His is not the stereotypical, from-private-lessons-to-conservatory background of the arts world. Instead, Peter Pucci grew up in the Claremont public housing project in East Baltimore, worked construction and other jobs from age 14 on to help his family out and relied on scholarships to attend college.
Yet today, at 37, Mr. Pucci is a choreographer and dancer in demand by the likes of the Joffrey Ballet, which recently commissioned him to create a piece to the music of Prince, and directs his own modern dance company in New York.
"My father was a bricklayer, and I may have become a bricklayer at one point," said Mr. Pucci, whose company, Peter Pucci Plus Dancers, will perform Friday and Saturday at Towson State University. "I'm not sure how I got into this. I think my mother was happy that I was happy doing what I did, but my family didn't really understand it until they saw me on the Johnny Carson show performing with Pilobolus."
The program at Towson, his alma mater, is a homecoming of sorts. Despite circling the globe several times during his nine years with the renowned Pilobolus company, somehow, he has never performed here. He has been a frequent visitor, however, because his large family -- he has four sisters, one brother, seven nieces and two nephews -- lives in the area.
"I was the gypsy," said Mr. Pucci, who is engaged to a dancer in his company, Ellen Sirot.
Mr. Pucci, who played football and ran track as a student at Northern High, was a physical education major and became interested in dance only after taking a class at Essex Community College. After Towson, he studied with the Dallas Ballet Academy and ultimately earned a degree in dance from the North Carolina School for the Arts.
"I didn't even see my first professional dance performance until my late 20s," he said.
He began choreographing while dancing with Pilobolus, and started his own company in 1986 as a way of stretching his artistic boundaries as well as to take a break from the heavy touring schedule.
The seven dances that the company will perform here reflect Mr. Pucci's wide-ranging styles: The choreography bounces from comedic to dramatic to sculptural to romantic, and the musical accompaniment similarly goes from Mozart to Charles Ives to Big Band to Hawaiian to absolute silence.
"I intentionally try to do a wide variety of things," Mr. Pucci said. "My musical interests are wide, my movement interests are wide."
"Love Duets," the piece performed to no music, received favorable comment in the New York Times after its recent premiere. "Spare but eloquent," Jack Anderson wrote. "What provided 'Love Duets' with emotional resonance was the fact that the first duet was for two women, the second for a man and a woman and the last for two men. . . . The choreography spoke for itself. Mr. Pucci's three duets treated heterosexual, lesbian and homosexual love with equal respect."
Mr. Pucci said he jumped at the Joffrey's offer to choreograph a piece to Prince, the rock star who reportedly offered his musical talents to the company after seeing it perform last year. Mr. Pucci and three other choreographers each choreographed a segment of the evening-length work, titled "Billboards," which will premiere next year. But part of Mr. Pucci's section, a duet, will be performed in May as a sort of teaser of things to come.
"I'm familiar with his music, and it was a great opportunity to choreograph to a contemporary composer's music, and someone who has a pulse on what's happening now," said Mr. Pucci, who selected several early Prince songs as well as one from the current hit album, "Diamonds and Pearls" as accompaniment.
"It's about what Prince's music is about," Mr. Pucci said of his "Billboards" segment. "His music has a lot of different facets, a lot of sexuality."
Mr. Pucci also has choreographed another piece for the Joffrey, "Moon of the Falling Leaves," which uses American Indian themes, that he will perform as a guest artist with the company this year.