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Jon Lehrer Dance Company Marks Move to New York with Heart-Warming Welcome

by Bonnie Rosenstock
November 30, 2019
Peridance Capezio Center
126 East 13th Street
New York, NY 10003
Jon Lehrer Dance Company, helmed by Queens-born and -raised Jon Lehrer, celebrated its move to New York City with a welcoming debut performance at Peridance on Saturday, October 19, after eleven years in Buffalo. The program featured seven outstanding works, choreographed by Lehrer in his inimitable modern and jazz-infused style.

In a one-on-one sit-down on October 25, Lehrer related how a challenge launched him on his fortuitous path as a dancer. “At the end of my freshman year at the University of Buffalo when we got our grades, I said to my girlfriend, ‘Of course you got better grades than I did, you’re a dancer.’”

On her dare, at the beginning of his sophomore year, he enrolled in a dance class. “After the very first week of three classes of basic modern, I couldn’t walk,” he admitted. “I never had anything like this, and I was an athlete. I really knew something in my life had changed. It was so unique and amazing.”

After graduating with a B.F.A. in Dance, Lehrer returned to New York to dance with the Erick Hawkins Dance Company, Paul Sanasardo and John Passafiume Dancers, among others. In 1997, he joined Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago and ultimately became its Rehearsal Director, then Associate Director and resident choreographer. After ten years under Gus Giordano’s tutelage, he became the artist he was striving to become, he said, and returned to Buffalo to start his own dance company. “I had my time on stage,” said Lehrer, 47. “I wanted to tell other people what to do.”

He always knew that eventually he would bring the company to New York, “my home, family, roots,” said the Flushing native. “When I started the company, I didn’t want to be in a place that was inundated with dance, where we’d have to be clawing and scratching. I took a business model and went where supply was low and created a demand. I had connections at the university, so that’s where I went.”

He moved to New York on June 1. “I didn’t think it would be this soon,” said Lehrer. “But it all came together, personally and professionally. My mom passed away last year. I was taking care of her in Buffalo. My brother got sick. The Universe was telling me it’s time to go.”

Of the eight company members only his rehearsal director Cristiana Cavallo, his “rock,” came with him. “In Buffalo we had very little turnover. We’ll have that again,” he promised. The dancers, who are well-versed in the usual number of dance modalities, only study what he teaches in the company classes as he is developing a system of what he eventually hopes will be a technique, “not just a style,” he said. “It’s very important to me they move how I want them to move because it’s all my choreography and looks a specific way. With their help I develop that, and I use them and they use me and it’s great.”

He added, “My choreography grows when the dancers have tremendous input. Because I started late as a dancer, I missed a lot of stuff I can’t do. I don’t know how to tap. Ballet is still a foreign language to me. Modern and jazz is what I know. Whether you can juggle, whether you are a singer, a tapper, can read super quickly, I want to know what you do well and will use your skills to advance everything we are doing. That way the dancers have ownership of it. They’re the ones performing it. We are a very human dance company.”

Lehrer’s three elements of movement are at its core: Circularity, 3-Dimensionality and Momentum, which he characterizes as “Organically Athletic “ and physics based. “I very rarely use ballet terminology because I don’t think it’s correct in my opinion,” he said. “Movement is physics, it’s not dance. We have a saying, ‘Physics first, technique second.’ What makes us move is physics.

“Every year we add one more aspect about physics because we want to be more efficient and how it’s going to help us along with all the other techniques,” he explained. “I certainly know I didn’t invent this stuff. I love dance, but it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and I wanted it to be easier. I wanted to be Baryshnikov, but I knew I was more like Gene Kelly.”

On the evening’s program was the audience-pleasing four-section “Bridge and Tunnel” (2002), danced to the recognizable songs of his idol Paul Simon, another Queens boy. “If there’s one piece I can jump back into, it’s this one, so you’d better be on your A game,” he joked. “When I was with Giordano, I was in it. All those people represented me at different points in high school.” The second section, “For Mom,” a touching solo danced by Richard Sayama, is brand new, dedicated to his mother. It replaced a trio about his sister, aunt and best friend.

“There’s so much pain in dance nowadays,” he observed, but “Troika” (2016), his trio for three men, doesn’t go there. “It shows masculinity in its most tender form,” he said. “They were there for each other, like brothers. When one was downstage, the other two were standing behind upstage, like ‘We got your back, man.’”

With the smooth moves and finger-snapping, percussive “Rhapsody” (2017) Lehrer delivered on his jazz roots. “Loose Canon” (2004), with music by Pachelbel, is an early comedic piece for five dancers and the most requested piece when they’re on tour. ”Touch” (World Premiere) is a duet for two women, beautifully performed by Cavallo and Katharine Larson, that explores the depth and complexity of the most intimate of senses, he said. “Solstice” (World Premiere) was a commission by Artpark in Lewiston, NY, for their summer solstice celebration. The dynamic “A Ritual Dynamic” (2007) closes the majority of his shows.

At one point in his introductory chat with the audience in between the pieces, Lehrer said he felt confident the company can add to the thriving cultural community in New York City and “bring something maybe a little different and definitely exciting.” We think so, too.
“Rhapsody”<br>Dancers - Cristiana Cavallo, James Jeffery, Katharine Larson, Aoi Ohno, Mamiko Nakatsugawa, Patrick Piras, Nathan Rommel and Richard Sayama.

Dancers - Cristiana Cavallo, James Jeffery, Katharine Larson, Aoi Ohno, Mamiko Nakatsugawa, Patrick Piras, Nathan Rommel and Richard Sayama.

“A Ritual Dynamic”<br>Dancers - James Jeffery, Aoi Ohno, Nathan Rommel and Richard Sayama.

“A Ritual Dynamic”
Dancers - James Jeffery, Aoi Ohno, Nathan Rommel and Richard Sayama.

Photo © & courtesy of Russel Haydn

“Touch”<br>Dancers - Cristiana Cavallo and Katharine Larson.

Dancers - Cristiana Cavallo and Katharine Larson.

Photo © & courtesy of Russel Haydn

Jon Lehrer

Jon Lehrer

Photo © & courtesy of Kieshalia Stevens

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