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LehrerDance off to a stunning start; First local concert of season is strong

In its first local concert of the current season, Lehrer-Dance, the Buffalo-based touring company founded by choreographer Jon Lehrer in 2007, got off to a stunning start.

The first piece on the program of the company's two weekend performances in the University at Buffalo's Center for the Arts, "The Alliance," was a tour de force of creativity that bodes well for the company's popularity and seemed to signal a refinement of Lehrer's signature style.

The opening piece, set to pulsing electronica, seemed a far more disciplined and constrained than the company's go-to show-stopper, "A Ritual Dynamic," itself an accessible and exhilarating piece of choreography that showcases the company's defining aesthetic -- something Lehrer calls "organic athleticism."

Lehrer's approach, in my limited familiarity with it, has seemed to hinge at least partially on the idea that a body in motion tends to stay in motion. And Lehrer's dancers, except when he occasionally hits pause on his remote to create exquisite little stage portraits, are almost always following the logic of their bodies from one exuberant movement to another.

With "The Alliance," though, a different dynamic is at work. The company comes onto the stage in a sort of casual march, like soldiers showing up for work. The mechanized choreography continues, interrupted by little bursts of individuality. You get the feeling the dancers are reluctant pistons firing away in a numbing routine, cogs in some massive machine.

Soon, though, the dance shifts into an even stranger brand of mechanized darkness in which the dancers, outfitted in black uniforms with painted-on musculature, do a sort of dystopian danse macabre that becomes absolutely mesmerizing.

But it's not to last. That second movement eventually resolves itself -- maybe at the end of the workday, maybe when the soldiers go on leave -- into something far freer, more joyful and almost spiritual in its exuberance.

You could read the piece in a variety of ways, as a chronicle of the 9-to-5 life, or as a reminder that a primal figure resides somewhere within each of us, just biding its time until it can bust out and start dancing. However you want to look at it, "The Alliance" is a stunning piece of work.

Next on the company's robust program was the comical "SuperZeroes," in which charmingly idiosyncratic tics and fragments of movement that most choreographers would toss onto the cutting room floor are strung together to tell an odd story about what would seem to be a dysfunctional family of superheroes.

"Morphic Slip," a gorgeous duet set to music by Aphex Twin and featuring Rachael Humphrey and Theodore Krzykowski in white costumes that make them look vaguely like worms, entrances with its lyrical and sensual movement. In Sunday afternoon's performance, "Cesura," a 2000 piece featuring founding company member Immanuel Naylor and Marideth Wanat, struggled toward a sense of chemistry that remains elusive.

The evening also included "Bridge and Tunnel," Lehrer's charming reflection on his upbringing in Queens set to four songs by Paul Simon (which also served as the inspiration for the LehrerDance and MusicalFare collaboration "Something So Right"); the premiere of "Taken," a moving solo piece featuring Naylor; and "Hearth," a lyrical and beautifully danced piece featuring four female dancers.

LehrerDance does concert dance for people who think they don't like concert dance. In its four years of existence, the company has built its fan base through the sheer creativity of its work, the incredible athleticism of the dancers and irresistible vibe of a company that has figured out how to strike that elusive balance between art and entertainment.

The weekend's nearly sold-out run was proof of its success.