Lindsay Kemp, Proust, and Linz

Lindsay Kemp died several days ago. The video below was posted as a memorial on social media. I know almost none of Kemp’s work, but this video, when I watched it, provoked one of those ‘lost ecstasies’ that Proust describes in his long novel. It is not Kemp’s dancing but the recording of the Verdi that brought about the recollection.

Near Linz

Near Linz

In 1989 I had been asked by the United Nations to interview for a field position. I flew from Toronto to Vienna for the interview, and was offered the position. It was, however, in Lebanon, which had become a dangerous place to be in at that time. Preferring a reasonable expectation of life to mortal uncertainty I declined. A week or so later, I was driving near Linz, and the Verdi Requiem came over the radio. It was when Pavarotti began to sing the Ingemisco (rather than the Hostias) that I encountered a moment of great contentment, so I pulled off the road onto a low hill from which I could see the countryside, and listened, and looked for a long time over the expanse of the land.

The cause of the recollection is not Kemp but Pavarotti singing Verdi in exactly the same recording I listened to outside Linz. Retrospectively, it was an important moment, for not only did I decide at that time not to return to Europe and to remain in Canada but also I chose the probability of a longer life and not have sung, for me, a premature requiem. It has remained the right decision; although, I must add, its implications were hardly clear to me then, when I was 30 years younger and still felt immortal.

Kemp’s dance of the Hostias, I perorate, deserves the sacrifices of praise at a time of commemoration.

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