Peter Pucci: Stepping into the ring with Big Apple Circus

Peter Pucci (far left) directing rehearsal

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.

An act Pucci choreographed

 

“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

How-To

Introducing and teaching rhythm can seem easy, but in reality it can prove to be a complicated concept—especially for younger dancers to grasp. At Ballet Hispánico's School of Dance in New York City, Los Explorers for 3- to 5-year-olds uses classic salsa and tango music to help kids acquire rhythmic awareness.

Here Rebecca Tsivkin, early childhood programs associate, and Kiri Avelar, associate school director, offer exercises to help youngsters feel the beat.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Buzz
Panelists (left to right): Emily Nusbaum, Eric Kupers, Judith Smith, Deborah Karp and Suzanna Curtis. Photo by Aiano Nakagawa, courtesy of Luna Dance Institute

This past Saturday, I visited Luna Dance Institute in Berkeley, California, to attend the Dance & Disability Discourse & Panel—a discussion with five artists, educators and researchers about access and equity for disabled students in dance education. Here are three statements from the discussion that I found eye-opening.

Keep reading... Show less
How-To
Todd Rosenlieb, left, of The Governor's School for the Arts. Photo by Victor Frailing, courtesy of Todd Rosenlieb

You're setting choreography on your class and most of the students are picking it up. One dancer, though, is having difficulty remembering the steps. You review the material several times, but you fear that this is starting to hold back your more advanced students. Still, you're worried the struggling dancer will be left behind. What is the best way to proceed?

Memorizing choreography is an essential skill for dancers. Fast learners have more time to work on the technique and artistry within a combination, and they are often the first to catch the eyes of directors. Like most skills, learning pace can be improved. Encouraging students to develop their own memorization methods will help them approach choreography with confidence.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Neuromuscular expert Deborah Vogel with Jordan Lazan, right. Photo by Jim Lafferty

By strengthening the intrinsic muscles of the foot and ankle, a dancer can help prevent or correct existing pronation. Having strong intrinsic foot muscles keeps the arches aligned, preventing them from dropping inward.

Here, Vogel shares three strengthening exercises to help correct and prevent pronation. She advises dancers to include these in their cross-training regimen.

Mobilize your ankles. (Step 1)

For this ankle mobilization exercise, having a TheraBand wrapped around your ankles puts pressure on your feet to pronate. By resisting that action and keeping your feet centered through the relevé, you're essentially training the ankle where center is.

  • Sitting up straight in a chair, with your feet planted on the floor a few inches apart, tie a TheraBand in a loop around your ankles. You can place a yoga block vertically in between your knees to maintain space between your legs.

Next Page
How-To
Photo courtesy of New York Live Arts

Ellen Robbins' modern dance classes for kids and teens are legendary in New York City. Robbins, who has been teaching kids how to dance since the 1970s (and whose pupils included the actresses Claire Danes and Julia Stiles), takes the standard recital model and turns it on its head. Her students—ranging in age from 8 to 18—are the choreographers for the annual concert she produces at esteemed NYC venue New York Live Arts.

If that approach sounds borderline insane to you (we know you're all deep in the throes of recital season right now), consider Robbins' unique teaching philosophy: Improvisation is present in every aspect of class, for every age group. Here are four ways she shapes her youngest dancers into choreographers—almost without their realizing it!

Keep reading... Show less
Teachers & Role Models
Former students of Kelley gather around a cardboard cutout made in his honor at the recent tribute. Photo courtesy of Merritt

Every dancer has a teacher who makes an impression. The kind of impression that makes you want to become a dancer or a teacher in the first place. For Mara Merritt, owner of Merritt Dance Center in Schenectady, NY, and countless others, that teacher was Charles Kelley.

Known as "Chuck" to most, Kelley was born December 4, 1936. He was a master teacher in tap, jazz and acrobatics, who wrote syllabuses for national dance conventions like Dance Masters of America. Growing up in upstate New York, Merritt's parents, both dance teachers, took her into Manhattan every Friday to study with Kelley. First at the old Ed Sullivan Theater and the New York Center of Dance in Times Square, then years later at Broadway Dance Center.

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Videos

Sponsored

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox

Win It!

Sponsored