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Michael Trusnovic: Moving Towards Perfection

by Wendy Goldberg
May 3, 2009
San Francisco, CA

Featured Dance Company:

Paul Taylor Dance Company
Paul Taylor Dance Company (office)
552 Broadway
New York, NY 10012
212 431 5562
www.ptdc.org

I had a rare opportunity to interview Michael Trusnovic, the archetypical Paul Taylor dancer. I had recently seen him perform in De Suenos (Of Dreams), and De Suenos Que Se Repiten (Of Recurring Dreams), and been struck by his brilliant portrayal of the Stag, or Deer. His animal alertness, quivering still readiness, darting, and gamboling movements captured breathtakingly the Stag's embodiment of a force of nature. Our conversation, via telephone, follows.

Wendy: Hi Michael. Did you just come from a rehearsal?

Michael: No…it's morning here in San Francisco. I'm just about to head out to the theatre…we have two shows today.

Wendy: I didn't realize you were in San Francisco.

Michael: Yeaaaa…

Wendy: Oh great! I've never been there…

Michael: Oh. It's beautiful.

Wendy: I have to get out there soon. Ok. About how many hours do you rehearse a day?

Michael: It depends on what's going on. If we're in NY and we're in rehearsals, we do five hours a day, Monday through Friday.

Wendy: Mmm…

Michael: And on top of that, of course, you're taking class and going to the gym and a million other things - that I'm doing… (laughing)

Wendy: Right (laughing).

Michael: But on the road it's a little bit different because when we're in performance, often we'll run the show during the day, before the performance, and then do the performance…

Wendy: Mmmm…

Michael: We don't have a regular rehearsal schedule per se - like rehearsing other dances. We just generally focus on the performances.

Wendy: Right, of course. I saw you perform in De Suenos (Of Dreams) and Recurring Dreams and I was really awestruck by your strong presence on stage - you know- when you were the Stag… (pause)…is that what I should refer to you as - the Stag?

Michael: Sure. That's fine. I think that's what most people call it. Yeah.

Wendy: Yeah. And when you were on stage, you seemed to really almost…swallow…the space! You dominated it, with your percussive movements and you carved the air with swordlike swiftness. Did you work on this consciously?

Michael: I think so. I think when Paul (Taylor) introduced the idea of me being this Deer - the Stag - in the dance, I tried to do a little bit of research on the Deer representation in the Mexican culture, and I tried to find out what it embodied. So I took those ideas - the strength, and sort of the innocence, and kind of all those things and tried to tie it into the movement he was giving me to create a real character.

Wendy: Yes.

Michael: You can easily get lost inside the antlers and the music and the light and all that. So I really focused on trying to make the character as masculine and as strong as I possibly could make it.

Wendy: Yes. Those layers were evident. The richness of your performance unfolded.

Michael: Well thank you. I mean I think besides the whole strength thing, is the whole vulnerability side too, of that character which I found interesting as well.

Wendy: Yes. You encompassed the Deer's complex duality beautifully.

Michael: You said the layering; it really is a layered character. There's a lot of depth.

Wendy: Yes. And you know it was so fascinating - the dramatic aspects of the role as well. Now did you work on the emotions or did they evolve out of the movement….or would you say it was an interaction?

Michael: They evolved out of the movement and the research that I kind of did just on the character. And the music of course affects it as well..and the relationship with the goddess, Virgin Mary figure. And all the relationships the Deer has throughout the dance.

Wendy: In particular your relationship with…I call her the Angel… (laughing)…you call her the Virgin Mary?

Michael: Yeah. I think that was kind of the intention. She represented that iconic Virgin Mary figure. Or Love, or Life. I mean she's kind of all those things.

Wendy: Yes!

Michael: I think that's why he (Paul Taylor) illuminated her and made her so golden.

Wendy: Yes, yes! You know you are incredibly articuate. (laughing).

Michael: (laughing) Well thanks!

Wendy: So your relationship with her - played by Laura Halzack - developed through the piece and grew. Did your feelings towards her character change during the piece?

Michael: I don't know if they changed…because we made the first one first… (Of Dreams, before Recurring Dreams). I think they can be in any order. I don't know if they're necessarily part one and part two. We don't have any interaction in that dance (Of Dreams) other than when I am one of the townsfolk people crawling, admiring, and worshipping her. So as the Stag character, I don't have as much a relationship with her until the second part.

