If you go

Colorado Cabaret Ball

What: A dance with live music and performances, hosted by Boulder Swing Dance. Peter Davison will perform a solo piece

When: Class is 7-8:30 p.m. Saturday; dance is 8:30 p.m.-1 a.m. Performances are expected to begin about 9:30-10 p.m.

Where: Avalon Ballroom, 6185 Arapahoe Ave., Boulder

Who: Open to the public

Cost: Class is $15, dance is $10

Info: boulderswingdance.com

Amy Hollinger Dance Benefit

What: Event to raise money for Amy Hollinger, professional ballerina and dance teacher, who was hit by a car Oct. 20. She suffered severe head trauma and remains in critical condition. She was a dancer for the Boulder Ballet. Peter Davison will act as emcee and perform a solo piece

When: 7:30-9 p.m. Sunday

Where: The Dairy Center for the Arts, 2590 Walnut St., Boulder

Who: Open to the public

Cost: Suggested donation of $20 at the door

Info: amy.hollinger.benefit@gmail.com or 720-432-7704.

Peter Davison likes to play with ordinary objects, but the Boulder man himself is anything but everyday.

He's a vaudeville act -- a circus star when he steps on the stage. He's an elegant ballet dancer. He's both, but neither; he is something else entirely. He's a trip back in time. He's the future of contemporary dance.

Wrapping up so many seeming contradiction into one cohesive routine has earned Davison national recognition. After all, his career began on the streets -- as a busker in Los Angeles. He quietly juggled his way up the ranks to co-artistic director of Boulder Ballet; since he and his wife, Ana Claire, took the reins in 2004, the company has tripled in size and doubled its annual performances, while remaining financially strong.

Davison wears many different hats as a professional -- and also literally, on stage during one of his routines, where he dances with different hats, each enabling a different personality. He will share this hat-trick routine at the Colorado Cabaret Ball on Saturday and a dance benefit Sunday.

Through the years, Davison has earned first place at the National Juggling Championships; toured internationally; worked on Hollywood films, including juggling in "Xanadu" with Gene Kelly and Olivia Newton-John, and appeared on national TV in seven nations, including "The Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson.

We wanted to learn more about this curious modern vaudevillian ballet dancer, so we spent a recent afternoon with him in his studio.

Once a busker,  Peter Davison now juggles performing and duties as co-artistic director of Boulder Ballet.
Once a busker, Peter Davison now juggles performing and duties as co-artistic director of Boulder Ballet. (Mark Leffingwell/Daily Camera)

A lot of your performances hark back to early entertainment and silent movies, giving inanimate objects personalities and using physical comedy. Why don't we see that style as much anymore?

Television changed a lot. That's when vaudeville died. Television now quickly determines everyone's aesthetic, because everyone watches it, and it's becoming the same all over the world. It's all becoming Western. And it's a push away from innocent things. A clown is basically somebody who is innocent, and there is a push now with contemporary entertainment that everyone knows everything. Everyone, even little kids, are in charge and sarcastic and have already seen so much that that innocent person who doesn't know how to do something -- like old clowning might be someone who doesn't know how to pick up something on the floor -- now, that's lame. Just pick it up.

So how is your kind of performing still relevant in modern society?

People themselves are still the same. There are still objects around. We haven't just turned into brains.

I think it is a universally appealing thing that will keep popping up, because it deals with physics and simple objects that are always around. I try not to use juggling props but objects people have seen, like a table and chair, which is a very old vaudevillian conceit, to use things people can relate to instead of special props.

Then you walk into your kitchen, after you see something weird with a table, and you don't take it for granted anymore. You're supposed to walk out of the theater changed, hopefully, no matter what kind of performance you've seen.

How did you start doing this? What drew you to this style?

I started juggling when I was 12. I had a fascination with the circus and sideshow and magic shows. That led me to the library to the magic section to look up how things were done. There was a book in the library on juggling, and that's how I originally learned.

What was it about juggling that appealed to you?

I was a shy and self-conscious kid. I needed a formal way to interact with people, which is what performing is. You go and prepare and then put it out there ... That works for a lot of shy people. They come out on stage.

I wanted a technical thing to work on, just to have a way to interact with people in a safe way. I thought it looked cool, like a magical effect. I did like to always figure things out. I came from a visual arts family, and I liked the visual elements, too.

How'd you end up in Boulder?

I grew up in Santa Monica, Calif., and I moved here in the (late-'70s) to be a busker. It was the heyday of street performers down there.

It's a good training ground. Whenever you're outside and people aren't a captive audience, you have to intrigue them and pull them in.

How did you make the transition to the stage?

I got more into dance, so I danced with a couple companies while I was also performing with my juggling troupe and solo stuff. I didn't stop doing one and start doing another one; they evolved together. I've been doing things with Boulder Ballet since 1985, starting as a dancer, then started doing some choreography and became co-artistic director.

At the Boulder Ballet, you have been doing something pretty surprising: incorporating more circus-style and object-work into classical ballet. What does that bring to the performance?

There are all these closed systems. Most jugglers don't get dance: "What's that about? That's body stuff. We're into patterns with props and showing off skill and being really direct." And dancers are like, "What's that circus stuff all about?" They appreciate it, but that's not what they do.

Combining them brings something new. That's where I'm at now: trying to fuse all of the things, trying to bring that vaudevillian clown reacting with ordinary objects back. For me, it's having gone through those different phases and combining all of those together to create something new, out of the existing ingredients. One generation doesn't want to be doing or seeing the same thing as the previous. They want to have their own thing.