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Machine Dazzle decks the halls!

by Jim Gladstone

Taylor Mac in a Machine Dazzle-designed holiday ensemble. Photo: Little Fang Photography
Taylor Mac in a Machine Dazzle-designed holiday ensemble. Photo: Little Fang Photography  

If you've only seen the official CBS-issued online video of Taylor Mac's recent appearance on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert," you can't comprehend the extent of costume designer Machine Dazzle's contribution to the proceedings.

During Mac's interview two nights before Halloween, the MacArthur-winning theater artist specifically name-checked Dazzle as the creator of his costume, a shimmering, multi-colored tinsel haystack surrounded by a small galaxy of floating orbs. Then, during a rousing performance of Patti Smith's "People Have the Power," Mac called for the designer to join him onstage. In the last few seconds of the network-sanctioned video clip, you can see an out-of-focus Dazzle, still hard to miss at 6'5" with Caution-tape yellow sashes around a sparkly frock, making his way onstage behind the back-up singers, tossing confetti as Colbert bids his audience goodnight.

But viewers who saw the original broadcast know that as the band continued to play under the closing credits, Dazzle worked his way downstage, where his embrace of Mac went quickly horizontal as Mac spread his legs and Dazzle's prismatically gleaming ass arched up and thrust down in the camera's gaze. It was among the queerest moments ever televised.

Bay Area audiences can expect 11 sessions of be-Dazzled faerie festivity when "Taylor Mac's Holiday Sauce" pours onto the stage of the Curran Theatre like so much glittery gravy, beginning November 21. The seasonally-themed spectacle is an appendix of sorts to Mac's opus, "A 24-Decade History of Popular Music", a highlight of the Curran's 2017 season.


Costume designer Machine Dazzle at the Curran Theatre. Photo: Courtesy the Curran  

"Visually, San Francisco audiences are in for more of a treat," said Dazzle (born Matthew Flower), comparing the show's 10-day residency here to the two- and one-night-stands that will follow next month in Los Angeles and New York. "I'll be doing a set there [in SF], as well as the costumes and being onstage as part of the show. You're basically going to be getting a triple whammy, looking at me and my work the entire time.

"Some of my friends wish that I'd gotten more recognition," said Dazzle of his collaborations with Mac, which date back to "The Lily's Revenge," Mac's 2009 play, which they brought to the Magic Theater here in 2011. But far from feeling as if he's working in service of another artist's vision, Dazzle said that Mac's confidence in his own work allows him to generously share the spotlight. Prior to working with Mac, Dazzle cobbled together a living through a variety of artistic endeavors, including jewelry design and creative work in the downtown New York nightlife scene.

"Taylor could afford any designer, and he chooses me," said Dazzle. "Most performers are insecure, which means that designers don't necessarily get their say. The performers want to have their hand in everything. They're very controlling. Taylor likes to go outside his comfort zone."

Dazzle said that in preparing for "Holiday Sauce," Mac simply gave him a loose, overall description of "Christmas as calamity. Everything you love and hate about it: the shopping, the hustle-bustle, the magic, the changing season, the Solstice, the family. And he thought there was room for him to wear two looks."


Costume designer Machine Dazzle shows off a shoe. Photo: Courtesy the artist & KQED  

"And that," said Dazzle, "is how we collaborate. He doesn't tell me how to do the job. I hear him out and come in with a look. And then he goes with it."

Dazzle said that he and Mac have a certain degree of inherent aesthetic harmony. "We have lots of the same friends, we've gone to the same clubs and parties and bars for years." But his costume designs spring from his own mind.

"I get to make the decisions," he said. "The costumes are in tune with what Taylor is saying, but they don't illustrate specific songs. I'm a conceptualist, the costumes are full of ideas."

For the first of Mac's two outfits in "Holiday Sauce," Dazzle decided to lean on traditional colors — red, green and white — and a shiny prettiness, but to incorporate negative "Grinch elements" into the superficially cheerful appearance. "When you look closely, the outfit becomes grotesque," he said. "There are green Medusa snakes slithering around in the wig. The hoop skirt has little elf hands that are reaching down as if they're going to grab something." There are photos of this first outfit in promotional materials, but Dazzle declined to discuss the second, hoping it can remain something of a surprise.

From Mac's late-night television shout-outs to a short profile in The New Yorker by Hilton Als, to his recent gig as Grand Marshal of the Village Halloween Parade, Dazzle has, in fact, been getting a little more public recognition of late.

"But it's not part of any career advancement plan. I've always survived doing my own thing. I've never applied for an artist's grant. And now, these last few years have been great. I'm 45 years old. I get to travel and make art, and I get paid for it.

"I'm not really part of the New York theater world," Dazzle explained. "My work all happens in my head. In some ways I'm an artist trapped in the role of a costume designer. I'm not going to be hired to design Broadway shows. People want to know what they're getting, and that's not the way I work. I can't do sketches before I do a costume, I just have to start building it."


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