Amid the late-afternoon crowd of loungers and strollers in Washington Square Park, six well-toned young athletes are working out a series of cheerleading moves. As the two women and four men try basket catches and lifts that leave the women standing comfortably atop the guys’ shoulders, a few passersby be come an appreciative audience, and one little girl looks ready to sign up.
Observing closely and huddling with them for consultation between tosses is Peter Pucci, the choreographer in whose Pucci: Sport they appear this week, performing authentic cheers between sections of his new full-evening piece at the Joyce. Complete with the national anthem and a seventh-inning stretch, the work represents a return to Pucci’s roots as an all-around sportsman, be fore he got hooked on dance.
“I spent my first 20 years being an athlete, and the next 20 in the dance business,” remarks the Pilobolus alumnus, whose Baltimore youth included baseball, basketball, and track, and who went to college on an athletic scholarship.
He has incorporated nine different athletic endeavors into Pucci: Sport, including the big four team sports (the basketball section that closes the evening is an adaptation of last year’s exuberant Basketball Jones) as well as tennis, boxing, surfing, badminton, and Frisbee—the latter performed by two national Frisbee champions. The 20 performers (plus four musicians) represent a broad mix of backgrounds—a few Pucci veterans, plus those who made it through an unusual series of auditions that attracted a “menagerie of people.” Some had great hands with the basketball but were stymied by having to follow counts. Others were fine movers but too uncomfortable with a ball or a mitt.
Though he’s remaining in the dugout this time around, Pucci is clearly having a blast. “I left that whole sports environment behind, and I’m coming back to it with a different perspective,” he notes. “I feel like there’s a wealth of material, and I’m not done with it yet.”