The Friday Arts Diary

Our cultural picks for the week ahead.

Dance

Tate Modern, London SE1 – Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, 18– 20 July

The prominent Belgian choreographer reworks her 1982 minimalist dance piece, Fase: Four Movements to the Music of Steve Reich, for The Tanks – the Tate Modern’s new gallery space devoted to live art. De Keersmaeker explores the relationship between music and dance in this hour-long performance, a classic piece from Flanders’s 1980s contemporary dance movement, exploiting the Tanks’ industrial space – originally the chambers containing oil that fuelled the former Bankside Power Station.

Music

Peckham Rye Car Park, London SE15 – John Adams’ “Harmonielehre”, 14 July

The American composer John Adams’s romantic-minimalist epic, Harmonielehre, is radically reimagined in the stripped-down expanse of Peckham Rye Multi-Storey Car Park. The 100-piece TROSP Orchestra, conducted by Christopher Stark, performs Adams’s 1985 symphonic poem as part of a series of summer events run by Bold Tendencies – a non-profit sculpture project that uses the car park for exhibitions.

Comedy

Royal Festival Hall, London SE1 – Stewart Lee, 18 July

The cerebral stand-up brings a slimmed down version of his show, Carpet Remnant World, to the Southbank. “It’s form interrogated by content through a haze of passive-aggressive monotony,” Lee explains, in a performance that slowly unfolds from a lengthy apology for inadequate content into a gleeful rejection of narrative structure and a brutal deconstruction of comedy itself.
 

Theatre

Shakespeare’s Globe, London SE1 - Richard III, 14 July – 13 October

Mark Rylance returns to the Globe for the first time since his 1995-2005 tenure as artistic director, in an all-male Original Practices production of Richard III. Rylance takes on the monstrous title role, in a journey of homicidal ambition that explores performance-practice from 1593. Richard III follows on the heels of the Globe’s Cultural Olympiad spring season when it staged each of Shakespeare’s plays in a different language.
 

Exhibition

Wellcome Collection, London NW1 – Superhuman, 19 July – 16 October

Superhuman, an exhibition exploring human enhancement from 600BCE to 2050, traces the history of an obsession with improving the body’s performance. From an ancient Egyptian prosthetic toe through to the superhero fantasies of comics, Superhuman provides an eclectic look at the ethics and science of human adaptability.
 
Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker at the Tanks (Photo:Getty)
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Conjuring the ghost: the "shape-shifting, queer, violent, hippie genuis" of David Litvinoff

A new biography tracks down the elusive Kray confidant who became a friend of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.

David Litvinoff is a mythic character to anyone with an interest in London during the Sixties. An intimate of the Krays, he was a tough and violent Jew from the East End. He was also a musical genius with an unrivalled knowledge of jazz, the blues and rock that made him a valued friend of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. It was his ability to move from the East End to Chelsea, from the dives of Soho to Notting Hill, that was the critical factor in the extraordinary vision of London that Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg conjured into the film Performance, for which Litvinoff is credited as dialogue coach. And yet, even though all this is known and recorded, he remains a ghost, a figure who wrote nothing and who systematically destroyed all the records of his life he could lay his hands on. Even his exact role in Performance is shrouded in mystery. He is said to have dictated much of the script to Cammell. This biography claims that Jagger’s mesmerising song on the soundtrack, “Memo from Turner”, was in fact a memo from Litvinoff.

Multiple reports describe him as the most brilliant talker London had known since Coleridge, but although there are rumours of tapes they have always been just rumours. I’d have thought he was a figure who would defeat any biographer – a shape-shifting, queer, violent, hippie genius lost in a mist of hallucinogens – but Keiron Pim’s account of this extraordinary character is a magisterial work of scholarship. He tracks down all the living witnesses; he has also unearthed letters, and even some of those long-lost tapes.

The story that emerges is even harder to believe than the legend. Litvinoff came out of the Jewish East End but he was from one of its most talented families. His name was not even Litvinoff: his mother’s first husband went by that name but David was the son of her second, Solomon Levy. Long before he met the Krays or the Stones, he was a gossip columnist on the Daily Express, practically inventing the Chelsea set that shocked the prim Fifties. By that time he had met Lucian Freud, who painted him in an astonishing study, the working title of which was Portrait of a Jew. Litvinoff was furious when Freud exhibited it with the new description of The Procurer, and the bad blood between these two men, both of whom inhabited the drinking clubs of Soho and the Krays’ gambling joints, remained for the rest of their lives. In fact, it is Freud who comes over as the villain of the book, fingered by Pim as the man behind the most violent assault on Litvinoff: he was knocked unconscious at the door to his own flat, on the top floor, and awoke to find himself naked and tied to a chair suspended from the balcony, nose broken and head shaved bald.

I learned much from this book: a period working for Peter Rachman before he became involved with the Krays; sojourns in Wales and Australia when he was fleeing threats of violence. The big discovery for me, however, was Litvinoff’s encyclopaedic knowledge of the jazz and blues traditions that gave birth to rock’n’roll. He taught the Stones a lot but he taught Eric Clapton even more – they were both living at the Pheasantry building on the King’s Road, and Litvinoff seems to have had unlimited access to the most recherché back catalogues and the most recent unreleased recordings. The book traces, but does not comment on, a transformation from an amphetamine-fuelled hard man in the Fifties and early Sixties to the oddest of hallucinogen hippies by the Summer of Love in 1967.

But, for all Litvinoff’s knowledge, wit and gift for friendship, his tale is a tragedy. A man who could talk but couldn’t write; an out gay man long before it was acceptable, who seems never to have been at ease with his sexuality; a proud Jew without any tradition of Judaism to which he could affiliate. Above all, this was a man who lived to the full the extraordinary moment when London dreamed, in Harold Wilson’s Sixties, that class was a thing of the past. Back from Australia in the early Seventies, Litvinoff awoke again to find that it had indeed been a dream. His suicide in 1975 was cold and deliberate. He had outlived his time. 

Colin MacCabe edits Critical Quarterly

Jumpin’ Jack Flash: David Litvinoff and the Rock’n’Roll Underworld by Keiron Pim is publisyhed by Jonathan Cape (416pp, £16.99)

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser