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Martin Pakledinaz's Hard Life

The award-winning costume designer talks about working on Mark Morris' The Hard Nut, which returns to BAM this month. logo
Martin Pakledinaz
(© Tristan Fuge)
Martin Pakledinaz is one of the busiest costume designers in America. Having just finished designing the City Center Encores! production of Bells Are Ringing and Arena Stage's still-running revival of Oklahoma!, Pakledinaz is currently working on the Roundabout Theatre Company's upcoming revival of Anything Goes and Stephen Wadsworth's new production of The Bartered Bride for the Juilliard School, among other projects.

In between doing all that, he's also revisiting his first celebrated project, Mark Morris' dance-theater work The Hard Nut, which returns to BAM on December 10. TheaterMania recently sat down with Pakledinaz to discuss this landmark work.

THEATERMANIA. You first worked on The Hard Nut with Mark Morris over 20 years ago when he created this piece in Belgium. How did this collaboration happen?
MARTIN PAKLEDINAZ: I didn't really know Mark well. I had worked with him once when he was doing the choreography for Orpheus and Eurydice in Seattle. And I guess I impressed him. One of the greatest things about Mark going to Brussels to do this was that he was working for a state-funded theater so he could do projects that were bigger than any he ever dreamed that he could do. He had decided that he wanted to do a piece set to Tchaikovsky, but not necessarily The Nutcracker. He listened to a lot of the music and got excited about it, and then he was a big fan of Charles Burns, the comic book artist whose work inspired the piece, and that's how the show was born.

TM: What was it like working with Mark and Charles on the original production?
MP: Working with Charles was interesting and a little tricky. He's a really great guy, but he had never been with theater people and being an individual artist, the idea of collaboration was confusing to him. So I just studied his artwork a lot, listened to Mark, looked at the dancers, and then I would design images I thought reflected Charles' point of view. Once in a while, he would draw something that I would interpret, but for other parts of the show, like the Waltz of the Flowers, I just talked to Mark and then I did my own thing. Charles wasn't offended; he knew he wasn't the designer. It took a year to design it. I don't think Mark even realized how big a project it was and how complicated it would be.

TM: The piece is really known for its use of color. Was that on purpose?
MP: We knew that our set designer, Adrianne Lobel, was starting with a black and white world that would go into color when it was in the Christmas party. So I turned to Mark and I said, I guess we're doing this in black and white and red and green, and he said yes, and that was the end of that. But I did add some things: I wanted the ingénue in pink because she was a little girl, and when the mother and father are transformed into royalty, they go into royal purple and gold costumes. As much as ballet people think that story ballets are easy to understand, I knew that the more we could tell the story with the color, the better it would be for everyone.

A scene from The Hard Nut
(© Susanna Millman)
TM: Do they have to remake the costumes every time they do the show?
MP: I'm making new costumes for Mark Morris, who's taking over the role of Papa for the first time, but that's the only thing I'm making new. Most of the other costumes are 20 years old. A lot of Broadway wardrobe people come in and they do what they can to fix it up and hope that the magic of stage lighting keeps it fresh. Although maybe I should give out sunglasses this year.

TM: What's it like designing costumes specifically for Mark?
MP: He's easy. He doesn't look in the mirror. He thinks that's my job. However, I'm used to my actors and dancers standing still and moving when I tell them to, and it's a little more difficult when it's Mark and he's pointing up his arm when you're pinning it somewhere else.

TM: The 1991 production of the piece in Belgium was filmed live for PBS. What did you think about that?
MP: It was great for The Hard Nut to be shown on TV, because it opened up people's ideas of how you could do a large dance piece. But there's nothing like seeing it live. As wonderful as I think the film can be, the trouble with many theatrical things on film, especially dance, is that the camera is one eye that tells you what you're going to see. Once you're in the theater, all of a sudden you realize, "Oh my, there are 12 other things that I can see at the same time!"

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