Kenneth Olumuyiwa Tharp reveals the people who have most inspired him

Kenneth Olumuyiwa Tharp.

Robert Cohan CBE

I first encountered Bob as a student, before going on to dance in his company, London Contemporary Dance Theatre, for 13 years. I think of Bob as a gardener: extraordinarily hard working with creative vision and infinite patience, but coming from Brooklyn, he was also a gardener with guts! He knew how to challenge and empower his dancers, and could get people to work incredibly hard for him. He knew how to instigate change. He taught me not only how to dance, but how to be. One of Bob’s greatest gifts as a leader and director was to know what to say, and when, to effect change in his dancers. Rather like a radio when it is just out of tune, sometimes just a small turn of the dial is enough to bring everything into crystal clear focus. Bob knew how to do that so well.

Robin Howard CBE

Robin was a dedicated, passionate and selfless visionary. His holistic vision and money started The Place, home of the Contemporary Dance Trust, where I am now CEO. On my first day at The Place, 30 years ago, Robin imparted to the new students his vision of love and work, that to be an artist one had to aspire to wholeness. Robin was remarkably passionate and persistent but was also – perhaps because his vision was so clear – courageous and unafraid of change. Every day as I come into the office I am greeted by Robin’s picture on my wall. It’s a good reminder.

Professor Sir Ken Robinson

I first came across Ken Robinson as author of the Government ‘All Our Futures’ report about creativity and education. It read like no other Government document, and I thought that the person who wrote it must be rather special. I finally got to meet him briefly last summer after a lecture he gave at the RSA. He’s a fantastically engaging speaker and manages to be a champion of creative learning and the arts – especially dance – beyond artistic circles.

Tony Hall

It has been remarkable to see the changes that have taken place at the Royal Opera House under Tony’s leadership. He’s managed to gradually change its internal culture and practice. Now it’s a different place, both inside and out. Tony is brilliant at communicating his passion for the art and for opening up the joy of world-class dance and music to as many people as possible. I am in awe of his astonishing ability to spin so many plates at the same time and yet keep his focus sharp.

Chris Smith (Lord Smith of Finsbury) and Sue Hoyle

I wouldn’t be in my current role without the benefit of having been a Fellow on the Clore Leadership Programme, run by Chris and Sue. I cannot separate them. Together, they brought Vivien Duffield’s original vision to life, masterminding an amazing opportunity for learning and growth, and implementing it with care, dedication and wisdom.

Kenneth Olumuyiwa Tharp is Chief Executive of The Place.