As a child growing up in Italy, Catherine Galasso spent hours at live rehearsals listening to her father’s music and taking in the aesthetics of European theater. This February, she will put on her own live performance, inspired by and showcasing her father’s music and two of film’s most prominent figures.
Galasso, a film student who graduated from Cornell in 2006, has produced a multimedia dance, theater and light installation, “Bring on the Lumière,” in which the Lumière Brothers, the French founders of cinema, are trapped inside their own films. Featuring dancers Christine Bonansea and Marina Fukushima, the performance shows the story of the brothers in new cinematic light.
“In addition to the invention of the camera, the Lumière Brothers brought strangers together for the first time to see themselves,” Galasso said. “This piece is about looking at the magic and wonder of early cinema and about capturing time.”
Most of the show’s score is by her father, Michael Galasso, a celebrated violinist and composer for live theater and film. Her father, winner of the 2009 Cesar Award for Best Music for the French film “Séraphine,” passed away in 2009.
“I grew up hearing my father perform and so his music is a huge part of me,” she said. “My sense of art is very grounded in European style of theater, and that is all thanks to him.”
In 1895, Auguste and Louis Lumière patented the cinematograph, a device that could develop, record and project motion pictures.
The first film the brothers created was of workers leaving the Lumière factory in France. For the first time, the brothers were able to stop and capture time and project the films for the factory workers to see. It was this sense of immortality that inspired future film production and earned the brothers a place in cinematic history.
“I have always been enamored with the Lumière films because it is an amazing document from that time,” Galasso said. “The films introduced a new consciousness of the working class which was shocking and magical.”
“Bring on the Lumière” is a collaboration between Galasso, who is currently an artist-in-residence at San Fransisco’s ODC Theater, and lighting design and installation artist Elaine Buckholtz. The production was commissioned by The San Francisco Foundation, one of the nation’s largest community foundations, and developed with support from the Mellon Foundation, a private philanthropic organization. The show premiered in San Francisco and is running in New York City before coming to Ithaca.
The story is told mostly through images, and the minimal dialogue in the performance is spoken in French to call attention to the brothers’ heritage.
“You don’t have to understand French to understand the performance,” Galasso said. “It’s mostly for atmosphere and keeping with the idea of capturing time.”
The iconic Lumière Brothers will be played by female dancers. Galasso said she is inspired by history, but does not want to make a piece that is didactic.
“I wasn’t interested in doing a literal representation of the life of the brothers,” she said. “This is abstraction, and by having women play the brothers, it automatically makes the portrayal more abstract.”
Through the cinematic piece, Galasso aims to capture the intense, close relationship the brothers shared. She said the piece is like the brothers in a different dimension or world.
Kathy Hovis, the communication manager for the theater, film and dance department at Cornell, said the celebration is a way to launch a new major at Cornell that will go into effect in fall 2012.
The new performing and media arts major will combine training and study in theater, film, dance, performance and media arts. It will also allow more flexibility for students pursing a double major.
“Galasso has a deep knowledge of choreography as film and acting,” Hovis said. “This is a great example of a graduate who is doing interesting collaborative work.”
Nick Salvato, co-chair of the curriculum committee in the theater, film and dance department, said implementing the new major will allow Cornell professors to capture the most exciting intellectual developments in education and art.
“If it has become a commonplace that we live in a convergence culture in which the lines among various forms, genres and media are ever more blurred, then we need to mobilize our teaching — of history, of theory, of artistic practice — to put that commonplace to the test, to measure both its value and its limitations,” he said.
Prior to the show, the Cornell Cinema will present some of the brothers’ short films, including “Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory” and “L’Arrivée d’un train à La Ciotat” on Feb. 2.
The cinema is also screening a number of works with music by Michael Galasso.
Mary Fessenden, director of Cornell Cinema, said she enjoys collaborations because they highlight cultural resources that can tie in multiple areas of study.
“They create events that are greater than the sum of their parts,” she said. “They also more effectively demonstrate the cultural reach of the arts and have the potential to expose more students to what’s happening on campus in
Also, the Johnson Museum will project shorts by the Lumière brothers on the
exterior of the main building from sunset to 11 p.m. Jan. 27 to Feb. 20.
All of the events are open to the public, including a special tribute to Galasso’s father. The Cornell Cinema will show films that he composed in conjunction with her production. Additionally, Galasso is looking for a group of community members to help her in a live re-enactment of a scene from a Lumière film.
Galasso said she is most intrigued by how the Lumière films exemplify the basic human desire to preserve oneself through media and she hopes to convey this with her performance.
“The audience doesn’t need to know who the characters are based on,” she said. “I want them to care, to laugh, to be moved, and not want it to be over while at the same time feel some sort of resolution.”
“Bring on the Lumière” will be performed Feb. 10 at the Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets are available online.