February 24, 2014 | by Yona Zeldis McDonough
Santo Richard Loquasto has a big, easy smile, and an infectious enthusiasm for his work. Since his first production—Sticks and Bones, in 1972—he’s worked on some sixty-one Broadway productions, either as a scenic or costume designer, and often as both. His cunning sets and fanciful costumes have garnered him fifteen Tony Award nominations (he’s won three times), and he’s also won numerous Drama Desk Set Awards for Outstanding Set Design and Outstanding Costume Design. Loquasto is also known for his work in film—most notably with Woody Allen, with whom he’s worked for decades, most recently on Blue Jasmine. One afternoon last summer we met at the Margot Patisserie on the Upper West Side, where Loquasto talked about how he got his start, the demands of designing for dancers, and the downsides of his job.
What got you into costume design?
Well, it just always interested me as a kid. I grew up in Pennsylvania. Mine is the classic story of a teenager in the Poconos, painting summer-stock scenery because that’s what you do there. What I was really interested in was scenery and visuals. I was always creating the mise-en-scène in my backyard. The costumes were always part of it. I was interested in the scenery because in many ways it’s … well, I can’t say it’s more manageable, but it is, of course, because you don’t have to deal with people quite in the same way. People think of me as a costume designer, but in New York, the first things I did were scenery. I did a Sam Shepard one-act play off Broadway in 1970, and then worked for Joe Papp for many years. By that time, I was in grad school at Yale, concentrating on both scenery and costumes. I was designing costumes at Williamstown. When you don’t sew, you’re somewhat intimidated by that aspect of it. You’re lucky if you get to work with amazing people who make the costumes for you and with you.
I just raced from this little shop, Euroco Costumes, where I have the costumes designed for most of my dance projects. It’s two people, Janet Bloor and Werner Kulovitz. She’s brilliant at the stretch issues, and he is an amazing costume-maker of the grand school. Beautiful period cutting. I’ve only known him for about thirty years. You rely on the shorthand that develops between you and also what they bring to it, which is not only their expertise but also their passion. It’s very interesting—normally people who make costumes, who deal with the horrible deadlines and the issues of comfort and the egos of the performers, get sick of it. But I see them get excited by new projects and it’s exhilarating for all of us.
Can you talk to me about designing for Alexei Ratmansky’s The Tempest?
The Tempest you can approach in any number of ways, like most Shakespeare. I did a lot of Shakespeare in the Park in the seventies, both scenery and costumes, and for ten years, I worked in Stratford, Ontario, at the Shakespeare festival. I didn’t do The Tempest there, but I’ve dealt with the play. It was interesting to work with Ratmansky. For him, working on The Tempest is not like, say, Romeo and Juliet, which is so much more of a ballet vocabulary, both because of the great score, which so guides you, and because of his ballet background. Also, everyone knows the story so well. Whereas with our production of The Tempest, there is this much looser Sibelius score.
I follow the play, and I think you have to start there. As an interpreter, you have to follow the progression as Shakespeare laid it out, with your own understanding of where the words aren’t applicable to movement. You understand when Ferdinand and Miranda fall in love. You know what to do. There’s anger and rage and comedy. There was a debate at one point about losing the clowns, Trinculo and Stephano. I quietly fought to keep them. I said, their relationship to Caliban makes for a wonderful scene, and those things are in the structure to give us a breather, so it’s not just this man railing against everything.Read More »
December 10, 2013 | by Yona Zeldis McDonough
Once upon a time, I was part of a small army. The army was not made of soldiers, no, it was more like a children’s crusade, a throng of aspiring young ballet dancers that marched up and down New York City’s long avenues—Broadway, Seventh, Eighth—that were dotted, in those years, with so many studios. The School of American Ballet, feeder for the New York City Ballet, was the most famous, but there were others too and it was at John Barker’s studio on West 56th Street that I took classes six days a week for most of my high school life.
