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If it wasn’t for Ziggy Stardust’s mime skills, Brendan Keaney might not be working in dance. The DanceEast chief reveals who has inspired his career.

Photo of Brendan Keaney

Kathleen Keaney

Although I understand that picking your mum is a bit of cliché, mine taught me one of the most important lessons in life: don’t be afraid to be different. My parents were Irish Catholics living in London. It is hard to imagine the baggage that came with being Irish in the 1960s and ‘70s, particularly during the most violent periods of The Troubles.

My mum insisted that I did not hide my heritage behind my London accent. Consequently, when I worked out that I was going to follow a route that was not typical for an ordinary working class young man, I was able to meet the challenges head on.

David Bowie

I can only remember one visit to the theatre as a young person – a production of ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ at a boys’ school that failed to inspire. I was, however, very excited by music and when I saw David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust in Finsbury Park in about 1972, it was transformational.

I had read that Bowie had studied mime. When I looked in Time Out – at the time, the definitive guide to all things exciting in London – I found a section entitled ‘Dance and Mime’. Such was my level of ignorance, I did not realise the two disciplines were different and I ended up in a dance class. I often wonder what would have happened if I’d had access to the internet.

Rosemary Butcher, choreographer

With so many great dance artists to choose from it is hard to single anyone out as a guru. Like so many people of my generation, London Contemporary Dance Theatre played an enormously significant role in turning me into a dance addict. But I didn’t really get on with Graham technique, so I will pass on the great Bob Cohan.

If I had to credit one person with making a massive impact, it would have to be Rosemary Butcher. Watching her work at Riverside Studios completely changed my understanding of dance, what it was and what it could be. I am deeply indebted.

Sue Hoyle, Director of the Clore Leadership Programme

The big change in my life came when I left the dance studio to work full time in an office. I joined the Arts Council in the early 1990s and I was lucky enough to work with two great Dance Officers, Julia Carruthers and Jeanette Siddall, who really looked after me. We were all looked after by our boss, Sue Hoyle, who was Director of Dance.

Sue was an extraordinary leader and an incredibly caring manager. She is someone who I feel I can still go to for help and advice. Working with Sue was like having your own custom-built leadership programme, before it was funded by the Clore Duffield Foundation!

Val Bourne, Founding Director, Dance Umbrella

Contemporary dance owes Val a great deal. I particularly value many of the fantastic collaborations that I worked on with Dance Umbrella when I was Director of Greenwich Dance.

Val is probably unaware, however, of the impact of a performance she programmed by Douglas Dunne in 1978. I struggled to understand what I was watching that evening and could not decide whether I loved or hated the performance. It felt very brave to be presenting this kind of work in the UK. I was reminded yet again that you should never be afraid to be different!

Brendan Keaney is Artistic Director and Chief Executive of DanceEast.

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