Lindsay Kemp and David Bowie in Pierrot in Turquoise and a look at how Lindsay uses his face to express himself.

There is a wonderful article by Paul Gallagher entitled, “David Bowie and Lindsay Kemp’s rarely seen Production “Pierrot in Turquoise”, 1968 here.

Paul Gallagher writes ” In 28 December 1967, David Bowie made his theatrical debut at the Oxford New Theater, in Lindsay Kemp’s mime Pierrot in Turquoise or, The Looking Glass Murders. Bowie wrote and performed the music, and starred as Cloud, alongside Kemp’s Pierrot, Jack Birkett’s Harlequin, and Annie Stainer’s Columbine.

[…]The mime told the story of Pierrot and his attempts to win the love of his life, Columbine. Of course things are never simple, and Columbine falls for Harlequin, and is then killed by Pierrot.

After a few tweaks, Pierrot in Turquoise opened at the Rosehill Theater, Whitehaven, before its proper run at the Mercury Theater, an Intimate Theater, both London, in March 1968.”

Lindsay moves his face with so much expressiveness and mobility that he is able to captivate an audience with a single movement of his eyes. In today and tomorrow’s post I will look at movement of the face in mime, kabuki, comedia dell’arte, balinese dance and comic masques. All of these inform Lindsay’s work. Interestingly, in contemporary dance the face may reflect the music in an understated and improvised manner but should not distract from the expression of movement through the whole body. In dance, a smile or frown may be demonstrated with the legs as much as the mouth.

The body conducting the emotion as a whole in Martha Graham’s Lamentation. In this extract Martha Graham herself performs the piece:

Lindsay Kemp’s cat and the communicative eyes of secretly-blind Kemp company member Jack Birkett.

Lindsay Kemp in the 1970s

Billy, Lindsay Kemp’s cat

I have owned and known many cats. During my interviews with Kemp in Italy I was astonished by how much Kemp’s cat Billy mimicked his owner. Billy must be the most expressive cat I have ever come across with a range of facial movements worthy of a place in the company. Another interesting connection to Lindsay’s emphasis on work with the face is the story of Jack Birkett, whom Kemp christened  “The Incredible Orlando”. John Spradberry, Kemp’s famous Lighting Designer describes how Jack became blind whilst in the company. This must have been a moment at which Jack’s career onstage could have ended. But Jack decided that he did not want his audience to know he could not see and thus refined the art of moving his eyes as if  he could see the audience. Using special lights that John Spradberry angled onstage, Jack could faintly sense light and dark, and he moved his eyes to create the illusion of sight. In this clip of Jack in which he is blind and  playing the role of Thersites in Troilus and Cressida, the audience are fooled into thinking that Jack is seeing.

Les Enfants du Paradis (1945).

Arletty, Jean-Louis Barrault, Pierre Brasseur et Maria Casares in The Destiny of Pierrot from the film, Les Enfants Du Paradis.

Marcel Marceau “Sketch”.

Rudolph Neureyev in Pierrot Lunnaire.

Music : Arnold Schoenberg Choreography : Glen Tetley

From the Nureyev foundation website: “In his desire to expand his art to other forms of dance, Rudolf Nureyev performed this choreography by Glen Tetley many times and in many countries, and included it in the repertoire of his “Nureyev and Friends”.

He identified with this tragic character as with Fokine’s Petrouchka, another of his favourite roles. Glen Tetley resisted during five years before giving him this choreography, fearing that the intense personality of the dancer would overwhelm the innocence of Pierrot, but Rudolf revealed a deep vulnerability in this role. While he was rehearsing Pierrot lunaire with Tetley, he was being filmed in Valentino, and had started to choreograph his version of Romeo and Juliet. It is just an example of the extraordinary density and variety of his schedules. “

In Pierrot Lunaire, Nureyev is called on to use his face much more than he would do in traditional ballet. Nureyev loved Kemp’s work and tried to copy his facial movements from Lindsay but in this piece he perhaps lacks some of the refined facial mannerism of Kemp’s or Marceau’s Pierrot. Nureyev also learned ‘how to bow’ and ‘how to fall’  from Lindsay and his company. Kemp always emphasises the importance of the bows as an extension of the performance. He believes they must be choreographed and like Isadora Duncan, reach from the floor to The Gods, “to you, to you, to you” he cries out to imaginary members of the audience as he rehearses the company bows, standing in a row arms outstretched.

Dancer Lucy Burge

Nureyev’s partner at Rambert, Lucy Burge- who played Columbine to Neureyev’s Pierrot- explained to me that they do not teach you how to fall backwards onstage in classical ballet technique but it is a skill you need in contemporary dance; how to fall convincingly and safely.

Paul Legrand as Pierrot 1857

Etienne Decroux in the 1920s


2 Comments so far. Leave a comment below.
  1. A new favorite page for me from blog from 50 Years In Dance. Hoping this will link you and that you will subscribe!

  2. Hello!
    The final picture on your wonderful blog is incorrectly labelled (the white-faced harlequin pointing at the viewer, labelled “Etienne Decroux in the 1920’s”). It is actually me, Mark Jaster, in a photograph by Ruven Afanador, taken in the late 1980’s.

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