What started as the subject of an afternoon chat in a coffee shop found its expression in a lyrical ballet at a sold-out show Wednesday night.
The idea for ‘Pygmalion’ started in April in the mind of JoEllen Kuhlman, a choreographer for the performance and teacher of ballet, jazz, modern and tap at Binghamton University.
‘I’ve always wanted to have a dance company to be able to do what I want to do and put it up on stage and have a performance,’ Kuhlman said.
For Kuhlman, this production of ‘Pygmalion,’ a ballet based on the Greek myth of the same name, was the start of that.
She contacted Santino DeAngelo, a junior double-majoring in classical civilization and theater and the producer and composer of the show.
‘I approached him because I wanted original music,’ Kuhlman said. ‘I didn’t want anything that people have heard before.’
DeAngelo works as a composer but is not technically trained.
‘I study privately now, but when I started I didn’t know that much about it,’ DeAngelo said. ‘I don’t know if anybody can teach you how to create ‘ if you wait until you’re ready to write, you will never do it.’
DeAngelo and Kuhlman chose ‘Pygmalion’ because they felt it would relate to a wide audience.
The classic tells the story of a sculptor named Pygmalion who falls in love with the statue (Galatea) he creates. His love gives her life and shows the relationship between an artist and his work. In the meantime, he is being lusted after by the goddess Aphrodite.
The ballet executed this plot without words, but with extravagant lifts, beautiful turns and passionate emotion.
The cast was made up of BU students. Pygmalion was played by William Matos, Aphrodite by Amanda Thomas and Galatea by Alessandra Rannazzisi. Other dancers included Ben Elling, Summer Hill, Vivake Khamsingsavath, Erin Murphy and Laura Siciliano.
DeAngelo recruited Cayenna Ponchione, an internationally-known conductor and percussionist, to conduct the orchestra, which was made up of professional musicians from the Binghamton and Ithaca area.
However, these musicians did not start to play until the Sunday before the performance.
Before this, Kuhlman created the dance to sounds DeAngelo made on his computer.
‘We met three weekends over the summer to learn some phrases and the bulk of everything,’ Kuhlman said. ‘Then once we were back at school we had rehearsals every weekend.’
Last-minute details were added up to the day before the show, with rehearsals occurring every day until performance day.
‘When I heard the instruments, I added more things to make everything blend better,’ Kuhlman said. ‘The dancers were great, so they picked it up.’
The ballet was funded partially through a grant from the Classical Association of the Atlantic States, which has criteria based on spreading awareness of classical mythology and its themes and motifs.
‘The purpose is not only to entertain, but also educate,’ DeAngelo said.
However, the production received most of its money through donations from the community.
‘I am incredibly grateful to local sponsors and contributors because without them, this wouldn’t be possible,’ DeAngelo said.
According to Kuhlman and DeAngelo, the production has the possibility to perform again at other schools in New York state, but nothing has been confirmed thus far.
However, Kuhlman hopes this will lead to more dance productions like this in the future.
‘One of the reasons I wanted to do this was because I want dance to grow at the University,’ Kuhlman said.
DeAngelo said that this is the first show in a series of projects to come and emphasized the opportunities it creates for students.
‘Not only have we created an opportunity for dancers to work with professional musicians, but also the community to be a part of our school’s education,’ he said. ‘We’re taking what we learn in the classroom and putting it on stage in which the audience becomes the greatest teacher of them all.’