Peter Pucci: Stepping into the ring with Big Apple Circus
Peter Pucci has worn many hats throughout his dance career, but none more colorful than the one he wears as choreographer of this year’s Big Apple Circus show, “Dance On!” The former Pilobolus dancer and rehearsal director has led his company, Peter Pucci Plus, for 20 years, and he guest teaches across the nation. But even he is surprised with this challenging new role.
“I’m used to walking into a dance studio, giving directions and expecting certain results,” he says. “But when I enter our cavernous rehearsal space in upstate New York, I’m met by Mongolian contortionists, Kenyan pole climbers, Chinese lasso twirlers and 12 miniature white horses—to name just a few. Most of the performers speak little or no English. And they’re very young.” The show, which opened at Lincoln Center October 21, runs until January 9.
Dance Teacher: What appealed to you about choreographing for the circus?
Peter Pucci: The chance to try something new. And that dance is the theme. I like the intimacy of the one-ring format of the show. The audience interacts at close range with the performers. Also, Big Apple Circus is part of my family’s holiday tradition; my 10-year-old daughter has seen it eight times.
DT: How do you approach such a new choreographic experience?
PP: My goal is to create movement that excites and is comfortable for these 30 performers, who come from every part of the world, and to weave each act together to make a continuous, magical experience. My Pilobolus training has been useful here, not only in the acrobatic elements but also in the collaborative process. Everyone has something to offer, and everyone dances—even Grandma, the beloved clown.
DT: What styles of movement can audiences expect to see?
PP: Free-form dancing with basketballs spinning on the dancers’ heads; stacking of bodies (à la Pilobolus); clowning; tumbling and more.
DT: Any advice for teachers/choreo-graphers on working outside of their normal capacity?
PP: Go for it! Both you and your dancers will be stimulated and enriched. I like to cross-pollinate, to put things together that don’t usually go together. I’m always encouraging students to be more versatile. The more I diversify, the more I remain employed. That’s no small thing!
DT: What lies ahead for you, after the Big Apple Circus?
PP: I’m making a piece for Harvard Ballet Company, I’ll be teaching for the Juilliard Drama Division and I’m now a guest artist at Manhattanville College, so I will produce their winter and spring concerts. But every day brings new surprises. I never imagined I’d be choreographing for the circus. Who knows where dance will take me next? DT
Linda Tarnay taught for 35 years at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, including four years as chair of the dance department.
Photos from top: by Maike Schulz; by Bertrand Guay; both courtesy of Big Apple Circus