Dance draws from quantum science in Lesley Telford's Spooky Action at a Distance

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      One of the clearest definitions of quantum entanglement—a phenomenon Albert Einstein dubbed “spooky action at a distance”—can be found in a vampire movie.

      In Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive Tom Hiddleston’s depressed rock-star bloodsucker explains it this way to Tilda Swinton’s Eve, his centuries-long partner: “When you separate an entwined particle and you move both parts away from the other, even at opposite ends of the universe, if you alter or affect one, the other will be identically altered or affected.”

      In fact, it was by watching the dark love story that Vancouver dance artist Lesley Telford learned about quantum entanglement—in which particles are so closely connected that they cannot act independently of one another, no matter how much space lies between them. She became fascinated not just with the scientific possibilities of the concept but with the romantic ones. It’s an idea she explores in a new work, named—what else?—Spooky Action at a Distance.

      “I thought, ‘What a great metaphor,’ ” the choreographer tells the Straight over sushi before heading into a Dance Centre studio. “It’s the idea of quantum entanglement and how that could relate to human entanglement.…It’s really a metaphor for human interactions.”

      First, though, as is so often the case with Telford, she needed to form those ideas into words. So she approached poet Barbara Adler to talk about the phenomenon, and then to have her build poetry around it—text that the writer will perform live in Telford’s first full evening of work here.

      “Barbara talked a lot about how you feel this resonance with people that have been in your life, and how it’s tied into romantic connections and love stories,” Telford explains. “As we dig into it, it’s become less about that and more of an underlying vibration in the work; it feels like we’ve gone beyond that starting point.…I feel like she has a way of making it so down-to-earth and it’s given us so much food to work with. Are we in control of the universe or is it in control of us?”

      Spooky Action at a Distance, a work for seven dancers, ends up being a string of duets that weave—entangle—into other duets. Under the banner of her company, Inverso, it joins two other pieces on a solo program called Three Sets/Relating at a Distance that features poetry-driven works. Telford, an alumna of Nederlands Dans Theater and Madrid’s Compañía Nacional de Danza, has now returned to her hometown and is in the midst of an artist’s residency at the Dance Centre. She is already in demand here: along with this solo evening, she’s just coming off a creation at Ballet BC for its Program 2, and she’s done choreography for Pi Theatre’s remount of the play Long Division.

      In the duet My tongue, your ear, she plays Nico Muhly’s haunting, angular viola piece Etude 1A off excerpts of Polish poet Wisława Szymborska’s ironic portrayal of parting, “The Tower of Babel”, and If is a trio that features an Anne Carson poem. In Spooky Action, it was Adler who really anchored her ideas and helped her grab onto an intangible concept, Telford says. But in the other two short pieces, poetry was the impetus for her explorations. “The danger in dance is it becomes so studied; it can square off into music,” Telford explains of her love of using poetry, “so those rhythms [of speech] really sparked ideas about how we access movement.”

      Non-physics majors in the audience will be relieved to hear that in Spooky Action, as in the other two works that show Telford’s range of creation over the past decade, it’s not required to fully comprehend the complex concepts that inspire her choreography. It can be simply enough to enjoy innovative choreography that feels like it’s grounded in something deep, intricate, meaningful, and sometimes a bit strange. “I kind of hope that people don’t feel it’s necessary to understand it all,” says Telford. “It just helps me find a reason to make movement.”

      Lesley Telford’s Three Sets/Relating at a Distance is at the Scotiabank Dance Centre from Thursday to Saturday (April 20 to 22).