In celebration of its 10th anniversary, Lehrer Dance’s performance Saturday night at the University at Buffalo Center for the Arts Mainstage Theatre felt like the release of a decade’s worth of pent-up dance energy. It exploded in waves of choreographic creativity and skillful dancing. The jam-packed program of vibrant, often relentlessly athletic dance, all choreographed by artistic director Jon Lehrer, was for the most part exhilarating.
Opening the center’s 2016-17 M&T Bank Dance Series, the program led off with the full company of eight in “Chukchi” (2015), set to music by Ergyron (Sunrise), the Russian State Chukchi-Eskimo Song and Dance Ensemble.
Inspired by the people of Anadyr, Russia, where Lehrer Dance performed in 2014, “Chukchi” had a tribal look and feel to it, from its animal print costumes to its earth-hugging, foot-stomping movement.
Like tribal dances performed to guarantee fertility or to show off warrior prowess, Lehrer strung together sections of similar intent with the males in the work oozing virility and the women full of allure. The well-crafted, high-energy piece, danced brilliantly to booming drums, was Lehrer at his creative best.
The first of three world premieres on the program, “Troika,” meaning a group of three people working together, featured a trio of male dancers in jumpsuits appearing to be doing just that. The dancers moved in concert with each other, now and again creating frozen-in-time snapshots of them in inspirational poses a la Soviet-era worker propaganda posters. Sprinkled with heroic stances and stares off into the distance, the piece had many choreographic moments to relish but proved thematically repetitive.
After a reprise of the company’s lauded signature work, “A Ritual Dynamic” (2007), Colleen Walsh showed off her innumerable talents in “Femeie De Lume” (2014). Like some exalted goddess, the Buffalo native was lifted, carried and attended to by three male dancers who kept her aloft as if up on a never-ending symbolic pedestal. With a potent mixture of strength, grace and sensuality, Walsh’s skilled performance as the object of worship was the highlight of the evening.
Next, petite powerhouse Rachael Leonard poured forth a vigorous stream of athletic dancing tinged with humor in the Buffalo premiere of “Rascal” (2016). Mischievous and motivated, Leonard bounded through tongue-displaying, hip-shaking and face-making bursts of dynamic dancing that delighted the audience.
Disappointingly, the world-premiere of “Pulp” with its steampunk-inspired costumes and eclectic sound track, was to be a blending of the comedy of Buster Keaton with the vibe of Quentin Tarantino films, but instead played out more like an episode of “Scooby-Doo.”
After introducing a batch of zany characters with names like Sir Charles Goulding Gamble and Baroness Lulu Raddeswarbler, the piece reverted into one endless race back and forth and on and off the stage. What it sorely lacked was motivation for this activity. On the plus side, “Pulp” did elicit some chuckles and contained a wonderful group dance to Booker T. & the MG’s “Time is Tight.”
Rounding out the program was the celebratory “Rhapsody,” with live music from the 100-member multigenerational Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus.
Led by music director Adam Luebke, the chorus performed contemporary choral arrangements of three popular songs beginning with “Some Nights” by Fun, which they struggled a bit with. Paired with mostly unremarkable choreography by Lehrer, danced with a smile, the work appeared more an expression of joy and gratitude to those watching and to the Buffalo community for their continued support than anything else.
The chorus hit its stride during a powerful rendition of Queen’s “Somebody to Love” and things came to an uplifting conclusion with the two groups combining on Toto’s 1982 hit “Africa.”