Review: Kemp. My Best Dance Is Yet To Come
by Vittoria Scarpa
- Italian actor-director Edoardo Gabbriellini delivers a great documentary, competing in Bologna’s Biografilm Festival, in which contemporary dance icon Lindsay Kemp tells his own story
“Dancers don’t retire. Dancers die”. These are the words of Lindsay Kemp. And, indeed, at 80 years of age, the famous and irrepressible Englishman, dancer, mime artist, choreographer and icon of contemporary dance who inspired countless artists - David Bowie, first and foremost - was getting ready for his new show, “Dracula”, when, at the end of a long day of rehearsals, he exited the stage forever. At that time, in the summer of 2018, the actor and director Edoardo Gabbriellini (who made his acting debut in Paolo Virzì’s Hardboiled Egg, later featuring in the cast of Luca Guadagnino’s I Am Love [+see also:
interview: Luca Guadagnino - director
film profile], among other works, before moving behind the camera to direct two fiction films) was just wrapping filming on a documentary about Lindsay Kemp who had moved, some time earlier, to Livorno, the Tuscan birth-city of the director. The result was Kemp. My Best Dance Is Yet To Come, a wonderful conversation with the charismatic dancer, shored up by precious archive material, which was presented in competition and in a world premiere at the 15th Biografilm Festival in Bologna (7-17 June).
It’s a minimalist, succinct work (barely 63 minutes in length) which gets straight to the heart of Kemp’s extraordinary art and personality. Gabbriellini chooses to let the great choreographer speak – mostly in his Livorno home, full of flowers and Victorian-style wallpaper, changing room from time to time – creating a conversation of sorts between Kemp and his younger self, whom we see in old film footage which the director has dug from the archives of the BBC and Australian and Swiss TV. The son of a sailor, he inherited the motion of the rolling sea from his father – Kemp himself surmises – while his mother, described as a real “party girl”, can probably be thanked for his penchant for alcohol and hallucinogenic drugs (“LSD helped me to find myself”). Tasking himself with the mission of electrifying and stimulating audiences (in his opinion, you need to come away from a theatre performance feeling as if you’ve changed, otherwise it’s just boring), he talks about himself as if he were some kind of clown-poet - capable of reaching dizzying heights, but also of falling back down to earth, bumping onto his backside - in a dialectic which veers between highs and lows and where what really counts is “placing the spectator under [his] spell”, even in a strip-tease club.
It’s impossible not to be left bewitched by the charm and boundless creativity of this visionary man, by his manner of speaking and by his gestures, such as when we listen to him talk about a scene from his show Dracula - which he was due to star in shortly after filming the present project - and we feel as if we’re there, watching it ourselves. Gabbriellini could have made a more traditional documentary on Kemp’s life story, interviewing the artists who were inspired by him (Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush…). Yet he has decided to focus on the man himself as he is today, and it’s a winning choice, because it conveys the essence of an artist of inexhaustible genius, a student of Marcel Marceau - who “gave him his hands”- and a man who showed David Bowie “how to be wonderful visually as well as musically”. But also, fundamentally, a star who, at 80 years old, still believes that – and he says this with the sly smile of those who spend most of their lives on stage – “the best is yet to come”.
Produced by Ilaria Malagutti and Edoardo Gabbriellini for Mammut Film, Kemp. My Best Dance Is Yet To Come will be screened over the coming days at the Asolo Art Film Festival, before embarking on a tour of international festivals. It will be broadcast on Sky Arte on 24 August, the anniversary of Kemp’s death.
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