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Meet the performers of (B)old, a celebration of artists aged 65 and up

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Kmccabe
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Ahead of (B)old, a new arts festival championing people aged 65 and over, its unstoppable performers share their wisdom, and talk about the upsides of ageing

Germaine Acogny

Senegalese dancer/choreographer known as the ‘mother of African dance’, 74, pictured above

Has your approach to dance changed with age?
‘In Europe, when you’re older, you don’t do many things, I think. But here [in Senegal] I do a workshop for elders to come to dance in my village. Older people dance how they need, they don’t have a complex [about it]. I would like older people in Europe to come and see how we move here. It’s not a problem to move. One journalist from Senegal said to me, “You are like wine, the older you get, the better you are.” And I said: “Yes!” It’s good to show people, and ourselves: we are useful.’

Is there a ‘best age’?
‘Experience has importance. The most important thing is to live it, to test it. For me, I think I am more mature. My memory is better than when I was young. Each age has its value. And I hope the best is coming.’ 

What’s the best advice you could pass on to young people?
‘To be proud about what they are. Don’t lose your personality. If you are black, be proud about that, of your family, and your roots. I go everywhere in the world, but I am happy to be Senegalese.’
Germaine will be dancing ‘Mon Elue Noir (My Black Chosen One): Sacre #2’ at Queen Elizabeth Hall. May 18. £15.

Gene Nocon

Zandra Rhodes

Britain’s most colourful fashion designer, 77

(B)old is about older creatives. What have you learned since turning 65?
‘I didn’t notice 65, it was such a long time ago. As long as I keep dyeing my hair pink and I don’t look like a little grey-haired old lady it doesn’t really matter. I’m surrounded by people that are far younger than me and I don’t feel the age difference. I think as a creative person you often have to be a bit like a tortoise. You have to look into yourself.’

How do you maintain your originality in the fashion industry?
‘I’m led by my friends around me. I’m led by working with Andrew Logan on his next Alternative Miss World, on following what my great friend Duggie Fields is doing at his painting exhibition in Glasgow. You just have to try and be aware of things that are going on.’

Has your style changed over time?
‘I’ve always found it exciting to dress up and experiment and everything. I’d much rather try and remain true to my style than have people say: “oh, now you’re looking your age”, as I’m going around in black and grey. I don’t think about what’s expected.’

What’s the best advice you could pass on to young people?
‘Surround yourself with people that also want to work and get somewhere.’

What advice would you give to your younger self?
‘I’d say “Don’t give up.” If you’ve got an idea that you think is valid, keep on at it. You might have to fall down a lot of staircases on the way, but don’t give up on it.’
Zandra will launch (B)old festival on Mon May 14 by raising the multi-coloured flags she has created for the roof of the Royal Festival Hall

Linton Kwesi Johnson

Jamaican-British dub artist and pioneer of reggae poetry, 65

What’s the best advice you could pass on to young people?
‘To be aware that they are the future and one of the important goals in life is to try to realise your human potential.’

What excites you about the future?
‘The potential of the revolution in new technology to transform humanity for the better.’

In your career, what has made you most proud?
‘The fact that younger people interested in poetry can look at my example and say: “If he could become a poet so can I.”’

What advice would you give to your younger self, back when you first started performing?
‘I wish I was more widely read and rehearsed more before I began doing readings.’

What is the best thing about getting older?
‘To be conscious of past errors and to be able to avoid them.’  
Linton will be discussing his 40-year poetry career at Queen Elizabeth Hall. Mon May 14. £15-£25.

 Lavinia Co-op

Dancer, singer, activist and drag legend, 66

What do you think of the idea of someone being in their ‘prime’?
‘I hold the flag up for my right to be in the party. You always get that sense of “What are you doing here, you’re an older person.” I fought to have the spaces for me to be in.’

Does drag still feel like a political act to you?
‘Oh yeah. I still can’t walk out on the street, really, in drag. I know some queens and I just can’t believe that they walk around in drag all the time. I can’t believe their guts. Maybe it’s a bit more open. But I always worry, for them… I have a long history of being attacked, verbally and physically. I want to survive. Sometimes we conform to the norm in the uniform of  casualness, which is fine. And sometimes we want to dress up, because it gives us a real feeling of  exuberance. It’s like painting a picture.’

What’s the best advice you could pass on to young people?
‘If I’d had a skill, like hairdressing, that might have helped pay for being a performer. If drag is one of the stalwarts of your life, get a job that will help you pay for it.’

What’s the best thing about getting older?
‘It’s like Mae West said: everything is the same, “just six inches lower”. As you get older, you go slower, but you see things more. You can look deeper and you take your time.’
Lavinia will be performing ‘Up Yours!’ a personal recollection of life in drag at the Purcell Room. May 19. From £12. 

(B)old runs at the Southbank Centre from Mon May 14-May 20. Tube: Waterloo. Prices vary.

And in other South Bank news, the ABBA exhibition has just extended its run

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