By Mary Hierholzer
This week, the Cirio Collective returns to the stage to kick off their season at the Vineyard Arts Project. Siblings Jeffrey Cirio (American Ballet Theatre), who serves as artistic director, and Lia Cirio (Boston Ballet), the associate artistic director, lead the 12-person troupe, whose members hail from dance companies across the globe, from Norway to Mongolia to New York City.
With two summer seasons now under their belts, the Collective’s vision remains the same, the directors say: “To create a safe haven for dancers, choreographers, and any other art form to work without constraints or inhibitions.”
The Cirio Collective’s philosophy alleviates the pressures that sometimes come with being part of a major company, Lia tells The Boston Dance Journal in an email.
“I love dancing Jeff’s work and being in the studio with him when the only people in charge are us,” says Bradley Schlagheck, a Cirio Collective dancer and the company manager. “There’s something so freeing and magical about creating with friends in a safe place.”
The group cultivates this positive dynamic through their collaborative nature, which encourages dancers, musicians, costume designers, and filmmakers to work hand-in-hand to create a work of art.
“I just want to be involved in creating, pushing forward, and working with other artists,” Jeffrey says. “I want the dancers of the Collective to feel excited and challenged and to be pushed in their own artistic endeavors.”
This season, the Collective’s mission manifests in the world premiere of "In the Mind: The Other Room," which Jeffrey choreographed for the Collective’s Joyce Theater Dance Festival performance. The Collective worked with director Sean Meehan of Cross River Pictures to produce a film that accompanies the piece, featuring original music by Collective violinist Josh Knowles and Collective dancer Paul Craig (Boston Ballet). Onstage, dancers Whitney Jensen (Norwegian National Ballet), Isaac Akiba (Boston Ballet), Paul, and Lia will don “anti-fashion” jumpsuits created by designers Jin and Kie Hye Lee of Ageless Einzelganger.
Jeffrey sought to incorporate the voices of other choreographers in the Collective’s repertory this season. He jumped on the opportunity to use a pas de deux, “Sonnet of Fidelity,” choreographed by Paulo Arrais (Boston Ballet). According to Lia, the “emotionally beautiful” piece, which is danced by Paul and Lia, features a poem in Portuguese and is set to music by Philip Glass. Jeffrey and Collective dancer Blaine Hoven (American Ballet Theatre) will also dance "Tactility," a piece choreographed by Gregory Dolbashion, whose work Jeffrey fell in love with when they met in New York City.
In addition to these three, the Cirio Collective will also perform Jeffrey’s works, "fremd," "MiniM," and "Efil ym fo flah (Half of my Life)." For unique reasons, each piece represents the Collective’s vision and, when performed together, comprises a meaningful show. “We really wanted to create a show that would convey who the Collective is and who our dancers are,” Jeffrey says. “Each dancer in the Collective represents a special relationship to me.”
For the Cirio siblings, planning a season and directing a company is no small task. With Jeffrey completing his first season as a principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre just this past weekend, the business of ballet has been busy, to say the least.
So, when it came to the tasks of travel arrangements, donor emails, managing the website and social media, and general organization—all for a company of dancers spread far and wide—Jeffrey and Lia collaborated in yet another way, recruiting help from dancer Bradley Schlagheck, who put his type-A personality and organized mind to use. Since performing in An American in Paris on Broadway prevented him from dancing with the Collective last season, becoming the company manager was the perfect way for him to stay involved and contribute his strengths to the team. Together, Bradley, Jeffrey, and Lia partake in a continuous conversation of texts, emails, and Google Hangouts to keep the Cirio Collective moving.
“Jeff and Lia have trusted me with a lot, and I think we have a great working relationship in the studio as artists and as friends, but also we’re learning a lot about our business sides,” he says.
One of those business lessons is fundraising, an essential element and constant struggle in the life of a nonprofit.
“I never want the Collective to be about making money,” Lia says, “but raising enough money to do what we need each season is always an issue. The ballet world has become more about the bottom line than the art itself. I want the Collective to be just about the art, for art to be enough, for art to be what makes our viewers (and us) rich. While I realize that keeping companies afloat is difficult, and we are learning that, when the bottom line is the focus, we all suffer.”
That’s why the Cirio Collective keeps their eyes set on artistic merit and innovation—expanding the company, working with new artists, performing in new venues, and perhaps developing an apprenticeship program. “I want to keep moving forward, growing, and developing collaborative relationships,” Jeffrey says. “I have many visions, but we just need to keep putting one step in front of the other and not get ahead of ourselves.”
To view the Cirio Collective’s full performance schedule, visit their website.