For internationally acclaimed dancer Michael Trusnovec, Paul Taylor’s choreography can only be described as life-changing. “I always thought I was going to be in theater, but I turned a corner when I saw Paul’s work,” he shares. “It changed my mind about what I wanted to do, and I think that’s because of the theatricality of his pieces and the way he captures emotions and brings them to the stage in a way that is starkly different than anybody else.”
While Trusnovec — who has danced with the company for two decades — has high praise for the choreographer, it is undoubtedly earned. Taylor is the recipient of an Emmy Award, a Kennedy Center Honor, and three Guggenheim Fellowships. His dance company, founded in 1954, has performed in more than 62 countries and has been featured on PBS nine times — positioning Taylor among the world’s greatest living choreographers in the eyes of many.
On the heels of the 2015 documentary Paul Taylor: Creative Domain, which provides an inside look into Taylor’s method, the company will be performing three masterworks on January 28 at the Performing Arts Center in Purchase. A Long Island native, Trusnovec holds the Center in particular esteem. “I love coming to PAC; it just feels like home,” he says. “We spend at least a week or two there each year, filming dances for repertory preservation, and that’s often coupled with a performance of some sort. Plus, many of the dancers who have come through the company have been students of the school.”
John Tomlinson, the company’s executive director, offers similarly kind words. “We’ve had a long relationship with the concert hall at Purchase,” he notes. “We have performed there for 20 or 30 years now, and we have found the audience to be one of our most appreciative, because they are so familiar with Paul’s work.”
Tomlinson also has positive things to say about the company’s star dancer. “Michael [Trusnovec] has been with us for many, many years and is a remarkable dancer. I just read an article that said he is one of the greatest male dancers of any generation, and I would not argue with that statement one bit.”
Along with the rest of the talented company, Trusnovec will be presenting the pieces Danbury Mix (1988), Ab Ovo Usque Ad Mala (1986), and Black Tuesday (2001) during their stint at Purchase College. “In Danbury Mix, Paul actually steals from himself,” explains Trusnovec. “He takes passages from his other great dances and joins them all together so that it becomes this collage, which is interesting, considering many of the artists he was friends with when he was first starting out were collagists, like [Robert] Rauschenberg.”
“Danbury Mix features the music of Charles Ives,” adds Tomlinson. Trusnovec explains that within the Ives music, one hears “hints of Americana mixed in with these dissonant sounds that make it all very modern and quite stark.”
An exceedingly rare performance of Taylor’s classic Ab Ovo Usque Ad Mala (“From Soup to Nuts”) will follow Danbury Mix. An elaborate set and complex choreography caused the company to shelve the dance for decades. Only recently did Taylor rediscover the piece and select it for the company’s upcoming Westchester performance.
Trusnovec calls Ab Ovo “one of Paul’s zany dances,” adding that, “It is really humorous, and he is again almost parodying himself by pulling steps from his work — but not whole passages, as in Danbury. If you know Paul’s work well, it will be particularly appealing. But even if you don’t, the dance is just hysterical, and the costumes and sets are outrageous.”
A more somber peace, referencing the Great Depression, Black Tuesday will close out the evening. “If you go back and look at the music produced during the Depression, you’ll find that the entertainment world was pumping out the most joyful, cheerful, up-tempo songs, trying to keep people happy when they had no money, no food, and no jobs,” says Tomlinson. “Paul delves into that and takes the songs and the subtext and weaves an amazing image of that era that is quite brilliant.”
As for the work’s connection to current events, Tomlinson suggests Taylor has a kind of natural foresight. “Paul does have a strange sense of what’s going to happen around him, and he seems to get it right frequently,” notes Tomlinson, who says this prescience extends even to the members of the company. “Paul has a very special way of seeing what a dancer is going to become. Often, he will choose those who on the surface don’t look like the best dancers in the room, but over the years they blossom into these amazing performers who are just untouchable.”