By Mary Hierholzer
“Artist Profile” is a monthly feature highlighting a figure in the ballet world.
Intensity and artistry exudes from Lia Cirio when she takes the stage. A dancer with Boston Ballet since 2004, she draws the eye with her precision, strength and versatility—but that’s not enough. Constantly striving for perfection in her craft, Ms. Cirio prefers to stay busy challenging herself and setting more goals, technically and personally. That’s one of the reasons why her summers are spent dancing with the group she and her brother (Jeffrey Cirio, a principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre) formed, the Cirio Collective.
That’s not to say that she doesn’t relish her downtime at the beach or with her two cats, though. To learn a little bit more about this motivated artist (who also happens to be a self-declared expert in hot wings), The Boston Dance Journal asked Ms. Cirio to share more about her life, career and the details you might not know just by watching her dance onstage.
Hometown: Springfield, PA
Favorite (classical) role: Nikiya in La Bayadere (don't get her started on Balanchine and contemporary roles!)
Dream role: Juliet in Romeo and Juliet
Currently reading: Tippi Hedrin’s autobiography, Tippi
Watching: This is Us and HBO’s Big Little Lies (she also recently binge-watched Stranger Things in one day)
Listening to: Ed Sheeran, Katy Perry, Sia and her friend’s band, Nemes
Deathly afraid of: Hotel sheets
Fun fact: Sponsors a child in Rwanda and writes to her regularly
Boston Dance Journal: When did you know that you wanted to be a professional dancer?
Lia Cirio: When I was 14, I realized that I couldn't imagine my life without ballet, and I discovered that I could make a career out of the hobby that I loved so much. I went to a more serious ballet school at that point, and I began training to become a professional ballet dancer.
BDJ: Describe the story of your ballet career, from the day you started dancing to today, in 10 words.
LC: Nutcracker, baby ballerina, serious classes, summer programs, auditions, company life.
BDJ: Talk me through an average day for you.
LC: I usually wake up around 7:45 a.m., make coffee (can't survive without my coffee) and feed my two cats, Lady and Rue. I then shower and get ready for the day, and head out the door to the T. We have class at 9:45 a.m. and then I have rehearsals all day until 6:30 p.m. Depending on my schedule and what we are dancing, I will have three hours of rehearsal and then an hour-long lunch break, and then another three hours. Right now, I am busy rehearsing Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty, Alexander Ekman's Cacti and Jiri Kylián’s Wings of Wax. If I have breaks between rehearsals, I'll run on the elliptical to keep my stamina up, or get some physical therapy to prevent injury.
BDJ: Any pre-show rituals?
LC: I believe that sticking to a routine really helps before a show. That includes doing makeup, doing the same warmup, etc. I always say a prayer before I go onstage. It always starts with, "Lord, please keep me on my toes, and let me glorify you."
BDJ: How do you stay motivated through hours and days and weeks of rehearsals?
LC: I really do love what I do, but the daily grind can get to me, as you can imagine. But staying motivated is not too hard for me; I love being busy. I like embracing the challenge that my job creates and that alone keeps me motivated. Each role and part I rehearse and perform always brings a different challenge. Improving each role is motivation.
BDJ: Currently, what would you say is your goal as a dancer?
LC: As dancers, we are always striving for perfection and yet rarely achieve it. Right now (and always), I am working on my placement of my hips, tailbone down. As I have matured as a dancer, I've discovered more and more about my body and the importance of correct placement. It helps so much and when everything is aligned correctly; everything happens so much more easily.
I am also working on dancing with ease and no tension. I am known for being "such a strong, athletic dancer," something of which I am proud, but I also want to show the ease with which I can achieve things. My coach, Larissa Ponomarenko (ballet master and former principal dancer with Boston Ballet), will tell me, “you’re working too hard," and she is working with me on the ease of my dancing.
BDJ: Tell me about a defining moment in your career.
LC: One that stands out to me is when I was a soloist and I performed George Balanchine's Theme and Variations for the first time. After the performance, my director said, "You are a ballerina now." For some reason that has stuck in my mind.
BDJ: Ballet can be an extremely competitive world, but you and your brother Jeffrey seem anything competitive—in fact, you are cheerleaders, teammates and collaborators. It’s a unique relationship—tell me more.
LC: Yes, we are definitely each other's cheerleaders and biggest fans! I think it helps that we are different genders! I get more nervous watching him dance, than I am for myself—my friends always make fun of me. Jeffrey has always been a huge inspiration to me. His work ethic, his charisma on stage, his vision of our company and his own career has always pushed me to want the same things. I think we are a pretty good team! And, truthfully, I think he would answer the same way.
BDJ: What is your vision and experience in the Cirio Collective.
LC: Jeffrey and I created the Collective to make a safe haven, where all different types of artists could come and work without constraints from an artistic director or outside influence—just artists collaborating together trying to achieve something awesome. I believe we have made something very special, and I love the Collective family that we have created.
We are working on our third season, which is pretty hard to believe. The Collective has grown and we would love to eventually hire more dancers, engage in more collaborations, tour more and have a longer season in the summer. This year, we will have three weeks of work with a big show at the Joyce Ballet Festival in New York City in July.
BDJ: Your name is out there—recently you were named a Zarely Role Model and you’re being featured in photography for The Ballerina Project. What impression do you hope to make, and what mark do you hope to leave in ballet?
LC: I just want to inspire young dancers and be a great role model. I want to always be known for being kind and giving. I also want to break stereotypes, and help to make the ballet world more diverse. Roles should not be confined to certain races. Additionally, it is important that, in being a role model, dancers portray the realities of ballet, not just the beauty of ballet. It is a hard career and takes great effort. Young dancers need to know this.
Lia Cirio will next perform in Boston Ballet’s production, Kylián/Wings of Wax, March 23–April 2.