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Opinion

A grounded dancer who is unafraid to fly

Michael Trusnovec is to dance what Derek Jeter was to baseball.

Michael Trusnovec of the Paul Taylor Dance Company

Michael Trusnovec of the Paul Taylor Dance Company at the 2011 Fire Island Dance Festival, Fire Island Pines. Photo Credit: ROSALIE O'CONNOR

If you compare the Paul Taylor Dance Company to the Yankees, then the groundbreaking modern dance ensemble is about to lose its Derek Jeter. After 23 years, Michael Trusnovec will retire from the organization on Sunday, when the troupe will perform at the Manhattan School of Music.

The son of an NYC police officer, the Long Island native started his career in 1996 with Taylor 2, the auxiliary company. For the next two decades, he made new discoveries in the choreographer’s repertoire. In 2006, he won the Bessie, the dance version of baseball’s Most Valuable Player Award. But when I moved to NYC in 2003, I arranged to share an apartment with a performer who was “frequently away on tour.” Until I moved in, I had no idea I’d be living with one of the world’s best dancers and the most delightful roommate I ever had.

“I saw you on a bus,” I told him one afternoon when he was home from touring. This may not seem to be a big deal, except that I had spotted Trusnovec on the outside of the bus, leaping in an ad. He giggled.

An evening socializing with Taylor dancers was like reading 16 best-selling books at once. Yet he stood out. Once I watched a rehearsal for “Promethean Fire,” Taylor’s magnificent piece about 9/11. Something wasn’t right with a running pattern. The dancers offered suggestions. Trusnovec shared a thought that was so diplomatically worded that it not only solved the problem but strengthened the team’s camaraderie.

I felt Trusnovec’s presence before I saw him onstage. He was so unafraid to fail that he seemed to bend time — and then play with it. I didn’t know that was possible.

For those of us glued to our mobile devices, his ultimate lesson is what it’s like to be in the moment. As a dancer, he doesn’t anticipate the next step or judge the last. In doing so, he triggers a rare intimacy that goes beyond art into his mastery of being a human. I will never fly like him, but I aspire to find my own strong center.

“For me, staying grounded and present on stage comes from being well rehearsed and confident in every movement,” Trusnovec, 44, wrote to me recently. “And by listening and being sensitive to the music and focusing attention on my breathing.”

Trusnovec is the first of six dancers to leave the company this year. Taylor died at age 88 in August, signaling a new era with bright young dancers. They’re so young, I thought on their June 7 debut, forgetting that I met Trusnovec in his 20s.

Ann Votaw is a freelance writer in New York City.

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