Season 15: Principals Celebrate Milestones with Boston Ballet

Lia Cirio in Jorma Elo's Fifth Symphony of Jean Sibelius; photo by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy of Boston Ballet

Lia Cirio in Jorma Elo's Fifth Symphony of Jean Sibelius; photo by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy of Boston Ballet

For four dancers of Boston Ballet, the 2017–18 season premiere marks both the beginning of their 15th season in the company and their 13th working alongside Resident Choreographer Jorma Elo.

In 2003, Kathleen Breen Combes, Lia Cirio, Misa Kuranaga and John Lam joined Boston Ballet in humble beginnings as corps de ballet and Boston Ballet II dancers. Since then, all four have risen through the ranks to become principals, originating many of Mr. Elo’s roles along the way.

But Ms. Breen Combes and Ms. Cirio agree—it all felt like the blink of an eye. “I honestly can’t believe that it’s been 15 seasons; it still feels like I’m young, but I’m not,” Ms. Breen Combes told The Boston Dance Journal. “I still feel like I still have so much to learn and so much to give onstage so I really can’t believe it’s been that long.”

“I still feel like I’m the young corps member,” says Ms. Cirio. “It’s kind of weird to think about it that way, but also, I see that I know what’s going on now—I know what to expect, and I know how the company works. It’s a nice feeling.”

Now the most senior male dancer at Boston Ballet, Mr. Lam says the milestone inspires a sense of pride. “It’s special because it’s showing that I’m still here and I’m still committed and I’m still devouring my art,” he says. “I’m 100 percent here, and that’s a celebration in itself.”

The dancers credit much of their artistic growth to “#GrowingUpElo,” as they call their formative years with the award-winning choreographer. Themselves developing as dancers, they have also witnessed Mr. Elo develop as a choreographer.

Derek Dunn and John Lam in Wayne McGregor's Obsidian Tear; photo by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy Boston Ballet

Derek Dunn and John Lam in Wayne McGregor's Obsidian Tear; photo by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy Boston Ballet

“At the beginning of Jorma’s choreography career here at Boston,” Ms. Cirio says, “it was really contemporary and we were learning how to do all that stuff and be contemporary dancers as well as ballet dancers, and I feel like we all grew together in that.”

“To start working with him at such a young age and learning his style, learning what he likes in the studio and how to work with him,” Ms. Breen Combes says, “has been such a nice progression for both of us—for him to see what I’ve grown into as an artist, and for me to see what has changed in him as a choreographer.”

Since before becoming Boston Ballet’s resident choreographer in 2005, Mr. Elo has created a number of world premieres for the Company, including Plan to B, Le Sacre Du Printemps, Sharper Side of Dark, Creatures of Egmont and most recently, Fifth Symphony of Jean Sibelius. Throughout these collaborations, Mr. Lam says he has internalized the lessons in expression and dedication that Mr. Elo has imparted.

“He’s given me that gift of just really dancing,” he says. “I think that he cares so much about his own choreography that he expects dancers to take care of it. I’ve learned that from him, and I thank him for it because it gives you a sense of urgency of always committing.”

Reflecting on her tenure at Boston Ballet, Ms. Breen Combes says that she has danced Elo ballets at each point in her career, including Carmen, Slice to Sharp, Bach Cello Suites and Sibelius. Their hours together in the studio have fostered a familial and fruitful connection.

“We’re just so comfortable that we can laugh and it’s a great environment for creativity because you just feel comfortable and you trust in the person,” Ms. Breen Combes says. “You try new things.”

See Boston Ballet performing Jorma Elo’s Fifth Symphony of Jean Sibelius at the Boston Opera House through November 12. For tickets and show times, visit the Boston Ballet webpage.