Suspicions Loom as Buffalo's LehrerDance Suddenly Shuts Down
The sudden end to Buffalo, New York–based LehrerDance—the city's lone professional touring dance company—recently came as a shock to many. Rumblings of the company's demise began when their website and Facebook page were taken down. Shortly after, on February 21, Buffalo's news media began reporting that the company has ceased operations.
An email communiqué from LehrerDance board member Frank Ciccia on February 22 stated that the board of LehrerDance had terminated company founder and artistic director Jon Lehrer as of February 7 and "in consultation with its attorneys and accountants, is in the process of determining the organization's financial status but has declared a halt to all operations of the company."
The mention of "determining the organization's financial status" then led to speculation of Lehrer's involvement in financial improprieties. In an interview with WBFO radio's Eileen Buckley, she pointedly questioned Lehrer on it: "There have been some very difficult off-the-record accusations made against you on embezzlement?" to which Lehrer responded: "Yes, I have no comment on that right now."
Jon Lehrer's departure and the closure of his company were unexpected. Photo Courtesy Lehrer.
Still, there have been no clear answers about Lehrer's firing and the company shutdown. From Lehrer and the company's board to its former dancers, no one is talking.
Lehrer, a Queens, New York–native and former dancer and associate director for Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago, formed LehrerDance in Chicago and moved it to Buffalo in 2007. The charismatic leader quickly established the company as a favorite with Buffalo-area audiences with his brand of energetic contemporary jazz choreography and highly accessible works. The company quickly made in-roads locally, collaborating with seemingly every area arts organization including the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, the Buffalo Chamber Players, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery and the Burchfield Penney Art Center. In addition, the company forged an in-house partnership with Lehrer's alma mater, The University at Buffalo, where they rehearsed. The company also toured regularly throughout the U.S. and internationally, including three tours to Europe and four to Russia.
LehrerDance was well-known in Buffalo, but the troupe also toured the U.S. and abroad. Photo by Chad Cooper, Courtesy Lehrer.
Coming off a successful 10-year anniversary season in 2017, the company appeared to be riding high, which made its sudden ending all the more shocking and mysterious.
For Lehrer's part, the only thing he is willing to talk about is his fulfilling an eight-week European tour commitment made prior to his firing. Working with his agent, Lehrer and five dancers (two from his former company) were hired as independent artists by the agent and will perform as Jon Lehrer and Dancers on the upcoming Shadows in Motion tour that will commence in Germany this month and make stops in Austria and Luxembourg.
Despite recent events, Lehrer maintains a level of focus and optimism. "The work, artistry and vision has not changed," he says. "Whatever happens, I am going to learn from it and make something even more spectacular."
Michele Byrd-McPhee's uncle was a DJ for the local black radio station in Philadelphia, where she was born. As a kid she was always dancing to the latest music, including a new form of powerful poetry laid over pulsing beats that was the beginning of what we now call hip hop.
Byrd-McPhee became enamored of the form and went on to a career as a hip-hop dancer and choreographer, eventually founding the Ladies of Hip-Hop Festival and directing the New York City chapter of Everybody Dance Now!. Over the decades, she has experienced hip hop's growth from its roots in the black community into a global phenomenon—a trajectory she views with both pride and caution.
On one hand, the popularity of hip hop has "made a global impact," says Byrd-McPhee. "It's provided a voice for so many people around the world." The downside is "it's used globally in ways that the people who made the culture don't benefit from it."
Just four years ago, the University of Southern California's Glorya Kaufman School of Dance welcomed its first class of BFA students. The program—which boasts world-class faculty and a revolutionary approach to training focused on collaboration and hybridity—immediately established itself as one of the country's most prestigious and most innovative.
Now, the first graduating class is entering the dance field. Here, six of the 33 graduates share what they're doing post-grad, what made their experience at USC Kaufman so meaningful and how it prepared them for their next steps:
Every dancer knows there's as much magic taking place backstage as there is in what the audience sees onstage. Behind the scenes, it takes a village, says American Ballet Theatre's wig and makeup supervisor, Rena Most. With wig and makeup preparations happening in a studio of their own as the dancers rehearse, Most and her team work to make sure not a single detail is lost.
Dance Magazine recently spoke to Most to find out what actually goes into the hair and makeup looks audiences see on the ABT stage.