Weekdays, class was from 4:30 to 6:00; Saturdays, it was at 11:00 A.M. The studio itself was unremarkable: ruined wooden floor, bleached and pocked by the amber nuggets of rosin ground into its surface, long barres that lined three of the walls and full-length mirrors that lined the fourth. We spent about forty-five minutes at one of those barres, perfecting a series of exercises that had been born in the court of France and refined in the glistening winters of Imperial Russia. Pliés, tendus, and rond du jambs, all executed to the strains of Chopin. The barre was followed by work in the center: an adagio, and petit allegro. Then there were the big jumps, like grand jetés, and some point work, which allowed us the giddy sensation of rising up on our toes, defying nature and even, for a moment, mortality itself. Finally, there was the obligatory reverence, in which we curtseyed to our supremely difficult and demanding teacher.
After that we were free—until the next day, when the ritual began all over again. For it was a ritual, and, as such, had its sacred preparations. The brushing and winding of our hair into the tight bun, the sewing of ribbons on our ballet shoes, the donning of the requisite pink tights and black leotards were acts performed with both sanctity and love. The studying of ballet creates its own kind of religious order, and the girls who do it are akin to eager novitiates, fired by their all-consuming faith and their utter willingness to undergo daily mortification of the flesh. And as with any religion, the ballet hierarchy decreed that there was an established scheme of things and that a young dancer could have a secure and known place within it. When class was over, I once more joined the swarm of girls with turned-out walks and bony shoulder blades, girls who paraded down the street wearing the marks of their collective discipline: the buns, still wound painfully tight, the big, punishing bags weighed down with their heavy loads. We knew we were of a different tribe—recognizable and unique—and it filled us with pride. We were purified by our discipline, etherealized by our shining goal. Read More »
November 20, 2013 | by Yona Zeldis McDonough
My mother was not a regular reader of Vogue when I was girl in the 1960s, but my friend Diane’s mother—a cool, soignée blonde with an alluring French twist and a lily of the valley–infused cloud of Diorissimo hovering perpetually about her—was, and whenever I visited, Diane and I would pore over the magazine’s slick, bright pages together in a companionable reverie that needed no words. Veruschka’s Slavic exoticism held us deeply in thrall; the preternatural perfection of Jean Shrimpton’s full, exquisitely lipsticked mouth was like a valentine. We longed to look like them, but we knew these girls—and they were, after all, girls—would always remain at some poignant and unattainable remove from us, or anything we could ever aspire to be. With their sinuously lined eyelids, thick manes of hair, and aloof, worldly posturing, Shrimpton, Veruschka, and their ilk had already assumed the lacquered and impermeable gloss of fully grown women, and had left us far, far behind.
So you can imagine our mutual astonishment on the day in 1967 when we turned the page and found ourselves locking eyes with the vulnerable, unvarnished, and most astonishing of all: the impossibly young face of Twiggy. From the moment I saw her boyishly cropped hair, faint spray of freckles, tremulous mouth and huge, wide-open eyes, I felt a visceral shock of recognition. Although she was not one of us—neither Diane nor I were so deluded as to imagine that—we could discern that she was nonetheless only a few baby steps ahead, and onto her fey, coltish image, we could project that of an adored babysitter or someone’s cool older sister. The vestigial childishness of her narrow hips and her pipe-stem legs only confirmed our immediate sense identification. Twiggy was the first model appearing in a women’s magazine who was not precisely a woman; instead, she embraced and exalted her at moments awkward—yet always adorable—girlishness. And since it was clear that Twiggy loved being a girl, not a woman, she gave us the heady permission to love what was still girlish in ourselves.
Quickly, Diane and I spread the word, and the fifth and sixth graders who comprised our little pack were eager to climb on board. We formed our own Twiggy fan club, and at the weekly meetings quizzed each other on tidbits gleaned from teen magazines. Real name? Leslie Hornby. Birthday: September 19, 1949. Soon we could recite the complete catechism: she attended Kilburn High School for Girls and began modeling at fifteen. Her nickname—first Sticks, then Twigs—soon morphed into Twiggy; that was the one that stuck.
