Kenneth tharp with students

Play as part of work – A Creative Artist Talk with Kenneth Olumuyiwa Tharp

This month we had the pleasure to have Kenneth Olumuyiwa Tharp CBE deliver a Creative Artist Talk to our students. Our Creative Artist Programme is aimed to help students become versatile artists, providing them with the tools to develop their careers within and beyond ballet.

Kenneth Olumuyiwa Tharp CBE began his career as a dancer with the London Contemporary Dance Theatre, where he danced for 13 years. He spent 25 years as a performer, choreographer, teacher, Chief Executive of The Place, the UK’s leading centre for contemporary dance development, and as the Director of The Africa Centre in London, which since 1964 has been a hub for the spirit and soul of African culture. Tharp has previously taught students at The Royal Ballet School’s Summer Intensive.

We were thrilled to welcome Kenneth to join our students in conversation about his career, formative advice, and the importance of celebrating diversity in dance.

Tharp had a compelling anecdote about the transformational power of dance and the arts when asked about his beginnings at the London Contemporary Dance Theatre.

By the time I joined the company in January 1982, my first two weeks were not on stage; they were actually leading a two-week dance residency with another dance artist and musician in a school in Haven, Hampshire. The reason I want to mention that in particular, and the reason it’s important, is it gave me an insight into what I’d now say is the transformational power of dance and the arts. Watching the journey that young people went on in the course of just 10 days and seeing how they came alive, how they transform.

Kenneth tharp talking with students and staff

He also spoke about the importance of working compassionately with young people in a creative environment.

If you look at a young person just through one lens in one situation, you will only see them in one way. What was important about that work with young people was that it not only transformed the young people themselves, but it transformed the perceptions of those young people by the people around them.

Tharp explored some of the advice that informed his career and gave some of his own to our students.

I think the privilege of been a dancer for all those years was that every day it taught you and you practiced what it meant to be totally present, to be absolutely in that moment. The danger is when something unexpected happens, you start thinking about what just happened. The gift of dancing is that every second that you’re in the studio or on stage you’re practicing that divine juggling act of passion and detachment, and how you can be fully present in that moment.

As Tharp’s career has evolved into areas outside of performance, he spoke on the transition from being a dancer to becoming an educator, leader, and advocate for culture and the arts, and how being a dancer gave him an essential foundation.

Dancers get used to being in the discomfort zone because that’s what we have to do the whole time. When you get used to doing that, then it means if you’re faced with a new challenge or something that you’re not sure about I think most of us develop the courage just to explore that and to feel that you don’t have to have an instant answer for everything.

Kenneth has experienced first-hand the importance of diversity and inclusion in the dance industry and understands the significance of celebrating diversity.

No young person should look at any art form and feel that there isn’t a place for them.

Kenneth ended the talk by encouraging students to follow their curiosities and passions and to have curiosities and passions that extend beyond the world of ballet and dance. 

Thank you, Kenneth Tharp, for sharing your story with our students, and for pioneering diversity in the dance world.