At five-feet-zero, fiery redhead Renee Pugh towers above her Zumanity costars. At least, she does after she climbs up the 30-foot aerial silks she uses in the sensual Cirque du Soleil show. We asked the Canadian-born performer about her ground-to-air journey, her sexy co-stars and her plans for life after showbiz. (Note: The recent tragedy at KÀ is not addressed in this interview, as Cirque doesn’t allow individual artists to comment on safety issues.)
How did you become an aerialist? I was dancing in New York, on scholarship with Steps on Broadway—that’s a professional studio where dancers take their morning ballet classes before going on stage. I did the Broadway national tour of Chicago, and I did a play directed by Julie Andrews called The Boyfriend. But at night, I’d do this aerial act at the Box …
That’s a club from the same people as the Act at Palazzo, right? Right, but the Box was first. This act I developed for the club got picked up by a couple of cruise ships. So I cruised around the world, and when I was done I auditioned for Cirque. Didn’t make it, so I booked a gig at Le Rêve and did that for two and a half years.
And then you re-auditioned? A position at Zumanity opened up, and I was scouted, you could say. Anton, one of Zumanity’s original cast members, had to find a new girl after his partner moved on to the Michael Jackson Immortal tour.
What did Anton see in you? I think he liked that we came from similar dance backgrounds. He’s from the Bolshoi Ballet, and he wanted another strong, balletic dancer.
What do you and Anton do together? It’s athletic, technical ballet combined with aerial flight. We circle over the audience, holding onto a piece of fabric. Our act tells the story of a couple and their chase toward love. Dancing and flying in the same number … it is like a dream.
When you buy tickets to Zumanity, the person behind the counter warns you that the show is “adult themed” and says to “come with an open mind.” Does that mean people show up to Zumanity unprepared for what they’re about to see? Yes. To some people, the show is taboo. The show definitely shocks some people and tests their limits. We want the audience to take an open-minded view of sexuality and relationships.
When you’re around such sexy people every night, what effect does it have on your libido? Does it turn you on, or make you want to just put on pajamas and watch TV when you get home? We’ve definitely got a cast of beautiful, sexy people—of all shapes and sizes. But work is work. And when I get home, I leave work on the stage. What I love to do is jump in the Jacuzzi and just relax. That said, yes, it’s definitely a bonus having this eye candy in my daily life. I’m so lucky!
What’s the craziest thing that’s happened during one of your performances? Years ago, I was onstage with a partner, dancing. We tried to dance right out to the edge of the stage, to get as close to the audience as possible. My partner took things over the edge, literally, into the orchestra pit. Thankfully, he didn’t get hurt.
What was the first show you ever saw? Cats on Broadway. That show inspired me to get serious about ballet. I remember watching the cast dance … effortless technique, precision. I wanted to drop out of grade school right then and audition for the kitten role! My parents weren’t so supportive of this idea.
You can’t be an aerialist forever. What are your post-Cirque life goals? Early on in my career, I realized how many non-American dancers, like me, need legal guidance for immigration and contracts. I would love to be a lawyer for artists and athletes. I just completed my undergraduate degree in political science, and it would be a second dream come true to attend UNLV Boyd School of Law one day.
Zumanity Friday-Monday, 7:30 & 10 p.m.; $76-$138, 18 and over. New York-New York, 866-815-4365.