Paul Taylor Dance Company dancer Michael Novak (pictured at right) with…
For Michael Novak, the performing arts have come full circle. As a kid growing up in Rolling Meadows, Ill., he was bitten by the stage bug when he attended his first theatrical performance: "The Phantom of the Opera" at The Auditorium Theatre in Chicago. Now, he returns to the Auditorium to leap, soar and fly onstage with the Paul Taylor Dance Company as part of the world-renowned modern dance ensemble's 60th anniversary tour, which ends its spring season in Chicago before gearing up for national and international dates in the summer.
The company will perform three of Taylor's master works: "Black Tuesday," an upbeat depiction of Depression-era performers set to 1930s music; "Mercuric Tidings," a work inspired by Greek mythology; and "Sunset," which explores the relationships between soldiers and the loves they leave behind. We called Novak—who appears in both "Black Tuesday" and "Sunset"—to find out more about the company, life on tour and that fateful trip to see "Phantom."
Paul Taylor Dance Company
Go: 8 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday at The Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Parkway
Tickets: $25-$68. 800-982-2787; ticketmaster.com
How that trip to the Auditorium played out: "It was the first show I ever saw. I fell in love with it—I had to learn all of the songs and I wanted to play every part. One year I was Phantom for Halloween and [laughs] of course no one in my class knew what I was."
His "Billy Elliott"-esque challenges as a dancer: "I loved dancing as a kid, but I had [plenty of] embarrassing moments of people finding out that I was a male dancer. [Laughs.] And trying to stick with it even though it wasn't the 'right' thing for a man to do—overcoming that because I loved it."
What differentiates the Paul Taylor Dance Company from other companies: "How they use weight and their willingness to run, jump, slide, roll on the floor with this reckless abandon that is so exciting and exhilarating for an audience to watch. One of the things that really struck me when I first got on the company back in 2010 was the time the dancers take to really look at each other onstage and let those moments of human connectedness read. It's very touching and it makes a big difference, I think—not only as a viewer but also when you're performing the work—to really give the time to register that there's a relationship between people. I think it creates a crucial look to the company because we relate to each other so well and so easily."
The first thing he did after he found out he'd been accepted into the company: "I called my parents and they were crying and I was crying. And then I went out and bought some cocktails to celebrate. [Laughs.]"
His warmup music: "I'm kind of in this techno phase right now. There's a group called Above and Beyond that was recommended to a friend of mine at American Ballet Theatre and I'm really enjoying warming up to their music. But it depends on what I need, too—sometimes I'll just put on Enya [laughs] and have a minute to calm down and get ready for the performance."
What happens when someone pulls a muscle on tour: "You dance through it as much as possible. [Laughs.] We don't have any understudies who are hired separately; we all cover each other. So in the event that someone goes down, someone of the 16 of us knows their part and is ready to go in."
How company members amuse themselves on the road: "We love food. There's a big group of us who are really into going to some of the great restaurants. We were just in Portland, Maine over the winter, which has an amazing culinary scene that's really up-and-coming and we ate our way through the city—we were looking at all of the restaurant reviews and we cleaned up. So I'm looking forward to Chicago 'cause there's so many great restaurants. And I'm trying to get a group of dancers together to go to Lou Malnati's for the classic deep-dish pizza cause a lot of them have never had it [laughs]."