The man who taught David Bowie how to dance coming home to South Shields

Lindsay Kemp (right) with Garry Hunter.
Lindsay Kemp (right) with Garry Hunter.

The man who taught David Bowie how to dance is coming back to his native South Shields to talk about his life in showbusiness.

Lindsay Kemp will be at the Customs House, in South Shields on Tuesday, September 20.

David Bowie.

David Bowie.

He was born to South Shields parents in the Wirral on Merseyside in 1938, but when his sailor father was lost at sea in 1940, his mother brought him back to her hometown.

He saw his first pantomime at the Sunderland Empire at the age of four, and was hooked on theatre and performance.

He said: “That was the start of it really, after that there was never a question of doing anything else really.

“I was brought up in 78 Talbot Road and with my friends would put on shows for friends and neighbours in our back yard.

“We’d also put on entertainment for the soldiers recovering in Harton Hospital, and for those in the bomb shelters during the wartime raids.”

In 1948, Lindsay’s mother sent him to the Royal Merchant Navy School boarding school in Berkshire, keen for him to follow in his father’s footsteps.

“I was always different in Shields and I think she wanted some sense knocked into me,” Lindsay added.

However, nothing could deter Lindsay in following a career on the stage.

“When my mother realised this, she became very supportive and did everything she could to help me.”

He moved to Bradford where he attended the town’s art college before studying dance with Hilda Holger and the great mime artist Marcel Marceau.

Kemp formed his own dance company in the early 60s and first attracted attention with an appearance at the Edinburgh Festival in 1968. Numerous acclaimed performances followed. By this point, he’d already met 19-year-old David Bowie.

“He’d just changed his name from Davey Jones and I was teaching in and around Covent Garden. He’d come to see me in my show called Clowns and it made a real connection with him. He came backstage and we talked – he was in the process of giving up music and becoming a Buddhist monk. He was leaving to go to a monastery up in Scotland.

“He used to say I saved him from shaving his head.

“Anyway, the following day he came along to my class and he was a first-class student. I loved his music and he loved my Bohemian world and we created a show together called Pierrot in Turquoise which we toured together.”

Bowie later turned to Lindsay to choreograph the stage show of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust.

“His wife Angie brought an LP to me in Edinburgh where I was performing. She said if I liked the music would I help choreograph the show, which I did.

“Ziggy Stardust put glam rock and theatre on the map. It was the first time we saw this marriage between theatre, music and my kind of theatre, particularly my kind of theatre.

“He was a great talent, a beautiful man and very sophisticated. I taught him a lot about moving, dance and the theatre, particularly about Japanese theatre, which he loved.

“We talked about working together on other projects, but it didn’t really happen. I rather regret that we didn’t work together more and that I didn’t see much of him after that,” said Lindsay.

He went on to gain considerable fame and acclaim for his show Flowers, his adaptation of Jean Genet’s novel Our Lady of the Flowers. The writer inspired Bowie’s hit Jean Genie and the show was a West End hit.

Lindsay became a legendary teacher, a sought-after dancer and cabaret performer and an actor, appearing in Derek Jarman’s Sebastiane and Jubilee, as well as The Wicker Man. More recently, Lindsay has just finished directing Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in Verona, and is working on the opera The Magic Flute in Livorno, Italy, where he now lives.

His appearance at the Customs House has been arranged by Shields born photographer, curator and author Garry Hunter, with support from the Cultural Spring.

Garry said: “It’s about time Lindsay is returning to Shields after all these years away, to celebrate his breathtaking originality as a performer, his inspirational teaching and the wide scope of his influential art practice across choreography, costume design, direction, drawing and painting.

“He changed the face of dance, being a key figure in its evolution across the world, still performing from Latin America to Asia and Europe, but rarely in the UK.

“His evening at the Customs House is sure to be entertaining – he has some amazing stories and anecdotes to tell, not just about Bowie, but other major cultural figures from the last 50 years. For an artist initially familiar to audiences through mime, his is incredibly articulate.”

Tickets for Encounters with Lindsay Kemp cost £10. To book, go to www.customshouse.co.uk or call 0191 454 1234.