Features Essays Published 19 September 2018

Time to Fly: Remembering Lindsay Kemp

Gecko’s Amit Lahav writes on his relationship with the late, visionary choreographer, who created "an alternative version of the world, every second of the day, on and off stage".
Amit Lahav

‘Missing’ by Gecko (founded and led by Amit Lahav)

In the 22 years in which I knew Lindsay Kemp, he never taught me in the traditional sense of the word. There were never any lessons or professorial sessions of wisdom sharing. Everything was absorbed, unconsciously mirrored and cultured; on a microscopic level my chemistry was altered in his presence. I was also well disposed to absorption – open, studious, playful and flirtatious.

The style of work I make is certainly very different from Kemp’s but there are core attributes in the make-up of both worlds: a desperation to communicate and share, to charm and seduce, a deeply felt understanding of lightness and darkness/joy and misery, creation of work as a performer (that is from the inside), a love of the motley multinational ensemble, the manipulation of light and music as a central character/story-teller and a relationship to the touring work as an unfinished live creation.

I’m driving to Paris airport as fast as my camper van will allow, hunched over the steering wheel it seems highly possible that I won’t make the flight. I want to see my great friend Lindsay one last time and to share a moment of grief with close friends, to honour this communal loss with the aesthetic sensitivity so immensely important to every aspect of Lindsay’s life. Sprinting to gate H only minutes before the scheduled departure I feel this moment is very important, tomorrow will be too late. Somehow I get on the plane to Pisa, begin to steady my breathing and contemplate what is about to happen.

I wanted deeply to connect with Lindsay the first instant I met him, to engage completely in his dialogue with the world around him, to flirt and to play. He inspired me to experience the world anew, with sensuality and devilish abandonment. His eyes enquired and his spirit encouraged: go on then, dare to be what you might dare to be. I remember walking out of his home one day, a converted monastery on a hill in Umbria. We were arm in arm and I was dressed in a kimono and sandals wearing a fair amount of make-up, feeling reasonably inebriated and thinking ‘I wonder what my Arsenal mates would make of all this’. Our relationship was endlessly playful and uninhibited.

Flying above the clouds half way to Pisa I think about how important art is, the belief in every moment – nothing could engender more reverence or more spirituality than the sharing of creativity and the endless pursuit of authentic connection with others.

Lindsay Kemp was a remarkable and unique person whose very essence and presence was inspirational. To witness Lindsay moving in space – whether in a supermarket or in front of a thousand spectators – was to see a being emitting a vast energy, emanating a love of life, movement, interaction, drama and playfulness.

One day we decided to learn a scene from Noel Coward’s Private Lives, the dialogue was very sharp and fast. We repeated this scene hundreds of times over many years; I was Elliot and he was Amanda. Lindsay rarely said his lines and the whole thing fell apart every time. But getting the lines right wasn’t ever the game – the fun was knowing we wouldn’t ever get through it and Amanda and Elliot’s painful break-up would, once again, play out through our tears of laughter: “…oh Elliot, you’re making me cry so dreadfully.” The game was also about Lindsay and I, our appreciation of wit, pathos, partings and tragedy, and our love for each other who, much like Coward’s protagonists, would never be together.

On reflection, what wonderful gifts these were. The urgent need to connect, with love, with humour and generosity, the ability to enable and encourage hearts to soar. And the understanding of what game you really wish to engage your audience in; under the cover of a scene the real work is done – the more important feelings are intimated, teased out.

I want to reach people in the deepest way, to enliven and embolden. I want to ramp up some inner resonance which has yet to take flight in someone. I want to create alternative versions of the reflection people see in the mirror. And to persuade people to bravely step where they might be afraid to but know they want to and know they should.

Standing next to Lindsay at rest I feel so alone – having been so used to an endless duet of connection, there is none. The absence of discourse, invitation and encouragement heightens my appreciation of just how much he gave and how much we shared.

22 years ago I walked into a studio in Angel for one of my first ever auditions. I remember being caught in Lindsay’s sparkling eyes as he charmed me to go further, to sing as if it were my last breath and to dance with ecstatic passion. As I left I was struck by a feeling of desperation – I must have more of that connection, more time inside Lindsay’s intoxicating atmosphere.

Lindsay created an alternative version of the world every second of the day on and off stage with uncompromising dedication and natural flair, no doubt as the antidote to so many of the tragedies of the world but also as his modus operandi for navigating daily life. A room (any room) wasn’t just a room; it was a studio and a place of creativeness where one could fall in love at any moment. It should smell divine and sound angelic; there should be books for endless inspiration and a joint ready rolled should thoughts and feelings require more fuel. Even when sitting thinking, one arm at least was free to float and dance, and he was endlessly available for intimacy – a cuddle will certainly inspire but a loving glance will do to.

I have found over the years of creating Gecko’s work that very little happens unless there is a shared love for what is being attempted and dedication from everyone in the room. Much of that starts from a desire to connect with me and the idea I have introduced at any given moment, which requires enormous open-hearted generosity and care. Gecko ensemble performers want to feel loved but also to be challenged and be endlessly learning and growing.

Back in the clouds from Pisa to Paris, I feel extremely grateful to have made this trip, to have spent time connecting with close friends both new and old, to have been a part of the shared concerns and rituals. But mostly I feel extremely grateful to have known Lindsay, to have been able to share his company and to have been so profoundly affected by his character, his humanity and his uncompromising conviction that something should be just so…

Thank you Lindsay.

Elliot
aka Amit

Lindsay Kemp was a celebrated dancer, choreographer and mime artist whose long and eclectic career saw him work with everyone from pop stars to some of the most prestigious dance institutions in the world. From Wirral in Merseyside, his merchant seaman father died while Lindsay was only 2 years old. He learnt to dance at the Sunshine School of Dance in Bradford, before heading to Bradford College of Art and later the prestigious Ballet Rambert school in London.

After establishing his own dance company he went on to teach the likes of David Bowie and Kate Bush (who later wrote a song for him). He put his own unique erotic, sensual spin on the likes of Oscar Wilde’s Salomé, while also producing and performing original works like 1974’s Flowers. Kemp worked up until his death in August 2018 at the age of 80, consistently creating, performing and touring in his own inimitable style.

Amit Lahav is part of a group who are fundraising to create a Lindsay Kemp memorial fund. Crowdfunder link here.

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Amit Lahav

Amit Lahav is founder and artistic director of dance theatre company Gecko.

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