Jon Lehrer finds enlightenment in dance

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Photo by Mike Canale

Every season the Jewish Community Center selects one nationally known troupe to feature during Dance Month. This year it’s LehrerDance, a spunky touring company known for its fearless dancers, snappy choreography and headstrong leader. The troupe performs in Houston this weekend.

Founder and artistic director Jon Lehrer has led a charmed dance life. After starting dance late in life in college, he caught up at lightening speed, and enjoyed stints at the Erick Hawkins Dance Company and Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago, where he rose to be associate director. Now he heads up LehrerDance, based in Buffalo, NY, where he has a special partnership with The University of Buffalo.

There’s been no shortage of fanfare for this busy troupe, which spends about half the year touring. A cover story in Dance Teacher, a Dance Matters interview in Dance Magazine, and consistently strong reviews position Lehrer on the national dance map. He bring us into the world behind the buzz.

Q: I know you are famous in the dance world but this is Texas, and forgive us, we don’t know your work here. How would you describe your aesthetic?

A: Organic Athleticism. Expect to see dancers doing feats of strength and beauty. Blending jazz and modern is my signature.

Q: I’ve had the opportunity to watch your company class and I find myself amazed by how far you stretch movement. Bodies look so elastic in your hands. You are just a beast for flow.

A: I will be a “beast for flow” any day. There are no straight lines in the human body, in nature for that fact. We think arcs, circles and spirals and try to get through a whole day without ever using the word “line.”

Q: What did you take away from working and dancing around the legendary jazz pioneer Gus Giordano?

A: The importance of accessibility. You don’t need to know a thing about dance to enjoy a LehrerDance show. Gus also stressed classicism, and we train that way. In class we are pure, while in choreography we can be as stylistic as we want to be.

Q. Your company is not for the faint of flying, jumping and falling. Sometimes I find myself gasping when I watch your dances. Where do your risk-taking dance habits come from?

A. I grew up poor in a tough neighborhood of Queens, NY. We made up games with stuff we found on the street. Jumping off fences, running through traffic, and other dangerous acts kept us amused. Risk taking was part of how we had fun. We didn’t have a lot of traditional toys so we had to be physical, which, as you mention, is now a huge part of my work. Gasping is good. We want to excite you.

Q. I understand we will see a snippet of your rock opera in the works, An American Siddhartha: The Way Within. What brought you to Hermann Hesse’s classic mystical tale? Seems a bit out of the jazz/modern realm.

A. I was searching for a subject for a rock opera and a friend gave me a copy of this book. I never read it in high school like everyone else. Siddhartha goes on a journey, literally walking the earth, trying to find himself. Dancing is about finding a new part of myself that I had not previously known about. Siddhartha is naked for much of his story and any artist can you tell that’s exactly the way they feel. Starting Lehrer dance was like Siddhartha crossing the river. Hopefully, one day I will also sit under the tree of enlightenment.

Reprinted from Culturemap.


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