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Review: 'American Siddhartha: The Way Within'

Two deservedly prominent Western New York arts organizations - the BPO and Lehrer Dance – combined for an impressive concert at the University at Buffalo's Center for the Arts with a program that combined old and new into a nearly seamless whole.

While the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra is used to being a heavyweight on the scene, this event was built around Jon Lehrer’s choreographic revamp of “An American Siddhartha: The Way Within,” a work that his dance company originally debuted in 2010.

It was an impressive restructuring that expanded the time allotted for the corps of dancers to work onstage and took advantage of the sonic possibilities made available to him by partnering with an orchestra.

Working with Stefan Sanders, resident conductor of the BPO, Lehrer set aside the pre-recorded slices of Led Zeppelin, the Guess Who, and Christopher O’Riley that provided the musical ground for the earlier version of “Siddhartha” in favor of a more expansive sonic approach.

By opting for a blend of works stretching from the 15th (Tomas Luis de Victoria) and 16th (Johann Sebastian Bach) centuries, through Mozart and Brahms, and finally hitting the 20th century with snippets from Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg, Philip Glass, and Eric Whitacre, Lehrer and Sanders were able to construct a musical structure that took the dancers through the lengthy spiritual journey at the heart of Hermann Hesse’s “Siddhartha.”

Rachael Humphrey was front and center in the title role and the other seven members of the troupe swarmed around her in various groupings - synchronizing, swirling, lifting, and twirling in feats of strength and smoothly delivered grace which moved the story forward to the climax.

On the whole, it was an impressive achievement.

But that was the culmination of the evening, an event which provided the topping for a program that had its own share of highlights.

A few of the works presented (“Fused By 8,” “Murmur,” and “Loose Canon”) were among the troupe’s most frequently performed pieces. Like “An American Siddhartha” they received new musical arrangements focused around the orchestral possibilities.

For example, “Murmur” used musical snippets from Antonio Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” bracketing a performance of William Byrd’s gorgeous “Ave Verum Corpus” as sung by members of the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus in place of the pop-oriented sources (Budo, The Cinematic Orchestra, Grey Reverend) that accompanied its premiere in 2009.

The BPO was featured in between the dance sets, playing bits of Purcell and Bach to provide a brief interlude for the audience to chat and for the dancers to change clothes while catching a breath or two.

The costuming and lighting were excellent, adding to the artistic flow and impression of the whole evening.

When the final musical notes faded into the background, the applause from the audience was deservedly loud and approving.


"An American Siddhartha: The Way Within" by the BPO and Lehrer Dance

Friday night in University at Buffalo's Center for the Arts

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