The Lindsay Kemp Company

Kemp’s natural talent for assembling a collection of like-minded talents around him, and then moulding them into a heterodox but unified group, meant that even when young he was always trying to turn a cast into a company: from the late 1960s onwards many variations on the theme of a Lindsay Kemp Company came into being, but none of them ever ran the risk of becoming an institution… due to the total absence of either institutional mentality or funding. The first company officially named as such was “The Lindsay Kemp Dance Mime Company” formed for a season at the Lyric Theatre Hammersmith in 1965, and group productions in his “Scottish period” in the early 1970s were always billed as by The Lindsay Kemp Company.  Over time the nature of these companies and their work changed to mirror the changing phases of Kemp’s experiences (classical and modern dance, popular and serious theatre, mime, cabaret, avant-garde improvisational performance, etc.) and other aesthetic influences (Commedia dell’Arte, Silent Movies, Kabuki, Trance Dancing and Butoh, etc.), as he moved towards a synthesis of these many traditions with his own inventions.

With the artistic and commercial success of the first London version of “Flowers”, in 1974, the nucleus of a new Lindsay Kemp Company was formed, which for the following 20 years would remain relatively stable despite a constant turnover of new talent. Having transferred to the West End’s Regent Theatre and then to Broadway’s Biltmore Theater, “Flowers” opened the road towards many years of adventurous and practically continuous international touring, and towards a varied and expanding repertoire of productions.

In more than 20 countries and countless cities in Europe, North and South America, Japan, Australia, Israel, the Lindsay Kemp Company’s visually and emotionally high impact theatre left an intense and sometimes controversial trail, and a lasting influence on dance, theatre and performance in the 80s and 90s. In all this touring, the countries where Kemp and his company gave the most performances and achieved the most success were undoubtedly, and by a long way, Spain and Italy.

Guided by Lindsay’s urge to constantly experiment, invent and perfect, and by a group motivational drive combining playfulness and passionate dedication, the core members of the company developed an unmistakable shared performance language and technique… becoming no longer “a supporting act” for Kemp’s starring roles but a powerful ensemble of highly gifted individual performers, “moulded” by Kemp’s teaching in daily classes, and by his inspiration on the stage with them in nightly performances.

Over the years many Lindsay Kemp Companies made it possible for him to fulfil his own unique potential as a creator and performer and – without ever having a physical company residence or any kind of subsidy – to create thousands of performances all over the world in his inimitable total theatre style. A Dionysian style blending spectacle, poetry, entertainment, sensuality, ritual, irony, melodrama, magic and emotional intensity, in productions of extreme visual and musical impact which have always aimed not “to make the public think” but to sweep it off its feet.

As new productions were created, old ones were frequently revived, and seasons in a given theatre often included various different works (e.g. at London’s Sadlers Wells Theatre). All productions were subject to constant revising and revisiting, both structurally and on a night-by-night basis. In its heyday, the company performed approximately 45 weeks a year.

The productions created after 1974 were Salomé (1975), Mr. Punch’s Pantomime (1975), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1979), Duende (1980), Façade (1982), Nijinsky (1982), The Big Parade (1985), Alice (1988), Onnagata (1990), Cinderella (1993), Variété (1996), Rêves de Lumière (1997), Dreamdances (1998), Elizabeth’s Last Dance (2005) and Kemp Dances (2015). All were conceived and directed by Lindsay Kemp, all with the collaboration of David Haughton… and many with the collaboration and music of Carlos Miranda (earlier musical collaborations with Michael Garret and Andrew Wilson . Costumes were generally designed by Lindsay Kemp, but also by Sandy Powell, Silvia Jahnnsons and Yolanda Sonnabend. Sets by Lindsay Kemp (Façade by Lele Luzzati). Lighting generally by John Spradbery but later sometimes by Claude Naville, and later still by David Haughton. Lighting equipment Nino Sacinto. Costume supervisors Cathy Hill; Sue Skelton. Stage managers, Corrado Verini; Nick Carden; Chris Misselbrook. ASMs Cecelia Santana, Suzi Suzuki, Anna Rochford, Stephen Brown, Stephen Callen. Piano Carlos Miranda; violin John Knight; percussion and voice Joji Hirota.

It is impossible to list every member of the Lindsay Kemp Company in those years, but also impossible not to mention long-time key figures (c. 1974-1994) like The Incredible Orlando, John Spradbery (lighting), Satya Ganga (administration), Celestino Coronado and David Haughton (Associate Directors) and performers Annie Balfour, David Meyer, Neil Caplan, David Haughton, Annie Huckle, Douglas McNichol, Nuria Moreno, Michael Matou, Atilio Lopez, François Testory, Christian Michaelson, Javier Sanz, Marco Berriel, Cheryl Heazelwood, Kinny Gardner, Kevin English. It is also impossible not to recognise the contributions of dozens of other artists, performers, musicians and technicians who made invaluable contributions to the Lindsay Kemp Company and its performances either in the pre-1974 period (Designers Liz Gill and Natasha Kornilof, Company Manager and Lighting John Spradbery, performers John McDonald, Brian Payne, Annie Stainer, Robert Anthony, Giles Millennaire) and those, later, that worked with the company for shorter but important periods, such as Anton Dolin, John Gilpin, Vladek Sheybal, Cipe Linkovsky, Arlene Phillips, Sally Owen, Ramόn Oller, Bob Smith, John Tsakiris, Lucy Burge, Naomi Sorkin, Mark Wraith, Eric Lavigne, Tony Maples, Tom Ward, Amit Lahav, Angelo Smimmo…

From 2015, for “Kemp Dances”, a small company was formed, where Kemp and Haughton were joined by Daniela Maccari (also an invaluable collaborator and choreographer), Ivan Ristallo, James Vanzo , Alessandro Pucci and Luciano Guerra.

From 1978 to 1993, the agent and impresario who managed the company and all its tours and new productions was Julio Alvarez, an Argentinian ex-dancer who played a fundamental role in the story of The Lindsay Kemp Company, while always remaining a friend. In other words, there were many invaluable creative technical and organisational collaborators, but all were always united by the all-pervading aesthetic vision of Kemp: this is what gave the Lindsay Kemp Company the exceptional artistic coherence and identity that underpinned its decades of worldwide success. This, and the personality of Kemp, also reflected in the collective “personality” of his company… unpredictable, passionate, playful, extremist, impulsive, rebellious, disciplined, adventurous, colourful, determined, anarchic, generous, eccentric, humorous, obsessive, poetic, tragicomic and… in a word, Kempian.