Wendy: Yes.

Michael: Paul introduced that. What was really interesting was the pairing…that was also the first time we worked together - Laura and I - creating roles together. I mean we worked together, but we hadn't created any dance together. I just liked where he (Paul Taylor) was going with that, especially cause the deer got shot in the first part…

Wendy: Ooh yes…

Michael: She resurrects him…brings him back to life…or welcomes him into the afterlife…or however you want to look at it. There's so many kinds of interpretations.

Wendy: Which adds to the depth of the work.

Michael: Working with her (Laura Halzack), I mean it's really easy, and it's very …(pause)… I think the duet is very sensual, and kind of mirrors the music. I hope we acheived what Paul was looking for in that relationship.

Wendy: I think it was the quintessential essence of the piece and it almost seemed to be a love story.

Michael: (pause) Umm. Yeah. I guess I could see…yeah….(voice brightening and quickening) I could see that!

Wendy: Yeah.

Michael: Definitely.

Wendy: On a high level.

Michael: And behind us, he's (Paul Taylor) mirroring the imagery that we're doing with the town folk. They're meeting each other…and the kiss happens…

Wendy: Yes…that's the moment…It was simply wonderful. The fact that it's the first time that you two worked so closely together is amazing cause you seemed so natural together.

Michael: Yeah. I think we appeal to each other's sensibilities because we both have a really similar work ethic…we're both perfectionists. (laughing)

Wendy: Aah.

Michael: We got on very quickly…

Wendy: Well the results show it.

Michael: Well good. I'm glad. (laughing).

Wendy: (laughing) Yes. Well, speaking of working with Paul - I'm sure this has been an amazing experience for you - how long have you been working with him?

Michael: I joined Taylor 2, the second Company, in 1996 and danced there for two years and had a few times where we had interaction with him - when he'd come in - watch rehearsal - but I joined the company in 1998. So it's been amost eleven years.

Wendy: So it must be an amazing growth experience for you…

Michael: Oh absolutely, absolutely! I tell most people that working for Paul is like a blissful torture! (laughing)

Wendy: Exquisite agony! (laughing)

Michael: You know the fact that I'm in the studio with this man who is not only iconic, but somebody I admire so much…and his work … Then there's just the physical aspect of it that is quite torturous…

Wendy: Yes. I can really understand and appreciate that. I really can. Now….would you ever want to do choreography yourself - or don't you head in that direction?

Michael: I never say never. It could happen. I feel within Paul's work, and within creating with him, he really allows me to have a voice that must satisfy, at least for right now, any desire I have to make dances. He allows me to have some input, not only in some of the choreography, but in the character develoment.

Wendy: That's very important.

Michael: So I'm satisfied.

Wendy: Is that unusual for a choreographer?

Michael: From friends that I talk to, I don't think it's always the definite thing. It seems to be the way it is with him - at least when he's working with me. I can't say how he works with everyone in the Company, but for me, I feel like he really allows and…trusts me.

Wendy: Right…you have input. Within a particular system of movement, like Paul Taylor's, he has such a signiture, wonderful sensibility that we in the audience can recognize, and absolutely love - or say Martha Graham technique - do you think there's a lot of room for individual expession…I guess you're saying there is?

Michael: Definitely. Of course you have to speak the language. You have to be fluent in the language of Paul Taylor. Once you have that, you can go anywhere with it.

Wendy: Right.

Michael: And because all of his work seems to center…I definitely think it centers around characters…and around relationships, and community…those things are going to change depending on what mood you're in that day, who you're dancing with… so many factors come in to play. So I feel as long as you're speaking the Paul Taylor language, you can go anywhere you want - and he allows that, thankfully!

Wendy: That is wonderful. And that comes out - something that is very unique and fabulous about his work and all of you working with him is the dramatic aspect. Sometimes dancers don't get a chance to layer their characters the way you do.

Michael: I'm sure that's something that was appealing to me and why I dance for the Company.

Wendy: Right. Is there a specific movement, or group of movements that you particularly love?

