Dance critic, author, music librarian. Born Sept. 10, 1926, in San Francisco, Calif., died July 29, 2012, in Vancouver, B.C., from complications due to shingles, aged 85.
With Leland Windreich’s passing, the North American ballet world has lost a much-loved critic and historian.
During the Depression, Lee lived with his mother, father and brilliant sister in a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco, Calif. He slept on the kitchen bench behind the table.
Luckily, live theatre, opera, symphonies and ballets could be seen for a dollar. His mother took him to his first ballet.
“I was paralyzed with joy,” Lee said. He devoted the rest of his life to ballet.
He became an usher at a theatre after school and wrote reviews for which there was little pay. He applied successfully for a library job in Victoria and moved to Canada for the next 51 years of his life.
In Victoria he became friends with dancer and ballet teacher June Roper. His imagination was sparked by the stories of eight of her students, poor youngsters from backwater Canadian towns who had fallen in love with ballet and quit school to dedicate themselves to it. They became internationally famous in renowned companies such as the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo.
Lee, motivated to record their glory, obtained a $2,000 grant from the Canada Council and, with this small amount and some diligent research, he frugally crisscrossed the continent finding and interviewing them. His book June Roper: Ballet Starmaker was published in 1999.
Funny and knowledgeable, Lee also wrote numerous articles over six decades. He edited Dancing for de Basil: Letters to her Parents from Rosemary Deveson.
He was encouraged and befriended by Agnes de Mille, Michael Crabb and Deborah Jowitt.
Lee also worked for 37 years as a music librarian at the University of Victoria, the University of British Columbia, the Toronto Board of Education and Vancouver City College.
He became a librarian when there was a move to get more men working in the field, but he jibed at the early sexism and rigid moral expectations.
Lee was an expert traveller. However, when he went to Poland in the 1990s to visit the family village, he was horrified and deeply saddened that all his extended family, every Jewish person, and every sign of Jewishness had been eradicated. Even the enormous synagogue had totally vanished as if it had never been.
With Michael Crabb editing Dance in Canada Magazine, Lee had several years of great writing. The Seattle Ballet often had him come to do their ballet’s program notes. Collections of his work are held in more than forty libraries worldwide.
Lee’s many friends miss him. The last few years of his life were spent in great pain because of chronic shingles.
The last member of his family, his sister Elaine, an economics professor at Stanford University, died only 10 days before he did.