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Mixed Media

A Decade of Dance

The innovative company of UB choreographer Jon Lehrer celebrates 10 years of pushing boundaries

Photo of a dancer leaping off the ground

A moment from 2011’s “The Alliance” shows off Lehrer Dance’s athletic style. Photo: Andrew Wilson

By Lauren Newkirk Maynard

The past year was hectic for Lehrer Dance. There was a five-week western European tour, two weeks in Russia, the annual summer workshops at UB and several trips to schools across the country. The troupe also created and rehearsed several new works for its tenth anniversary program, held Oct. 1 at the Center for the Arts (CFA).

“We travel about eight months out of the year,” says Jon Lehrer (BFA ’10), the company’s artistic director and a regular guest artist, and adjunct instructor, at UB. After discovering dance as a sophomore, the Queens native joined UB’s student company, Zodiaque. He left Western New York in 1995 for Chicago, where he launched a successful career in jazz dance and choreography before returning to Buffalo and founding Lehrer Dance in 2007. Support from the CFA and UB’s theatre and dance communities, he says, was a big reason he came back.

Lehrer Dance’s devotion to the “three A’s”—artistry, accessibility and athleticism—has helped build the company’s international reputation as dazzling performers and highly effective teachers of college kids and schoolchildren alike. A typical season includes several master classes at colleges and sessions at performing arts schools.

No matter how successful the company becomes, Lehrer hustles; he knows that dance, like classical music and opera, must compete for attention with today’s onslaught of virtual and live entertainment. His choreography focuses on laws of physics, using a combination of raw power and brevity, he says, to “get butts in seats.” Designed as mini-sets of six or seven segments, the performances work well in the classroom, too, allowing the company to teach Newton’s laws of motion to college freshmen or the concept of momentum to fifth-graders.

Lehrer is most proud of his time in the classroom. “It’s our mission to support and grow the dance community,” he says. In 2009, he was rewarded for this commitment: The Chicago National Association of Dance Masters commissioned Lehrer to help write the Modern Dance Syllabus, a curriculum for dance instructors, based heavily on techniques developed by Lehrer Dance.