Strukova’s make-up, costume designs bring ‘Swan Lake,’ Middle Earth back to life

Makeup designer Irina Strukova has just finished an assignment she says fulfills so many of the dreams of ambitions of her life.

It’s a new television series, set in the second age of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings,” a time when a preview streaming now tells the nine rings of Sauron were forged. Called “The Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power,” it begins airing on Amazon Prime September 2 and is considered one of the highlights of the fall television season.

When I say “makeup designer,” I don’t mean someone who touches up a performer’s skin, applying powder just so or adding a smidge of rouge. It’s not, as Strukova quips, like “working in a beauty salon.”

Strukova, who studied architecture and other structural skills in her native Kazakhstan, operates at once like an artist and engineer. She not only consults with directors and choreographers to agree on the desired look of a character. She conceives images that enhance or become characters. She listens to directors and costumers, then surprises them with prosthetics and wigs of great intricacy, or contours of extreme subtlety, that use light modern materials but create a great visual and dramatic effect. Her work can be seen in the television series, “Marco Polo” and in the movie, “Crazy Rich Asians.”

Local audiences can get a live look at Strukova’s unique artistry next week when The Russian Ballet, on tour, brings it production of “Swan Lake” to Trenton’s Patriots Theatre and War Memorial on Tuesday, February 15, to Sewell’s Investors Bank Performing Arts Center February 16, and to Reading’s Santander Performing Arts Center February 17.

Just listening to her talk about adding lightweight jewels to headpieces so characters such as “Swan Lake’s” villain, Rothbart, and the black swans have an individual look that catches light and doesn’t impede motion, was a lesson in how much makeup and hair design add to a production.

Strukova says the challenge varies depending whether she is working on a theater piece that requires a large audience to catch every nuance from a distance, in film where there are close-ups and more of a chance to transform characters because they don’t perform continually for hours, and in television in which the camera is more severe but can add to a great effect.

Both “Swan Lake” and “The Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power” mark strides in a career that came about almost by accident but grew as Strukova saw the possibilities of prosthetics and other makeup tools and became recognized for her individual talent.

Based now in Los Angeles because it is “the center of both the entertainment industry and the home of the world’s great makeup artists,” Strukova has worked internationally, from St. Petersburg to New Zealand.

Born in the Soviet Union, Strukova’s family went to Kazakhstan for increased opportunities. She studied music, the violin, for years but was later assigned to architecture school, which she says provided her sense of structure.

Hard time and few available products, especially when the Iron Curtain first fell, caused Strukova to create her own makeup, including figuring out how to make colors. To make money, she worked in beauty salons where her work was recognized and led to her going to Moscow to work for magazines.

One thing led to another, and Strukova was designing for the stage and developed an interest in contextural looks and in prosthetics. She was eager to learn and learn from the best, which brought her to Hollywood about 10 years ago.

“There I got to work, meet and learn from icons, and do some work that earned awards. I’m a definite perfectionist, and I wanted to do the best and be the best.”

She also became interested in fantasy and being a creator in addition to a craftsperson.

“The Ballet gave me a chance to use my imagination and add to the fantasy of ‘Swan Lake.’ ‘The Lord of the Rings’ made use of my work with prosthetics as I created the look of characters. I am interested now in ‘portrait design’ and have had the chance to meet and learn from Kazu Hiro (also Kazuhiro Tsuji) who received an Oscar for his seamless transition of turning Gary Oldman into Winston Churchill in ‘The Darkest Hour.’

Trouble with comments

Whoopi Goldberg proud that she’s ‘still here’

Broadcasting is becoming a minefield, particularly television.

Every utterance is scrutinized and could be used as ammunition against a personality who may deserve criticism and rebuke or who may just be running against the current tide of demanded conformity, political fashion, and intolerant super-sensitivity.

Three incidents from last week illustrate my point. One is an example of rein so free it permits panelists on talk and other shows to blurt out anything and expect it to be accepted as a definitive statement. Two others smack of McCarthyism, which in my opinion is back in rampant force, as one set of performers withhold their participation in response to another with whom they disagree.

All three cases have a lot of gray area. What happened to create the situations is cut-and-dried, but the response leaves room for thought. It also comments sharply on much that governs broadcasting today. To my mind, it’s all bad and makes me worry whether television and offshoots, such as podcasts, can genuinely inform any audience today or if, even on newscasts, it has become a cesspool of idle, unbridled blathering.

Whoopi Goldberg is on a two-week suspension from ABC’s popular and, heaven help us, influential morning show, “The View.”

During a discussion about the regional banning of a classic book about the Nazi Holocaust, and one of the first major graphic art novels ever, Art Spiegelman’s “Maus,” Goldberg said, “It (the Holocaust) was not about race. It’s about man’s inhumanity to other man.”

The last half of Goldberg’s declaration, the passable misquote of William Wordsworth, is apt. The Holocaust certainly illustrates the extent to which people may go in denigrating, victimizing, and destroying other people.

The first half, about the Holocaust not being about race is ignorant beyond belief. The Nazis called themselves the Master Race and sought to separate by genocidal extinction all who did not fit Adolf Hitler’s definition of his Aryan ideal. Millions of Jews, Blacks, gays, gypsies, religious figures, and others were subject to horrible sadistic treatment, mostly leading to death.

It is amazing that Goldberg, often the only “View” panelist that might resort to reason above populist cant, said what she did.

She apologized for it. She said that the response from the Jewish community and others provided new information that showed her the error of her ways. But the damage was done.

Whether from Goldberg or not, it is the typical damage of current broadcasting.

It’s the problem of the blurt. Panelist jaw along, often without thought, sometimes in pure emotional reaction and say things that don’t make sense.

Goldberg got caught, chastised by people who knew better, contrite, and suspended in turn. She says she may not return to “The View,” as in quit, over ABC making her take a two-week break, news division president Kim Godwin, an alumna of Channel 10, says the suspension is give Goldberg time to cool down and think.

What Goldberg did is common today, on all shows and all platforms. I tell everyone, including Dom Giordano’s WPHT-AM radio audience, the only reason I watch any news is because I’m professionally obligated to keep track of what is on TV. The collection of so-called experts, objective reporters, and impartial anchors that spout partisan politics and say anything that suits them, verifiable or not, appalls and insults me. I give it no credit.

Sure, there are direct, factual reports between the bilge. Cable and network news can be relied upon to give basics of a breaking story. Most discussion is a joke. Many stories are half-told. Just as many are ignored based on the bias of the venue. Personality and pap have taken over from good solid information. CNN, MSNBC, Fox News Channel, ABC, NBC, and CBS don’t feature newspeople. They field gossipmongers and referees who spout the party line of the station that employs them. They also act as if news has a moral, of the specific partisan’s making, rather than being neutral and objective.

Whoopi Goldberg didn’t do anything different from most of the shills sitting at news desks. She was just more egregious in her idiocy, so out of line, she hit a justifiably delicate nerve.

Joe Rogan is another blurter. He speaks to millions, about 11 million, about his ideas, most of which adhere to current conservative policy.

Rogan is outspoken about COVID. I agree with others who say he thoughtlessly discourages precautions, such as vaccines and masks, and ventures into more dangerous ground such as advocating ivermectin and other unproven remedies as a way to combat COVID.

Though I agree Rogan is wrong and dread the idea his audiences will listen to and follow him, he works in a medium that allows him to say what he believes. Or what he wants his listeners to believe.

Rogan’s podcast is carried on Spotify, a service that covers vast programming ground and allows people, in general, to call up and listen to almost any aural track ever recorded.

Whether I like what Rogan says does not matter if others want to hear it. No outlet, including cable and network news, vets its material carefully or objectively enough these days. Spotify does not have the responsibility CNN or ABC should, to name two. It is a carrier, not a producer and not a censor.

Therefore I agree with Spotify it should now allow protests from other performers it carries, especially those who want to exercise cancel culture and have someone silenced.

Maybe if Neil Young or Joni Mitchell, of whom I’m a huge and long-time fan scored 11 million hits like Rogan does, they’d have clout. Business is, after all, business.

But they don’t. Spotify loses less by retaining Rogan and letting Young and Mitchell deny the jukebox service their songs.

Besides, abandoning Rogan based on someone else’s demand is McCarthyism and censorship. I’m more in the “May be listener beware” school, a school that includes what’s heard on cable and network news.

The third incidence involves virtue signaling from celebrities who think their indignation or unwillingness to cooperate pulls weight or is other than more McCarthyism.

Fox’s “The Masked Singer” gave former New York mayor and Donald Trump apologist Rudy Giuliani a turn to dress up, sing out, and fool the show’s judges. (This is part of show that has not aired.)

Hiring Giuliani, who probably needs work and income given his legal expenses, is up to the “Masked Singer’s” producers. Anything involving Giuliani has political overtones, but they don’t extend to “The Masked Singer.”

When Giuliani was unmasked, two judges, Ken Jeong and Robin Thicke, left in a huff.

They wanted to look like outraged heroes, but they amounted to big babies. Giuliani has the same right to appear as any other celebrity appearing on the show.

The question I always ask regarding Jeong and Thicke’s occasion of uproar is, “Would anyone who applauds Jeong or Thicke for their action, be as accepting if a judge walked out in disgust based on the presence of say, Vice President Kamala Harris or some notable from the other side of the spectrum.

The righteous outburst – Tantrum? – is wrong and unprofessional no matter at whom it’s directed. Two other judges, Jenny McCarthy and Nicole Scherzinger, did not move and chatted with Giuliani.

Yo, Ken and Robin, grow up. You too, Whoopi. You too, Neil. You too, Joni.

Neal Zoren’s television column appears every Monday.







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