Interview with Zane Pihlstrom

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photo Phillip Van Nostrand 

Company XIV and The Saint At Large have produced a spectacular sexy reworking of a classic take in their N.Y.C. premiere of Nutcracker Rouge. As I attempt to keep you (and myself) ever abreast of intriguing and sometimes quite alluring fashion-shows, designers, performers-so I do of intricate costuming that uses all manner of latex, lace, leather and in this case, yards and yards of G-string. I had occasion to speak with the show’s is the set and costume designer, Zane Pihlstrom about what he does, how he does and where he does it.

This is rather a costume ‘heavy’ show. Who comes up with the idea of the pieces? Is it you alone, you and Austin (Austin McCormick conceived the show, directed and choreographed it), Austin having a starting vision and you coming in saying what is or what is not possible? I know you two work together often and have won awards together.

Austin McCormick and I work very closely when we are developing our ideas for Company XIV productions. We are true collaborators in that we always choose the best idea regardless of who thought of it. We often build our ideas off of what one of us has started. Austin has an addiction to collecting gorgeous vintage pieces of lingerie or corsets that he knows he wants incorporated into the design well before I am brought into the process. It really is a co-design process that works.

What actual materials are used in the costumes of the show…and why?

Our design studio is largely made up of problem solving materials. Metallic stretch fabrics, elastic in every color and trims and notions we use to re-enforce the fragile vintage pieces and make wearable.  We have bins of rhinestone applique and racks of old opera and theater costumes that we pillage for interesting collars or useful bodices. 

In a show like this with so much movement, exists and entrances-not to mention changes-what is your biggest nightmare on the wear and tear of the pieces each night?

There really is no way to protect the clothes from the inherently violent choreography. The dancers absolutely murder the clothes every night and therein lies the secret to the beauty of Company XIV’s aesthetic.  There is a violation or a tension between something beautiful and seemingly fragile (the design) and the calculated thrashing and forceful invasion of the choreography.  I think a great part of the success of the visuals is getting to witness this battle between the two every night in a live theater environment.

Working in the many different countries you do can you tell us of specific and different sensibilities to such highly charged sensual material, dancing and costuming


I’m still surprised by how different countries have vastly different attitudes towards sexual images on stage. Perhaps it’s not a surprise but in my experiences in Germany (Berlin) is that they are very open to provocative design; full nudity is almost a requirement there to create beautiful theater. I would say the most conservative place I’ve worked is China (Shanghai), where it was difficult to even convince a male actor to wear a pair of high heels on stage. The production was a ridiculous comedy and not sexual at all but the fear of being labeled as homosexual can ruin a career there. After five weeks of convincing I won the battle and he appeared on stage in beautiful lingerie and heels (though wearing a real bear head as a mask to hid his identity.  Finland (Helsinki) was a surprising breath of fresh air where I put a Greek Chorus of men is full dominatrix inflatable latex body suits and rhinestone jewelry and everyone loved it! It’s still quite a mixed bag here in the USA. On one hand we love producing classical operas and texts that are filled with femme fatales, courtesans and horrific rape scenes but we prefer to romanticize it with no more than heaving bosoms and maybe a shirtless man. 


photo Phillip Van Nostrand 

What’s on your personal agenda come the new year?

As a freelance designer I rarely know more than six months in advance which companies will ask me to work with them. So far the work hasn’t slowed down so I guess it’s part of the excitement of this job.  I do know I will be designing in Poland in 2014 and hoping to get back to Finland for another breath of fresh air soon.

For more info about Zane visit


Catch up with the show here:

Check out Von Gutenberg’s own sexy clothes/costuming and frills in our new issue #8. Available here:



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