Three years ago, choreographer Jon Lehrer (DT, November 2007) was pleasantly surprised to be contacted by the U.S. Consulate in Vladivostok, Russia. Eager to bring American modern dance to Vladivostok for the first time, the Consulate invited Lehrer’s then-six-year-old company, LehrerDance, to tour the Russian Far East.
This month, LehrerDance will reprise its trip, visiting Anadyr and the Chukotka Peninsula November 10–17. The tour is part of the Consulate’s mission to foster good relations between Russia and the U.S. and promote American culture in one of Russia’s most remote areas. Lehrer thinks it’s the company’s fusion of modern and jazz dance—he has danced for both Erick Hawkins Dance Company and Giordano Dance Chicago—that makes it a good fit for international touring. “The combination of athleticism, artistry and accessibility in our work is what makes us such an American company,” he says. LehrerDance was selected by the Consulate from a long list of companies recommended by the artistic staff at the American Dance Festival, and not without plenty of research. “They vetted every company without their knowing, from websites, Facebook—they started following me on Twitter,” says Lehrer. “They called or e-mailed some of the places we had toured. They really investigated.”
Much of the positive feedback must have come from the company’s home base in Buffalo, New York, where LehrerDance has well-embedded itself. After retiring from Giordano in 2007, Lehrer knew he didn’t want to start his own troupe in a city already saturated with dance groups, like Chicago or New York. “I saw a lot of my peers in Chicago starting companies,” he says, “and I didn’t want to compete with them for a local audience.” He reconnected with the dance department at the University at Buffalo, SUNY, where he’d gotten his dance degree, and now uses the school’s dance facilities as rehearsal space. He also gets to cultivate his future dancers from the department, having hired two alums over the past eight years. As the city’s only international touring professional dance company, LehrerDance enjoys collaborations with many cultural institutions in Buffalo, like the Burchfield Penney Art Center.
But despite the rapport with the community, everything pales in comparison to Russian audiences’ reaction to seeing LehrerDance perform. According to Lehrer, the biggest difference between Russia and the U.S. isn’t politics but the number of curtain calls. “They give four or five ovations at the end of the show,” he says. “And when the dancers made their way to the lobby, it was as if every single person in that theater was waiting to take their picture and get their autograph.”
Photos by Christopher Duggan, courtesy of LehrerDance