A Broken Key, a dance performance at Binghamton University which opens this weekend, is directed by JoEllen Kuhlman, an Owego native who teaches at Kathy Hansen School of Dance in Apalachin and has studied dance for 26 years.
By Sarah Kuras
Tell me the story behind A Broken Key.
A Broken Key is based off one piece of music, “It’s Gonna Be A Long Walk” by Apparat. I started with the music and then developed the concept. There is a variety of styles of music — classical, contemporary. The show has 10 separate numbers; some pieces are smooth, some are accented. All of them are different; for example, one of the pieces is very emotional. It’s a ballet with contemporary and modern styles. It is a very athletic show with partnering.
The show is visually interesting, always a lot going on stage at once. The set represents strings of a violin.
Who is your audience?
The show isn’t geared towards a certain audience. Dancers and non-dancers alike will relate to it — kids, students, college students, even older audience members. With everything I do, I choreograph something the audience can relate to on a personal level, whether it is their own selves or a friend. It’s just something I like to have. The themes in this performance are falling in love, jealousy, getting married, looking back at your past and forgetting your feelings, starting a new chapter. At the end, everyone gets together and celebrates.
What was the audition process?
We had a general call for auditions. The students had to learn choreography and do improv. We were looking for strong technical skills. I wanted dancers who can tell a story through their body and face. They had to have the willingness to try new things and not be afraid, no matter how different it is.
How was the preparation process for this show?
Rehearsals began in October.  The students picked up very quickly. There are eight girls and two guys. Some are theater majors and some of the students are in dance classes. I personalized the choreography based on their individual skills and strengths. Every dancer had a different dance style — modern, hip-hop, ballet. I had a 45-minute intense conditioning choreographed warm-up. The most challenging part was that the students had a six-week winter break, so we’ve had to work on building back the stamina.
What is your inspiration?
Mia Michaels; Complexions, a contemporary ballet company; and from many other places.
What has been the most rewarding part of working on this show?
It has been so exciting to see it come together. So much goes into it: stage designers, costumers, technicians, dancers, the theater department, and, of course, to see your work on stage. There will be another show next season, next spring; the concept is being developed. Actually seeing what came out the end, the students all came together and worked hard.
I choreograph the theater department’s musicals, but this was my first time doing a mainstage production. It takes a lot of effort to create — you’re not re-creating; you’re starting from scratch.
I meshed everyone’s different style to create a unique show. With 10 different people, the show would have been completely different, but I would not change the group I have. They’ve gotten really close and have all come up with nicknames for each other. As a group, they are funny. I love them all.
Performances of A Broken Key are 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday (Feb. 10, 11) and 2 p.m. Sunday (Feb. 12) in the Osterhout Concert Theater of the Anderson Center at Binghamton University. Find more information here.