Monday, May 12, 2014

Illinois Native Michael J. Novak – Dancer for Paul Taylor Dance Company

Being a dancer in the Paul Taylor Dance Company, I am so very blessed to travel the world doing what I love. I will soon be entering my fifth year with this organization and I have traveled to 64 cities and 6 countries.  But in all those travels no city can compare to the city where I grew up: Chicago. 

Now, in truth I was raised in the northwest suburbs, first living in Elk Grove Village and eventually in Rolling Meadows where I spent most of my childhood.  When I was growing up, “going downtown” meant an adventure, usually because it was saved for special occasions: holidays with the grandparents; seeing the Christmas windows at Marshall Field’s; or day-trips to the museums.

Funny enough, the Auditorium Theatre holds a very special place in my heart. When I was about nine, my parents took me to see my first Broadway musical - "The Phantom of the Opera" – at, of all places, the Auditorium Theatre.  We sat very close to the stage that night, and, being so young and impressionable, I was taken away by how such a fantastical world felt so real and accessible.  I don’t think I knew that I wanted to be a performer that night.  But I knew I never wanted that experience the end.

As I grew older I eventually started taking dance classes at the Bonnie Lindholm School of the Dance in Palatine, IL.  Chicago, however, stayed in the periphery as every year our dance troupe went downtown during Thanksgiving to perform for the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival. The temperatures were usually frigid, but dancing downtown, especially along Michigan Ave for the Tree-Lighting Parade, is a very special memory for me. There was something about the magic of Christmas in the city (not to mention the magic of dancing alongside Mickey Mouse and Goofey) that made me so happy.  It was literally the stuff dreams are made of.

When I started attending William Fremd High School, the Drama Department became my home away from home.  I loved doing theater, but dance – true dance – started to become a calling for me, and I started to shift my focus to my dancing. Once I was old enough I would ride the train downtown to take the professional classes at Lou Conte Dance Studio. Of course, I had no clue what I was doing in those advanced classes. Honestly, I would just stare at the Hubbard Street company members. I remember being so distracted by their brilliance I never actually learned the combinations in class. Afterwards, I would spend the rest of the day downtown: always stopping by The Palmer House Hilton then walking to the Art Institute, north along Michigan Ave to Water Tower Place and spend the late afternoon at the Ohio Street Beach.

A lot has happened since those long days strolling downtown as an aspiring dancer. There have been many adventures, injuries, unexpected surprises, and struggles...lots and lots of struggles. It took almost ten years for me to find a dance company where I felt home, but the search was not in vain.  At the age of 27, I was asked to join the one and only company I yearned to dance for: the Paul Taylor Dance Company.

What is it about Paul Taylor’s company? Well, the repertory is remarkably vast; it’s emotionally sophisticated, and it can be as dark and disturbing as it is glorious. Then there are the dancers.  No one can dance like Taylor dancers dance. They understand the beauty and thrill of a simple walk, run, fall, and jump, and they execute them with a reckless abandon that is truly spectacular.  To dance among those accomplished artists and find myself grow with them is truly a dream come true. And to work with a master like Paul Taylor in the studio? Well, it's life changing, honestly.

I have not performed in Chicago since 2001, and to be returning as a member of the Paul Taylor Dance Company... to be dancing at the Auditorium Theatre... and to be staying at the Palmer House downtown? It's going to be a surreal experience!  I'm looking so forward to showing my friends and family what I've been doing for the past 13 years, that it's been worth it, and that Paul Taylor's company is where I am home. But I think deep down there's something else I'm looking forward to: walking around the city as a critically acclaimed dancer of one the world's best dance companies and saying, "Remember me Chicago? Well, I’m proud to say I finally made it."

Michael J. Novak performs with Paul Taylor Dance Company at the Auditorium on May 17 – 18. Visit the website for tickets and information.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wonderful. Candid. Thoughtful.

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