LONDON (AP) — Influential British dancer, choreographer and mime artist Lindsay Kemp, known for tutoring singers David Bowie and Kate Bush during his career, has died at 80.
Director Nendie Pinto-Duschinsky, who is making a documentary called “Lindsay Kemp’s Last Dance,” said Saturday that Kemp died suddenly after a “perfect” day rehearsing with his students. He was about to work on his memoirs and to go on tour, she said.
She wrote on the film’s Facebook page that “I’m so sorry to tell you Lindsay passed away last night … he was very happy and it was very sudden.”
The Italian news agency ANSA reported that he died during the night at his home in Livorno, Tuscany. Kemp left Britain in 1979 to live in Spain before later moving to Italy.
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Kemp, who often performed in stark-white face makeup and dramatic costumes, was born in 1938 and formed his dance company in the 1960s. He is credited with helping Bowie create his Ziggy Stardust persona and teaching Bush to dance. He choreographed and performed during Bowie’s celebrated Ziggy Stardust concerts in London in 1972, and also made cameo appearances in the films “The Wicker Man” and “Velvet Goldmine.”
ANSA reported that Kemp directed a dance course at Livorno’s Goldoni Theater, and was until recently working on a social theater project that he had hoped would be put on in Como, Italy, in September.
“His (performance) was pure poetry in motion that was able to astonish for its uniqueness and originality,” said Dario Nardella, the mayor of Florence. He added that while Kemp had worked with some of the world’s greatest stars, he always helped train new generations to whom “he always tried to transmit, with generosity and humanity, his art” which was never “banal, never taken for granted.”
David Haughton, a longtime collaborator and friend, said by telephone from Kemp’s home in Livorno that mixing genres as Kemp did is common today, “but it was not common at all in the 1970s, and that’s what he brought around the world.”
He added: “He was not so much an intellectual as a very spontaneous artist. He was a very, very rare performer in terms of seducing and hypnotizing a public. He was not only mixing different kinds of art but different kinds of moods and atmospheres.”
Kemp grew up poor during wartime in the Northeast English coastal town of South Shields. He was raised by his mother, Marie, after his father, a sailor, died at sea. A sister died at age 5 of meningitis before he was born.
Sailors “permeated his drawings, his dreams and his productions,” Pinto-Duschinsky wrote in the Guardian newspaper. “He would say seagulls are the souls of drowned sailors.”
Haughton said Kemp had also been dancing, working on new numbers, with students and collaborators in his company just before he died. He arrived home and felt unwell. His colleagues heard a sound from his room and found him dead, he said.
Funeral arrangements had not been finalized, Haughton said.
Italie reported from New York.