A Costume Master

Santo Loquasto

By Yona McDonough

You may not know the name Santo Loquasto, but you have most likely have seen his work.  Loquasto has designed scenery and costumes for some of the biggest names in the business, and his skill sets ranges from classical ballet to Broadway, and from live theater to film–with a healthy dash of opera tossed into the mix.  I met with Loquasto on muggy August day at the Margot Patisserie on 74th Street.  A modest man with a dapper beard and killer smile, he sips an iced coffee while we talk; every now and then, he flashes that dazzling smile.

A native of Pennsylvania, Loquasto traces his interest in theater back to his youth, when he was, by his own description, the “classic summer stock kid.”  He first worked with scenery, though costumes, he said, “were always a part of it.”  He graduated from King’s College, a small, Catholic school in Wilkes-Barre and from 1966-1969 he attended the Yale School of Drama. After graduating, he did not go straight to New York but worked in regional theater in the New Haven area.  Arriving in New York City in 1971 was a serious thrill and now Loquasto makes his home on the Upper West Side.  In his ongoing work for American Ballet Theater, he has collaborated with several of the dance’s world most notable directors including Twyla Tharp, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Kenneth MacMillan, Agnes de Mille and Mark Morris.

This fall, Loquasto’s costumes and sets for the world premiere of The Tempest by Alexei Ratmansky will highlight American Ballet Theatre’s inaugural fall season in New York.  In many ways, it’s a perfect fit.  With his strong theatrical background, Loquasto is well grounded in Shakespeare and has designed costumes for Joseph Papp’s productions of Shakespeare in the Park as well as productions of Shakespeare at other venues. But designing costumes for the ballet requires some special considerations.   “I don’t want the dancers to be fighting the weight of the dresses,” he explains.

How does he help translate the Bard’s immortal words into an equally compelling, if wordless, spectacle?  “I follow the play,” he says, adding that it is his aim to follow the progression sequentially and where words, or their kinetic translation is not applicable, he relies on pure emotion, like anger and rage.  But Loquasto is also eager to balance the intensity of such feelings with lighter, comedic notes, in this case embodied by characters like Trinculo and Stephano.   And he is confident in his material: “To design Shakespeare teaches you how little you need on stage.”

Loquasto’s film credits include twenty-seven films with quintessential New York director Woody Allen.  The first of these collaborations was in 1980, when he worked on Stardust Memories, and the most recent was Blue Jasmine.  Speaking of the relationship with Allen, he says, “It’s almost incomprehensible how it happened and how it endured,” says Loquasto. The “how-it- happened” came through an early association with screenwriter Marshall Brickman; the enduring part has to do with Loquasto’s nuanced understanding of the way things need to look.

When asked what he likes best about his job, he quickly answers, “the beginning, the search, the figuring out how you are going to do it.”  What he likes least is the bottom-line, business aspects of trying to create the vision he wants within the budget that has been allocated. “The haggling wears you out,” he notes.  But Loquasto seems anything but worn out.  He is filled with ideas that he continually strives to bring to visual fruition.   When he sees the performers getting excited he gets excited too. “It’s all very exhilarating,” he says—and once more, I am treated to that wonderful, life-affirming smile. •

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