Paris with them, and on my return, Lindsay was furious that I had deserted him, and for such a rival group!

Lindsay appeared in several Derek Jarman films, (with International Times’ own late, lamented Heathcote Williams in The Tempest.) He also played Britt Ekland’s father, the creepy innkeeper, in The Wicker Man. His life is well documented elsewhere, but a couple of my older ballerina friends remembered Lindsay as a young member of Mona Inglesby’s International Ballet, a company touring post-war Europe in its own train. His own companies fluctuated with the times, and he had loyal and gifted performers. I was lucky to join the company for a European tour playing Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the Ballerina in Nijinsky and in Flowers. At that time, my inclination was to plays and comedy, so regrettably, I didn’t stay that long. His productions and roles developed over time, an organic and creative process. For example, early photos and clips as Puck show him with black nose and dog like movements, which he shed in later shows. You may like to watch Lindsay’s muse for many years, Nuria Moreno, as The Dying Swan, a complete reversal of the usual beautiful flutterings of ballerinas, she is moving and hilarious.

Lindsay was beautiful, funny, amazing, terrifying, exasperating, and an inspiration. Exit, stage left, you great genius of Love, Sex, Madness and Death.

 


A collection of Lindsay in performance. Commissioned by Lindsay for talks he did in 2015.

 

Claire Lewis

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2 Responses to Lindsay Kemp RIP.

  1. Kevin Short says:

    Lovely tribute, and great video images to remember his amazing creative talent by. RIP LK.

  2. Denise says:

    Hi Claire thank you for your beautiful tribute to Lindsay. The video footage is stunning x
    I think I remember you, I started classes around 1973, at the dance centre, Floral Street and was a good friend of Kate’s. We were both around 15 in 1973. I too remember her disappearing from the Italian coffee shop opposite the dance centre for the singing lessons. And she would return a couple of hours later most distraught, that she had been given a hard time and was constantly told she had to improve. And I do remember someone running off to join a circus much to Lindsay’s dismay. I guess now that would be you. I also remember the narrow winding staircases in the dance centre, which we had to climb to the top studio where classes were held. Do you remember the warehouse in Hester Road, Battersea, where Lindsay and David lived? Again no photos, only memories.
    It would be lovely to reconnect, and talk about the old times and where our lives have led us. I wish there had been mobile phones in those days as there are so few photos, no video recordings of classes, just our awesome memories. Take care, much affection x

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