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Jeffrey and Lia Cirio’s Cirio Collective strives for exploration through collaboration

Cirio Collective. Photo by Sabi Varga.
Cirio Collective. Photo by Sabi Varga.

In summer 2015, brother and sister duo Jeffrey and Lia Cirio, principal dancers with American Ballet Theatre and Boston Ballet, respectively, started a summer gig for choreographers and dancers to work together. That year, they presented the first season of their company, Cirio Collective, born out of that vision of bringing together dancers and other artists to create and collaborate. For the past couple of summers, the company has performed at Vineyard Arts Project in Martha’s Vineyard and the Cape Dance Festival in Provincetown, Massachusetts. The Collective continues to develop new works, exploring outside the box, with no boundaries and no fear.

This summer is an even more exciting one for Cirio Collective. In addition to the company’s usual summer engagements, it will also make its debut at New York City’s Joyce Theater as part of the Ballet Festival, July 23-24, when the Collective will present six works and a video. Works include choreography by Jeffrey and also Paulo Arrais and Gregory Dolbashian.

Lia Cirio. Photo by Sabi Varga.

Lia Cirio. Photo by Sabi Varga.

The Collective is not only run by family but considers its roster of dancers family as well. Performers include artists from Boston Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, Kansas City Ballet, Mook Dance Company, The Norwegian National Ballet and Broadway. Here, Dance Informa speaks with Lia about the company’s vision and dreams for continuing to push and grow Cirio Collective.

What do you see as the company’s mission? How do you, Jeffrey and the dancers go about exploring and pursuing this mission?

“Our vision and mission for the Collective is to create a safe haven for dancers, choreographers and any other art form to work without constraints or inhibitions. Most of us in the Collective are part of big ballet companies where sometimes one can feel negative pressure from those directing. We never want that in the Collective, and I hope that we create a space where no one feels that. Collaboration is also a big part of our mission. We want to collaborate with other art forms, not just limit to the dance world. We have collaborated with musicians, fashion designers and videographers. We are constantly in search of new and different opportunities to collaborate further.”

Do you audition dancers, or do you choose dancers you’ve met through other projects or with Boston Ballet?

“Jeff and I choose our dancers because most of them have worked with Jeff in some capacity. They were chosen because they all have an understanding of Jeff’s movement quality, and we feel they embody the vision of the Collective. All of these dancers are some of our best friends, and we consider them family. We have not yet held auditions, but we are beginning to be sent resumes. We would love to expand and add to our family. We would also love to begin an apprenticeship program at some point.”

What is the creation process like at Cirio Collective? Who choreographs, is it collaborative with the dancers, and what’s the atmosphere in the studio?

Jeffrey Cirio. Photo by Sabi Varga.

Jeffrey Cirio. Photo by Sabi Varga.

“During the past two seasons, Jeffrey has choreographed. Each season, we create a world premiere within two weeks. Usually, Jeff guides it, but it really becomes very collaborative, and the dancers are able to improv things or have input on what is being created. Last year, we had violinist and violist Josh Knowles and Anna Stromer in the studio with us creating and collaborating with Jeff and the dancers as the piece developed. This was new to us all, but the finished product really turned out amazingly. Last year, we also introduced a new pas de deux into our rep by our friend Paulo Arrais. This season, we will be performing that piece, as well as another piece by Gregory Dolbashian. The atmosphere is usually pretty relaxed; we all know each other so well and have created things together in the past. That’s not to say there can’t be tension or stress, but that’s what makes the art!”

What do you feel Cirio Collective offers to the dance community that is unique?

“I believe that what is unique about Cirio Collective is the fact that each dancer was hired not only for their dance ability but also for their ability to mesh into the company. We take up a residency each summer, so we are living and working together. Through this type of collaboration, the dancers become close and rely on one another. It has become somewhat like a family, and future hires will need to assimilate well. Additionally, when we create, it is totally without fear – fear of failure or criticism – so that enables people to work and explore without worry.”

What’s being presented this season?

“Our 2017 season is our biggest one yet. It is our longest season to date, and we have a very big show at the Joyce Theater in NYC. We will be performing rep from the past two years: two pieces that the Collective created, MiniM and Efil ym fo elif (Half of my Life); a piece that Jeff created on Boston Ballet in 2013 called fremd; the pas de deux by Paulo Arrais, Sonnet of Fidelity; the piece by Gregory Dolbashian that was created specifically for the Joyce show, Tactility; and a world premiere by Jeff. We will also be performing at the Vineyard Arts Project and at the Cape Dance Festival. Obviously, we are most excited about the Joyce show, as it is a huge undertaking. However, the Vineyard Arts Project and the Cape Dance Festival are somewhat home to us. Each year, just being together again for a couple weeks, is the highlight of my summer. It is so refreshing and somewhat of a restart for me before I begin another crazy season with Boston Ballet.”

Cirio Collective. Photo by Sabi Varga.

Cirio Collective. Photo by Sabi Varga.

What do you hope audience members take away from a performance by Cirio Collective?

“I think that Jeff and I want the audiences to understand that the Collective, this project, is experimental. Not everything we do will be liked by every person in the general public or by ballet audiences. What we hope for is for people to realize that ballet can be contemporary and still have a place. When Jeff choreographs, he sometimes has an inspiration, whether it’s music or a painting or a word. As the work unfolds, he may have a storyline, but he usually creates work that is open-ended. It is for the audience to figure out for themselves what they want the work to be. It has been very interesting for us to hear the stories people have created about some of his work.”

What’s the hardest part about running your own company? And what’s the most rewarding part?

“The hardest part about running a small company like ours is fundraising. We are just a ‘little guy’ of a company, but we still have a budget with dancers, choreographers, musicians and designers to pay. We have to constantly get our name out there, post on social media and be creative in the way we fundraise. The most rewarding? I just remember after performing our last show of our first season and breaking down into happy tears. I remember thinking, ‘We did this! We created something so special, we made our dream happen!’ We are making art that we believe in, that our company believes in, and that’s pretty cool. It is also rewarding to think that a couple of ballet dancers (with no business experience) can run a company!”

Paul Craig and Lia Cirio. Photo by Sabi Varga.

Paul Craig and Lia Cirio. Photo by Sabi Varga.

What’s next for Cirio Collective?

“As dancers, and as Cirios, Jeff and I want to keep pushing and growing. The success of the Collective really fuels that urge to keep going and see how far we can go! We would really like to expand our season, to make it longer, to tour more, to have women choreographers, to have more collaborations and to educate audiences. We can only go up from here.”

For more information on Cirio Collective, head to www.ciriocollective.com, and for tickets to the company’s performance as part of the Joyce Theater’s Ballet Festival, July 23-24, visit www.joyce.org/performances/cirio-collective.

By Laura Di Orio of Dance Informa.

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