Buffalo company reimagines dance tradition with modern narrative

In celebration of emotion, humor and individuality, LehrerDance squatted, leapt and spun on the Wadsworth Auditorium stage Saturday Feb. 8. Brought to Geneseo as part of the Limelight & Accents Performing Arts Series, the eight company dancers performed LehrerDance style, a technique that embraces circularity, three-dimensionality and momentum.

The night began with “The Alliance,” with dancers in a line facing one another. Suddenly, they retreated and a heavy drumbeat accompanied by the sound of a can opening blasted through the room. In contrasting stage lights, the performers utilized all major sections of the body to execute vigorous movement. Periodically, they would stop and walk around the stage as if nothing had happened. Afterward, in an effort to maintain this artistic homeostasis, they returned to barefoot spins and high kicks, making powerful use of their legs.

Later, an ambient “Om” calmed the scene as a man and woman entered with “Here In This Eden.” The dancers, donning orange and red leotards, seemed to personify the sunrise. Violin accompaniment nurtured their passion, as one fervently leapt while the other walked forward in loving realization. They bent and twirled for each other, pulling and grasping as if the opposite were the only outlet to bending and twirling again.

Acknowledging the conditions of everyday life, director John Lehrer also incorporates humor into his pieces, fusing entertainment with his jazz and modern-inspired background. As the Paul Simon tune “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” gleefully resonated with the crowd, all eight dancers hopped on stage to present a work choreographed in 2002, “Bridge and Tunnel.” Men sported suspenders and khakis and women flaunted floral dresses. The change was so striking that I found myself questioning if I was still at the same show.

Nevertheless, the dancers epitomized friendship, laughter and fun as the Simon songs switched to “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” and “Kodachrome.” They imitated bowling pins, jumped as cannonballs and conveyed lighthearted young love while never slipping up on skill.

“Murmur” commenced the second act, with dancers redefining the archetypal ballroom style. Backed by an acoustic guitar, they assembled in a line with arms stretched out, imitating Leonardo da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man.” Men wore open white dress shirts and women wore adorned flowing black dresses, giving the piece a loosely formal look.

In an uproarious rebellion against overdone classical technique, “Loose Canon” opened with five dancers in nightgowns and underwear, acting asleep on the stage. Following a crude wake-up, one of the dancers faced the crowd and yelled, “Stop! Rewind!” to the point where the dancers fell asleep again.

What happened after incited uncontrollable laughter; with Johann Pachelbel’s compositions playing, the dancers satirized the excessively ornate style that would usually accompany baroque music. They trotted disinterestedly with saccharine smiles painted on their faces and often had to suppress their shaking, recalcitrant limbs. Dancers even mocked the final high-strung note of a violin by holding their mouths open as if to scream it, meandering off the stage in hilarious confusion.

Ending the night on a more serious note, “Pantheon Rising” showed performers in red capes dancing to intensely fast-paced music. The lighting made them look sinister, as if Darth Vader had taken off his mask and learned to pirouette. Activity was everywhere, with dancers running and jump-spinning into one another’s arms. The fierce movements of the final few seconds made you hold your breath until the lights dimmed.

Lehrer-inspired movement often requires robust athletic strength, and the Saturday evening dancers perfected every move without losing their individuality.