Those magazines yielded pictures too, and we jostled each other for the chance to see images of her riding her bicycle, sipping hot chocolate with her boyfriend-turned-manager Justin de Villeneuve or romping with a litter of puppies; clearly those dogs were as besotted as we were. Pages were roughly torn out, taped to our walls, doors, and book covers; we wanted to be Twiggy, each of us vying furiously for the right to inhabit the Cockney cutie’s persona for the duration of our “let’s pretend” games. Read More »
June 13, 2013 | by Yona Zeldis McDonough
Irina Kolpakova is a hummingbird of a woman, perfectly erect and poised as she walks into the cozy interview room tucked deep in the recesses of the Metropolitan Opera House. Her brown hair is kept off her face with a thin headband; she wears dark pants and a soft red sweater over which she wraps a leopard-print shawl. Voilà! Instant glamour. We shake hands and she sits, never wavering from that ballerina-perfect posture. Kolpakova is turning eighty the next day, but does not want a fuss to be made over her birthday. Still, the occasion demands some form of ceremony. As we speak, her expression is alert, her tone animated; her passion for her art emanates from her like a heady cloud of perfume. Her hands, as she talks, do a graceful little ballet of their own, and the geranium-pink nail polish only adds to their elegance.
Tell me about the city of your youth.
I was born in Leningrad. I was only there for three years. Then my mom and I moved to Molotov, which is now Perm.
And when did you start taking ballet lessons?
Nine years old.
Where did you study when you were young?
Molotov, because the Kirov Theatre—now the Mariinsky—was evacuated there. When my mom brought me to the first class, Vaganova was still alive. It was the time of Vaganova.
I wanted to ask you about Vaganova because not too many people in this country know about her contribution to classical ballet. What can you say about her teaching method? What was distinctive or different or important?
Vaganova told us to use all parts of our body together at the same time. Not only this movement for the leg, this movement for the arms, this movement you’re supposed to learn how to use for your head, neck. No, all together, all the time. And she was huge—in Paris they called her the Queen of the Variations. She was … amazing. And she was really smart. She combined French method with Danish. I think that’s unique. Her method was unique. Read More »
March 8, 2011 | by Yona Zeldis McDonough
Jacques d’Amboise, born Joseph Jacques Ahearn in 1934, began his dance training at the age of seven with Madame Seda in Washington Heights. Within a year, he was hopping on the subway to the School of American Ballet, the feeder school for the fledging company started by George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein. By the age of fifteen, he had joined the New York City Ballet, and by seventeen, he had dropped out of high school and become a soloist. For the next three decades, d’Amboise partnered with some of the most exquisite ballerinas of the day, and as Balanchine’s protégé, he had numerous ballets made specifically for him. Critics hailed him as “the definitive Apollo,” a role that he claims changed his life. He was also known for his wildly exuberant screen presence, most notably as Ephraim in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and the Starlight Carnival barker in Carousel.
As his dancing career was winding down, d’Amboise embarked on a spectacular second act: founding the National Dance Institute in 1976, a program that brings ballet into public schools around the country through classes, residencies, and performances—all for free. His memoir, I Was a Dancer, published this month, recalls his seven decades of dance. Although d’Amboise says he is slowing down, the evidence suggests otherwise: as we sat over cups of café au lait in SoHo, he felt compelled to rise from the table to demonstrate a particular sequence of ballet steps. The other patrons were as surprised—and delighted—as I was.
Where did your mother get the idea that you should study dance?
She never finished elementary school, but at home, everybody read books. Especially French books: Victor Hugo, Maupassant, Dumas. She always dreamed that she would be an actress, in drama, and that educated her: she’d dance, recite poetry, use beautiful words, speak French, and act and sing. And her dream was that all her children would be brought up that way.
And it came true!
It did—for three of us. In the early days of New York City Ballet Society, we were all in. My sister stopped because she married the company doctor and she was quarter ballet girl. She had a minor solo once in a while but nothing really. I think I did my solo before I was seventeen and I was doing principal roles while I was still quarter ballet. And Freddie Ashton came to the U.S. and did a ballet for me, and then I did my first movie. I turned eighteen on the set. I just did what I wanted and had everything given to me. And in a way that was why I started National Dance Institute: I never had to audition for anything; I never had to pay for a dance class.