Obituary: Travis Kemp

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The Independent Online
Travis Kemp was a veteran of English ballet. What he lacked in physical esprit he made up for with dogged persistence. If he did not excel as a classical dancer, he was a capable partner: not listed; never in the headlines; but always part of the ensemble.

Born in 1914 in Nottingham, where he spent his childhood, Kemp learnt to dance with Pauline and Noreen Bush, to whom he was related. He made his first stage appearances in variety, but was drawn to the ballet. Ninette de Valois, on the lookout for male dancers, engaged him and coached him to appear in some of her early ballets. He stayed but three years with the Vic-Wells Ballet, gaining further experience with the Ballet Rambert.

His horizons were broadened when he obtained a contract with Victor Dandre's Russian Ballet - the company that had been a frame for the immortal Anna Pavlova. With this company he toured South Africa and Australia.

But it was the English dancer Molly Lake, a fellow artist in the company, who absorbed most of his attentions. They became friends and developed a dancing partnership, although Lake being tall, masculine and strident tended to overshadow the quieter, calmer and slightly withdrawn Kemp. Together they returned to England to join the Markova-Dolin Ballet. Kemp became Anton Dolin's understudy and when Dolin was injured he partnered Alicia Markova in Giselle and Les Sylphides. He also danced leading roles in Bronislava Nijinska's Les Biches and The Loved One. Towards the end of the Thirties he and Molly Lake formed their own company - Ballet Intime - which toured the provinces and which revealed Kemp's organisational ability.

At the outbreak of war he and Lake were dancing in lunchtime performances with the London Ballet and the Arts Theatre Ballet. When he was called up for military service Lake agreed to marry. They had been together in partnership for several years.

After Kemp's demob from the Royal Artillery, he and his wife formed Embassy Ballet. It was later renamed Continental Ballet. At this time there were at least a dozen small touring ballet troupes all vying for a living and Kemp and Lake had a hand-to-mouth existence. In 1954 they gave up the struggle, to take up an appointment offered them by Ninette de Valois to teach and direct the Turkish National Ballet School which de Valois had founded at the request of the Turkish Government after her retirement as director of the Royal Ballet.

They taught the method of the Italian Maestro Enrico Cecchetti and together - she, with eagle eye, cogent remark and military precision; and he, gentle, persuasive and personalised - they made an excellent combination. Over the next 20 years they established successful schools in Istanbul, Izmir and Ankara.

Their work in Turkey was brought to an end by political unrest and on their return to Britain they took appointments with the London Contemporary Dance School at The Place, with Lake as classical teacher and Kemp as principal of the school. Eventually, in retirement, they opened a small ballet school of their own.

John Gregory

Travis Kemp, ballet dancer, teacher, director: born Nottingham 23 May 1914; married Molly Lake (died 1986); died Nottingham 16 July 1995.