Michael Novak, here with Eran Bugge in Paul Taylor's Promethean Fire, was named artistic director designate by Taylor in May. Photo by Paul B. Goode, Courtesy PTAMD
A quiet power has marked Michael Novak's dancing since he joined the Paul Taylor Dance Company in 2010. Long a critics' favorite, he has gracefully shared the spotlight with higher-profile performers, contributing steady excellence to works from Gossamer Gallants to the iconic Esplanade. But no one was more surprised than Novak when Taylor tapped him to be artistic director designate. Novak, 35, will oversee every component of the Paul Taylor enterprise, from the Paul Taylor American Modern Dance initiative to the school. But most critically, he will direct the Paul Taylor Dance Company, which may be his toughest role yet—one he has already begun training for.
We spoke to Novak earlier this summer, before the announcement of Novak's new role turned out to be portentous: Taylor passed away this week.
Yesterday, modern dance giant Paul Taylor passed away. He had turned 88 at the end of July.
Considered the last of the 20th-century modern dance titans, Taylor celebrated the 60th anniversary of his company in 2014. A prolific dancemaker, he continued to make new works into his final year, the last of which premiered during the company's annual Lincoln Center season in March—his 147th. Aureole, Cloven Kingdom and Promethean Fire are among his iconic works, though perhaps none is so beloved as his 1975 masterpiece Esplanade. During his performing career, Taylor danced roles created for him by Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham and George Balanchine, as well as in his own work.
Paul Taylor Dance Company in Changes. Photo by Paul B. Goode, Courtesy PTAMD.
Willkommen to the night of your dreams: First you're transfixed by a performance at Lincoln Center's opulent Koch Theater. Then you're sipping wine with the ridiculously famous Alan Cumming. Later, he whisks you away to his exclusive East Village club, where you party late into the night.
While these scenarios sound like the makings of a wild dream, they're very real. This Thursday, March 15, you and up to 19 others could join Cumming for the ultimate night out, framed around Paul Taylor American Modern Dance's spring season. (Yes, your host is actually the Tony, Olivier and Emmy award-winning performer, Alan Cumming, who starred in a little show called Cabaret. Perhaps you've heard of it?)
Sara Mearns in Isadora Duncan's Narcissus. Photo by Darial Sneed, Courtesy PTAMD
One of New York City Ballet's most adventurous ballerinas will be a special guest of Paul Taylor American Modern Dance for its annual season at the Koch Theater. Sara Mearns is performing solos created by early modern dance icon Isadora Duncan as staged by Lori Belilove. Also on the menu: Paul Taylor Dance Company members in 13 classic Taylor works and world premieres from Doug Varone, Bryan Arias and Mr. Taylor himself (his 147th!), plus the resurgent Trisha Brown Dance Company in her iconic Set and Reset. March 7–25. ptamd.org.
Paul Taylor choreographing To Make Crops Grow on Parisa Khobdeh. Photo by Whitney Browne, courtesy PTDC
I was 22, fresh out of school. Wet behind the ears, I was using a light boom backstage as a warm-up barre before my debut performance with the Paul Taylor Dance Company. I noticed Paul Taylor walking toward me, wagging his index finger like a disciplining father, and I shrank with fear.
"Don't touch the booms. Someone has worked very hard to focus those lights," he admonished. And just before he turned to go, he paused and added, "And listen to your seniors." But he wasn't done. As he strode away, he turned back and said, "Oh, and always say thank you to the crew."
What struck me about Paul's notes—and what has stayed with me ever since—is what was at the heart of those three directives: respect, gratitude and the importance of family. They are values that are embedded in his dances and in his company.