Yesterday I interviewed Lesley Telford in my SFU Woodward's office for our Vancouver Dance Histories project. It was a rare free hour for the busy choreographer as she prepares to premiere a new commission for Ballet BC tomorrow at the Queen E, and as she continues the development of a new piece called spooky action at a distance (about particle entanglement) for her company Inverso as part of her current residency at The Dance Centre. The premiere of the latter work at the end of April coincides with the remount of my play Long Division, for which Lesley also did the choreography--and which she has said to me she'd still like to polish and tweak. I don't know how she'll manage being in two places at once, but certainly her inventiveness as a choreographer (as well as her partiality for working with text) is part of the reason I was so keen to collaborate with her.
I first encountered Lesley's work when her Brittle Failure played the Chutzpah! Festival in 2013. At that point she was still based in Madrid (she moved back to Vancouver permanently the following year). How she got to Madrid begins with ballet lessons at age five in Cloverdale to correct a turned-in foot. From there she went on to study at the Kirkwood Academy and Goh Ballet, before moving to Montreal to train at the École supérieure de danse du québec. From there she joined her first company, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, then under the direction of Larry Rhodes. Her first show for the company was Balanchine's Agon, and very early on she also partnered Louis Robitaille (now AD at Ballets Jazz de Montréal) in a piece by James Kudelka. At 24 Lesley moved to Spain to dance for Nacho Duato at the Spanish National Dance Company; it was there that she first encountered the choreography of Jiří Kylián. Six years later she was a company member at Nederlands Dans Theater, helping to create original works by Kylián, Ohad Naharin, William Forsythe, Crystal Pite and others.
It was while at NDT (where she danced from 2000-2010) that Lesley first began to choreograph. During this time she was also traveling back to Vancouver in the summers, at one point approaching Artemis Gordon at Arts Umbrella about the possibility of teaching for her. Artemis said yes, and that part-time summer gig has turned into a full-time position since Lesley's return to Vancouver. Indeed, Arts Umbrella, in allowing Lesley to combine her interests in making and teaching, has enabled her to develop work over longer stretches of time and to have a shared continuity of choreographic information with her collaborators. A case in point is her piece "An Instant," which she first developed on the senior students at AU; she was later invited by Emily Molnar to re-set the work on the dancers of Ballet BC. That two of the original AU dancers in the piece, Emily Chessa and Christoph von Reidemann, had since joined Ballet BC only made that process that much more fluid. Similarly, the dancers in the new Performance Research Program that Lesley has started at AU--all of them already working professionally, but also seeking additional post-graduation opportunities for intensive training--are also helping Lesley create the first phase of spooky action at a distance (a glimpse of which I was able to see at an open showing last week at the DC). These same talented performers were also integral to creating and helping to teach to the actors the choreography in Long Division.
It was through that process especially that I was able to see what an inspired teacher-choreographer Lesley is. We're lucky to have her back in the city.