Michael: I like everything. I'm pretty happy. And just the way he (Paul Taylor) marries the movement to the music he uses, is so perfect for me.

Wendy: Yes.

Michael: I love it all.

Wendy: Mmm. Did you always want to dance - when you were a child?

Michael: Yeah. Ever since I was about six years old, I started. I can remember digging through things my Mom and Dad had saved…and anytime you were at school and there was an assignment - what do you want to be when you grow up? - I would write 'dancer - or something'… (laughing)

Wendy: (laughing)

Michael: Or something…

Wendy: Wow, you knew right away…say could you do cartwheels and amazing things when you were young?

Michael: Mmm. I don't know if I was incredibly gymnastically inclined - I mean I'm still working on those things. It wasn't my favorite thing to go upside down - but I was always a natural mover - especially if there was music on.

Wendy: So you really love music?

Michael: Oh yeah!

Wendy: Yeah…so does anyone else in your family dance?

Michael: Everybody dances a little bit. I can remember watching my grandparents at many a family function eat up the floor. Their big thing was they'd do the Peabody, and just be all over the place.

Wendy: Oh that's great!

Michael: I think there's an inclination toward movement - especially on my Mom's side of the family.

Wendy: Yeah. So were they pleased when you decided to become a professional dancer?

Michael: Oh yeah! Of course they're worried about it. You don't know if there is a life to be had there that you can survive, and thrive in. But they were always extremely supportive, and really, really proud.

Wendy: But you are thriving!

Michael: Yeah, I know! Exactly. More reason for them to be happy and proud.

Wendy: Yes.

Michael: Yes.

Wendy: By the way, do you live in NY most of the time?

Michael: I live in NY City.

Wendy: Do you enjoy living in the City?

Michael: Well, I can imagine living other places but I don't know that I'd want to live any other place.

Wendy: Yeah.

Michael: It's always been my favorite. Cause I grew up in NY out on Long Island, and I would come into the City all the time, on the train, and take class.

Wendy: I grew up in Queens. Mostly what we'd do, especially in high school, was take the train into the City and hang out there.

Michael: Ah. I see. A lot of my family grew up in Queens, and I spent a lot of time there as a kid.

Wendy: Is living in the dance world turning out the way you thought it would?

Michael: I don't know that I imagined it as a kid. For me, thus far, it's been a really incredible experience - the travel aspect - the tight knit family that Paul has magically assembled - these perfect dancers together - I think that has been the most rewarding…the people I get to dance with every day.

Wendy: Would you like to tell us about any future plans you may have?

Michael: I'm one of those people that kind of lives in the present.

Wendy: In the moment.

Michael: I'm really happy with what I'm doing right now. I'm open to anything that comes along, and I hope that new and challenging things keep happening.

Wendy: This has been a really wonderful experience talking with you. I can't tell you how much I admire your work. What would you say accounts for your success - I know it's difficult to pinpoint it. But for people who are really curious, what would you say?

Michael: I guess ultimately it's the amount of hard work that I do, and continue to do. If you become complacent, especially when you're in the job that you want to do, you go on auto pilot, and I never live like that. I would hope that's the reason things have gone so well. You know, the amount of effort I put in personally - and it's not just a fluke or luck - or anything like that. (laughing)

Wendy: (laughing) Nooo.

Michael: I'm sure those are all factors that come into play, but I always hope the preparations…. that being ready for just about anything….and keeping myself in shape, and doing all those things that are so important…

Wendy: You love what you do.

Michael: Oh, every second of it! I always say that as soon as I'm not having a good time, and not loving what I'm doing, I'll know that it's time to stop, and find something else.

Wendy: Yes. It shows. Every time you're on stage, and every move you make is like moving light beause the energy level is there, and the joy of your movement is quite apparent. So I feel it's quite a privilege to speak with you.

Michael: Oh, very kind of you. Thank you.

Wendy: Thank you….have a great rest of the day…

Michael: Thanks so much.

Wendy: Is there anything you'd like to add before we say good bye?

Michael: No. I think we're good.

Wendy; Bye then!

Michael: Bye!
The Paul Taylor Dance Company's Michael Trusnovic as The Stag

The Paul Taylor Dance Company's Michael Trusnovic as The Stag

Photo © & courtesy of Tom Caravaglia

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