Tuesday, September 09, 2008


A few summers back the buzz on the Buffalo dance streets was all about Jon Lehrer, formerly of Gus Giordano, moving back. He did and has set up shop at UB. This past summer I had the chance to watch rehearsal and see what all the fuss was about. His company debuts this weekend. Let's hope the company finds its way to H-town. Catch my Dance Magazine Vital Signs interview with Lehrer in the October issue. Here is my Artvoice piece, Buffalo's hipster weekly.

High Octane

Jazz dance icon Jon Lehrer officially lands in Buffalo—amidst considerable and deserved hoopla—with his inaugural concert to kick off LehrerDance’s home season on September 12 & 13 at the Center for the Arts in the University of Buffalo. After rave reviews in Dance Magazine and the Chicago Tribune, the cover of Dance Teacher—an impressive resume—what dance fan wouldn’t be jazzed that Lehrer chose Buffalo to plunk down his anchor.

Lehrer, a Queens native, finds Buffalo the perfect climate in which to grow his company. “I was looking for a place with a strong arts scene that wasn’t already inundated with dance companies, and that’s Buffalo,” says Lehrer. No stranger to Buffalo, Lehrer tried his first dance class on a dare while majoring in “undeclared” at UB in 1991. Soon hooked on dance, he went off to perform with John Passafiume Dancers, the internationally acclaimed Erick Hawkins Dance Company, and eventually landed at Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago, where he rose to the level of associate director.

After relocating to Buffalo, he convinced his dancers to move to here too and believe in his dream. Today, plans are underway for LehrerDance to become UB’s resident professional dance company. Jeanne Fornarola, UB’s director of dance, is thrilled by the possibilities. “Having Jon return to Buffalo to establish the LehrerDance company is not only an asset to our dance community but to the Buffalo community as well,” says Fornarola. “Jon and Tammy Lehrer are fine examples of young professionals returning home to establish their careers, knowing that Western New York will embrace and support their efforts to create an international dance company of prominence. The dance program at UB is looking forward to many exciting collaborations.”

The local dance community has also welcomed the company with open arms, with a warm embrace coming from Elaine Gardner, artistic director of Pick of the Crop Dance (POC) and director of dance at Nichols School. ”LehrerDance brings professionalism, enthusiasm, artistic humility and a strong dynamic presence to Buffalo,” says Gardner. “I have been teaching class to the entire company and working with the group on some of my POC projects, and they have been fabulous and committed.”

The kickoff evening is designed to introduce Buffalo audiences to Lehrer’s high-octane, hard-to-classify style. “I’m not big on labels,” says the choreographer, who gleans his inspiration from classic jazz forms to post-modern dance. “I’m about circularity, three-dimensionality, and momentum.”

A beast for flow, Lehrer reminds his dancers to mine the energy inherent in nature’s curves. It’s not a company for the fearful or faint of heart-rate. Daredevilish partnering, risky cantilever moves, and nonstop virtuosity characterize the LehrerDance aesthetic.

Several of Lehrer’s signature works grace the evening’s program, including his explosive all-male duet, Instinct, set to Clint Mansell’s music performed by the Kronos Quartet. “It’s a dynamic look at what’s inside all men—the desire to fight, defend, have a stake in something, and defend it,” Lehrer says. “It’s kind a brotherhood thing; they hunt, gather, play, fight, until, reluctantly, they turn into real men.” Instinct was Lehrer’s first piece to receive international recognition.

Lehrer goes autobiographical in Bridge and Tunnel, based on his high school years growing up in Flushing Queens, New York. Set to four popular Paul Simon tunes and originally choreographed for Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago, the piece gives off a happy-go-lucky vibe. “Simon is one of my favorite singer songwriters, plus he’s from Queens,” says Lehrer. “It’s one of my more jazzy pieces. You will be bobbing in your seat. Watch it and you just want to dance.”

The show closes with A Ritual Dynamic, the first piece Lehrer made for his new Buffalo-based company. Set to Lebanese belly dance music and DJ Disse, this piece gets his message across loud, clear, and with the energy of a speeding train. “It’s high-flying, extremely fast-paced, and fully embodies the style of LehrerDance, which we like to call organic athleticism,” says Lehrer.

Company member and rehearsal director Marideth Wanat has her own take on the piece. “It’s like sprinting full-throttle for 12 minutes straight,” says Wanat, who fearlessly hurls herself through space during a few of those rapid-fire minutes. “It’s definitely got that total wow factor.”

For more information, visit lehrerdance.org.

LehrerDance’s premiere takes place on September 13 at 8pm and September 14 at 2pm in the Center for the Arts at the University at Buffalo North Campus. Tickets are $15 general admission and $12 for college students with valid ID. Tickets can be purchased at the Center for the Arts box office or online at ubcfa.org.