Tuesday, 26 March 2013

I taught David to free his body

"I got a letter from the Sadler's Wells Ballet School saying they found me temperamentally and physically unsuited to a career as a dancer. I suppose that knocked me back for a couple of days, but then I went to see The Red Shoes at the cinema and I was up on my toes again. Blame Robert Helpmann." - Lindsay Kemp

At Saturday's We Love Bowie gala evening at the British Film Institute, among the delights with which our host Rupert Smith titillated us was a rarely-seen broadcast (by Scottish Television, of all unlikely places in 1970) of a typically camp, elaborate and incomprehensible piece by Lindsay Kemp, featuring Mr Bowie.

Mr Kemp is one of the most influential of all avant-garde performance artists, and many of our favourite artists have cited him as a source of inspiration - Kate Bush, Derek Jarman, Leigh Bowery, dancer Michael Clark and our very own Bette Bourne among them. But it was his collaboration with, and nurturing of (reputedly in return for sex) the young David Bowie for which we thank him most!

I found a rather marvellous article by Paul Gallagher on the esoteric blog site Dangerous Minds, which explains:
[In the 60s]...Bowie was shedding musical styles quicker than he changed his hair - from beat through Blues to Music Hall and Pop. With hindsight, you can see where his career was going, but by 1967, the teenager’s first recording career had come to a halt after the release of his oddment Laughing Gnome after which, Bowie didn’t release a record for another two years.

During this time, he fell under the influence of mime artist and performer Lindsay Kemp, who helped Bowie channel his unique talent towards Space Oddity and later Ziggy Stardust. As Kemp later told journalist Mick Brown for Crawdaddy in 1974:

“I taught David to free his body,” says Kemp, smiling wickedly.

“Even before meeting, David and I had felt the need to work together. I’d identified myself with his songs, and he’d seen my performances and identified himself with my songs. I was singing the songs of my life with my body; he was singing the songs of his life very fabulously with his voice, and we reckoned that by putting the two together the audience couldn’t help but be enthralled. In other words, one large gin is very nice, but two large gins are even nicer.”

The two large gins became Pierrot in Turquoise, which was filmed by Scottish Television in 1969, and broadcast in July 1970. How a small regional TV station like STV came to film this rather strange theatrical show is, no doubt, a tale in itself, but thankfully they did. Even if one cataloguer at Scottish Screen Archives “found this quite creepy,” it is still well worth watching.

It was filmed at the Scottish Television’s Gateway Theatre in Edinburgh, and was directed by Brian Mahoney. Now if only STV made programs like this today...
And here, for your delectation, is the entire thing.

Part One: “When I Live My Dream”:

Part Two: “Columbine”:

Part Three: “The Mirror”:

Part Four: “Threepenny Pierrot”:

Part Five: “When I Live My Dream, Again”:

[As it says on the tin:]
"Dangerous Minds is a compendium of oddities, pop culture treasures, high weirdness, punk rock and politics drawn from the outer reaches of pop culture. Our editorial policy, such that it is, reflects the interests, whimsies and peculiarities of the individual writers. And sometimes it doesn't. Very often the idea is just "Here's what so and so said, take a look and see what you think." I'll repeat that: We're not necessarily endorsing everything you'll find here, we're merely saying "Here it is." We think human beings are very strange and often totally hilarious. We enjoy weird and inexplicable things very much. We believe things have to change and change swiftly. It's got to be about the common good or it's no good at all. We like to get suggestions of fun/serious things from our good-looking, high IQ readers. We are your favorite distraction."
If this is an example of their type of feature, then I, for one, will be subscribing; and fully intend to make this Cabinet of curiosities one of my new "favourite distractons"...

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