David Bowie Mentor Lindsay Kemp Dies at 80
Kemp, who famously said that he "realized that I wanted to dance when I first realized anything at all," founded a dance company in the '60s. He broke big when he brought his show, Flowers, to the Edinburgh festival in 1974.
But it was back in 1966 when he first met the young Bowie, then barely 20, after a performance of Kemp's show, Clowns. "He came to my dressing room and he was like the archangel Gabriel standing there, I was like Mary," Kemp said. "It was love at first sight."
That's when Bowie asked Kemp, who later mentored Kate Bush as well, to teach him. The two began a brief relationship, but continued working together long after it ended.
"He came to visit me the following day in my flat in Bateman Street in Soho and began staying with me," Kemp said. "I was teaching at the time, at the dance centre in Covent Garden and when he came, he was an A student. He was very passionate about everything he did. And in no time we devised a little show together called Pierrot In Turquoise."
Bowie wrote and performed the music for the show — and gained the experience and inspiration that he would soon turn him toward Ziggy Stardust. As Bowie's star began to rise, he turned to Kemp to help create that character, choreographing and performing in the Stardust shows.
"We had a pretty glorious time together," Kemp said of living with Bowie. "He continued to study with me very vigilantly. I taught him firstly how to express himself through his body and how to communicate through his body. And then a couple of years later, David asked me to set out the stage for his Ziggy Stardust shows in the Rainbow Theatre. I mimed the entire saga Ziggy Stardust in front of David and Tony DeFries [Bowie's manager at the time] and they loved it. The best part about the show though, was when David sat alone on a stool under the spotlight and sang 'My Death.'
"He was certainly multi-faceted, a chameleon, splendid, inspiring, a genius of a creature. But I did show him how to do it," said Kemp, who also appeared in films including Derek Jarman’s Sebastiane and Jubilee and Anthony Shaffer’s The Wicker Man.
Bowie followed Kemp's example of weaving various artistic genres together. "[Kemp] did ground-breaking work in performance, without the divide of classifying it as dance, music, mime or prose. The concept of what performance is was influenced by him," his longtime collaborator David Haughton said.
And like Bowie, Kemp was actively working right up until his death. "It is a huge shock," Haughton said of his friend, who died while working in Italy. "But if it had to happen, this was the best way. He was in a very good period — he had been working and dancing. He had no illness, he was with friends. He suddenly said he felt ill, and a minute and a half later he was gone."
When suggested to Kemp that Bowie's final video, for "Lazarus," was a tribute to his lessons, he replied in 2016, "I haven't seen it yet. I was obviously very upset about David. He meant a lot to me. It still brings tears to my eyes."