Go Deeper

Let Us Now Praise Set and Costume Design: Q&A with Maiko Matsushima, Part 1

Posted September 14th, 2009

Headlong Dance Theater‘s new piece more. is a dynamic, challenging, and ultimately very beautiful work, and it closes tonight at the Arts Bank. Catch the last show, and then come to the Festival Bar (9:00 pm, free!) to join the directors, the cast, Live Arts staff, and a whole swath of other folks for a wee (ok, probably big) dance party to celebrate the show.

We don’t always hear about design work, but if you’re lucky, one of the people you’ll meet tonight is Maiko Matsushima, the set and costume designer for the show. Her work is no small part of more.‘s beauty. When more. opened on Thursday night at the Arts Bank, the months of work Maiko put in to conceptualizing and executing the sets and costumes finally were made manifest. And it was good.

But a month ago, I was sitting at the kitchen table in the offices of in South Philadelphia, above Parlor, sitting across from Maiko. While she was excited about the show, she wasn’t convinced everything would come together.

Maiko started observing Headlong’s process right before the Big Reveal. Tere O’Connor was working with Headlong’s principals—Amy Smith, Andrew Simonet, and David Brick—as individuals, which is the first time in 15 or 16 years that they’ve deeply explored their dance endeavors personally, and separately.

“The Big Reveal is the first time I saw it,” said Maiko. “All the pieces were quite different. Nobody knew how to go from there, to go with one project, or find something that was cohesive. All was on the table. It was great, but also confusing.”

This summer, Headlong went to the Silo, a retreat in the Lehigh Valley north of Philadelphia. For a week, all parties—dancers, directors, and Maiko—looked intensively at what this process meant to Headlong.

“Each was so different. The co-directors had talked about the piece, but the dancers also took a few hours and made a piece too. The dancers are the common element between the development of the three pieces. The dancers revealed the fourth piece at Silo. They did a lot of mash-ups, keeping elements of all the individual pieces, layering them, and seeing what that meant. It was bizarre to watch, but there was something cohesive in the three pieces as well. There is a commentary on loneliness in each piece. Some moments looked chaotic, some looked like they could be something.

“Nobody really wanted to rise up and say, ‘This is how we’ll do it.’ It was like kneading dough or working clay—a lot of that was happening. If you do it, neat things show up, but if you keep doing it, it disappears.”

To see what emerged, check out more.tonight at 7:00 pm—last chance! Then check back here tomorrow for secrets behind the show, the challenges Maiko’s had to meet working with Headlong and Pig Iron (she designed the costumes for Welcome to Yuba City too), and artistic freedoms found in Philadelphia.

–Nicholas Gilewicz

more. set design photo courtesy Maiko Matsushima.