Elizabeth Leese

Elizabeth Leese, dancer, choreographer, teacher, actor, artistic director (b 1916; d 17 Jul 1962). Leese, who was of Danish and German origin, grew up in Hamburg; where she was initiated in German expressionist dance. She studied ballet with Lubov Egorova in Paris and danced with Trudi Schoop's Swiss company. An injury temporarily put an end to her stage career, and she took classes in theatrical dance with Kurt Jooss in England. She met and married Kenneth Johnstone, a Canadian journalist, and, opposed to Nazi ideology, they immigrated to Toronto in 1939. Leese was quickly engaged as a dancer and modern dance teacher at Boris Volkoff's Canadian ballet, then went to Ottawa (1942-44), where she developed a complete program for teaching dance for the Recreational Association.

Eventually settling in Montréal in 1944, she opened a studio in Westmount and formed a company with her most talented students. Leese immediately established links with the Francophone and Anglophone communities determining choreographies for the Université de Montréal's Revue Bleu et Or and McGill's Red and White Revue. She joined the Montreal Repertory Theatre, playing the title role in I Remember Mama, and collaborated with Gratien GÉLINAS and the father of Émile LEGAULT.

From 1945 to 1958, the Elizabeth Leese Ballet performed in Montréal and in numerous ballet festivals across Canada. Her best-known work, Lady from the Sea (1952), would become part of the NATIONAL BALLET OF CANADA's repertoire, with Celia FRANCA as Leese. Leese was, as well, a choreographer and dancer at the Montreal Theatre Ballet collective (1956-58), directed by Brian Macdonald. She was a radio actor and commentator, and also appeared on TV. Her broad influence and versatility, like that of her colleague Ruth SOREL, marked the beginning of professional dance in Québec. A respected pedagogue, her initial expressionist style and her teaching gradually evolved toward classical ballet. Her school was the first in Québec to offer teacher training as well as the Cecchetti Classical Ballet Method. She thus helped merge the contemporary German and American schools with classical ballet. She died of a brain tumour in 1962.