To call l-indsay Kemp merely a i dancer would be like calling La Boheme a play with music. Born on the island of Lewis. of north of England stock. Kemp studied under i Marie Rambert and Marcel Marceau. ln 1963 he fortned his own company while still in his early twenties and he first performed at the Edinburgh Festival in 196-1. Similarities to Michael Clark are clear.
His company acts now. as then. like a peripatetic circus very much in the tradition of his ancestor William Kemp (or Kernpe). Shakespeare‘s famed dancer and clown. 'I'hus l.indsay Kemp‘s A .llidsunzmer i’Vig/zt's Dream at the Theatre Royal (19—22 June) has special significance. When it was first
performed in 197‘). Kemp was at his zenith (it was later made into a movie). After the happenings and improvisations ofthe Sixties when he ranked as one of (he gay figures of the decade. Kemp reached nigh on cult status.
His repertoire is wide. encompassing dance. mime. cabaret. film and rock. He was one ofthe prime movers in mounting the Ziggy Stardust concert at the Rainbow in the early Seventies for David Bowie (himself a former memberof Kemp‘s troupe).
Kemp blossomed in the Seventies. He gave a superb performance in his Flowers ( 1973) which was based on Genet's Our Lady Of The Flowers and was described by one critic as
'thc epitome ofgrandiose avant-garde by way of [as Vegas‘.
Kemp‘s two pieces for Ballet Rambert have been influential. The l’ararle's (ione By ( 1975) was a Hollywood send-up and ( 'rue/ (iarrlen ( 1977) was based on the life and times of l.orca.
Kemp‘s also made appearances in and contributions to such films as Ken Russell‘s Savage .Uesslalt and Valentino and Derek .larman‘s .S’elmsu'ane and Jubilee —v orgy scenes have been a speciality. Jarman once
called l.indsay Kemp 'a swirling. whirling dervish‘.
But it’s Kemp's theatrical mastery and genius that have kept him in the forefront of the arts in Europe (especially in Italy he lives in Rome -- and Spain). His work is as controversial as it is exuberant. an ecletic mix ofthe erotic and comic. of religion and ritual. love and death. the squalidly grotesque and the sublimer beautiful.
Described as ‘psychological striptease‘ l.indsay Kemp's productions make The Rocky Horror look pallid and suburban. 'I'ransvestism. nudity. violence and a range of styles from music hall to corntnedia dell’arte make fora heady ,pot pourri that constantly pushes at the barriers of art and acceptability.
‘What I want to do is to restore the glamour of the Folies Bergeres. the danger of the circus. the sexuality of rock ‘n‘ roll and the ritual of Death‘. he says.
If Kemp‘s style harks back to
’U .‘l s
hippie flamboyance on one level and glam rock ‘ambivalence' (with all that implies) on another it's no bad thing. The ability to shock seems. today in the late Eighties. no longer a part of the art scene.
In a world where consumerism is king and public subsidy for the arts is a dirty phrase. both high art and pop culture all too often embrace the safe. orderly and middle of the road.
It's no surprise that the anger and anarchy of the Situationists is the current flavour of the month. The Situationist International. formed in 1957 as a 'non—organisation’ whose chief target was consumer society. is the subject of a major exhibition at the l(‘A in London (a coproduction with the l’ompidou ( ‘entre ).
'I‘he Situationists have been reduced to museum piece. What hope is there for their advocacy of
v the use of technology for aesthetic. i non-functional ends and the rescue of art fom ‘merely enhancing the
design of fridges' when ‘design' like ‘style‘ is a cornerstone ofenterprise culture'.’
Social conventions and sexual mores tend to be left well alone these days. The Shock of the New rings
3 hollow in the ears of arts administrators in 'l'hatcherite
Britain. l.indsay Kemp's schlock shock may go down well in Barcelona or Hamburg but for the timid Brits Kemp‘s camp may be too much to bear. At the very least it is a timely reminder ofour loss. We have
. traded genuine creativity and artistic
# "TRAGEO USLY
Never one for steering clear of controversy, dancer and mime artist Lindsay Kemp has turned his talents toA
Midsummer Night’s Dream. Kennedy Wilson examines the man‘s work. '
Michael Matou as Oberon ad Lidsay Kemp as Puck in the film version of "A Midsummer Night's Dream'
integrity for shiopping malls and pop videos.
Ifthe Fifties saw the beats. the Sixties the hippies and the Seventies the punks (who owed much to the Situationists‘ blend ofanarchism and nihilism). the Eighties have brought forth no such counter culture. Perhaps the gap between ‘high‘and ‘low‘ art is now not so wide. Entertainment culture has been packaged and pushed as never before. (iift-wrapped. hyped and setniotically dissected at every turn popular culture (and fine art shows signs ofgoing the satne way) leaves no room for experimentation. adventure. danger or risk.
The mad hedonism and decadence of the Sixties that gave us Hair and Hockney. ()2 and ()rton inevitably
i fizzled out. The Seventies flirtation i with sexual role playing (Bowie.
; (iary (ilitter. Marc Bolan) and
punk's rejection ofpop as capitalist crap led. ultimately. nowhere.
The return to Victorian values. the advent of Aids. the uncaring
get-rich-quick mood ofthe Eighties
has created a do‘t-rock-the-boat mood in the art world.
Kemp‘s irreverent and ribald fairyland for adults is a timely reminder of the importance of
bursting through the barriers and the
barricades. ‘I want noboundarics between living and performing'. he says. (Kennedy Wilson)
A .llldstmzmer .N’ighl's Dream is a! the Theatre Royal. Glasgow,
Mon [9— Tue .32 June.
'l‘he l.ist lo— 2‘)June 19895