“You have to stay out of the way or you’ll get hit!” says Santo Loquasto, laughing. The multiple Tony Award-winning scene and costume designer, in town last month at Pacific Northwest Ballet, is speaking of creating sets for the complex, constant-motion choreography of dance legend Twyla Tharp.
“Waiting at the Station,” Tharp’s latest work, was created as part of the choreographer’s eight-month artistic residency at PNB, and will have its world premiere at PNB Friday as part of an all-Tharp program. Loquasto, whose frequent collaborations with Tharp go back to 1977 and “Push Comes to Shove,” knows the importance of keeping the set minimal.
“Waiting at the Station,” set to music by New Orleans composer/pianist Allen Toussaint, is “an atmospheric piece,” said Loquasto. “It has that after-the-Second-World-War feel to it, 1940s, blue-collar, people with dreams and hopes,” he said.
The set, though simple, has multiple entry points: Tharp, he said, “likes to manipulate the conventions of the space, so there are entrances from up center and the sides — people can come from many places. It just allows the flow to be more interesting to her eye.”
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Most of the ballet’s costumes are street clothes, and for inspiration, Loquasto watched the 1951 Vittorio De Sica film “Miracle in Milan,” at Tharp’s suggestion (“just as a sort of starting place”), set in postwar Italy. He pondered vintage photos of the period, prowled Seattle-area thrift stores for worn-soft men’s shirts and women’s sweaters in a faded color palette, and lent the production a hand-knit pink cardigan worn by his own mother.
Like Tharp’s, Loquasto’s career has moved between the worlds of dance, theater and film for many years, and he’s meticulous about the particular needs of dance costumes.
“The fabrics are light — enough weight for them to move: rayon, not cotton or wool,” he said. The balancing of a skirt, for example, might be different for a dancer than an actress — “it’s how you distribute the fabric and try to make it look at rest, as though it’s plain, and then when it moves there’s enough room for their legs.” Other adjustments might include sewing briefs to the men’s shirts, so they don’t come untucked while dancing, and making small tweaks to costumes in response to Tharp’s notes.
Loquasto, a Pennsylvania native, has been working in theaters for more than half a century, beginning in summer stock in the Poconos as a teenager. His frequent collaborators include Tharp, Paul Taylor and American Ballet Theatre in the dance world, as well as playwright David Mamet and filmmaker Woody Allen — whose “Blue Jasmine,” now in theaters, was designed by Loquasto.
Of that film shoot, which was “a wonderful time,” Loquasto shared a few tidbits. The apartment in San Francisco’s Mission District in which Sally Hawkins’ character lives was borrowed from two lawyers — “we stripped it, repainted it, furnished it.” Loquasto worried that it might be a bit upscale for the character, a supermarket cashier — “I had found one that was a little more tired, but I could not convince [Allen] to use it” — and made things look messier by removing the kitchen’s cabinet doors. The film’s posh New York apartment
of Cate Blanchett and Alec Baldwin’s characters wasn’t an apartment at all, but a mansion outside the city. “If you remember the empty apartment, when they come in to buy it, and there’s a big piece of scaffolding -— it’s to hide the trees,” he said.
And the collaboration with Allen continues, as Loquasto currently works to design sets and costumes for the debut of “Bullets Over Broadway” as a Broadway musical, opening next spring. “It’s a musical with a train and a car!” he said, in mock despair over the show’s design challenges. Directed by Susan Stroman, with Allen writing the adaptation, it’s currently finalizing its cast. “I don’t think it will be ‘Wicked,’ ” said Loquasto, referring to the Broadway smash hit, “but I hope it’s a good show.”
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org