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Cirio Takes Off His Dancing Shoes To Choreograph BB@Home

Lia Cirio, Robert Kretz, and Whitney Jensen watch as Jeffrey Cirio demonstrates his choreography. (Lawrence Elizabeth Knox)

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BOSTON – Those who regularly attend Boston Ballet performances at the Opera House anticipate his presence onstage. Already this season, he has impressed audiences with superb performances as the Golden Idol in “La Bayadère” and the Prince in “The Nutcracker.” The fearless abandon and ease with which he moves captivates viewers, but this week, he won’t be gracing the stage alongside other Boston Ballet artists. Jeffrey Cirio, principal dancer with the company, will be choreographing them.

Boston Ballet will present the second program of its BB@Home series, featuring Cirio’s newest work, “Of Trial,” Thursday and Friday nights at the Boston Ballet studios at 19 Clarendon St.

The past few years, Cirio has been experimenting with choreography, an interest that emerged from his experiences in different competitions. At the Helsinki International Ballet Competition in 2009, he performed his own work, “Fleeting,” a piece he created in honor of his grandmother. Cirio won the gold medal, the first American ever. The same year, he received the honorable Princess Grace Fellowship, an award presented at a New York City gala in the presence of Prince Albert II of Monaco.

Cirio’s slew of dance awards also includes gold medals in the junior division at the 2006 Youth America Grand Prix, the 2009 World Ballet Competition, and the 2010 Tanzolymp Ballet Competition.

Altan Dugaraa and Lia Cirio rehearse Of Trial, with Whitney Jensen and Robert Kretz behind. (Lawrence Elizabeth Knox)

Altan Dugaraa and Lia Cirio rehearse Of Trial, with Whitney Jensen and Robert Kretz behind. (Lawrence Elizabeth Knox)

Originally from Springfield, Pa., Cirio’s interest in dance developed as he waited around for his sister and fellow principal dancer, Lia Cirio, at the ballet studio. “Lia was my very first ballet inspiration,” he says. “She worked hard and showed me the value of that.” His talent was apparent from the start. At 15 he accepted a second company contract with Boston Ballet. The following season, he “did not really feel ready to enter the company,” so he decided to continue his training with Peter Stark and Olivier Munoz at the Orlando Ballet School before returning to Boston a year later.

Lia Cirio and Paul Craig rehearse a pas de deux in “Of Trial.” (Lawrence Elizabeth Knox)

Cirio describes his time with Boston Ballet as “a whirlwind, for sure.” At the age of 22, he has moved through the ranks quickly. He was promoted to principal in 2012 following his performance as Basilio in “Don Quixote.” Mikko Nissinen, artistic director, once referred to him as Mikhail Baryshnikov and Michael Jackson rolled into one.

Through the years, his choreographic style has evolved to be more contemporary. “When I first started, I think it was more on the classical side because I didn’t have the experience I have now with working with different choreographers,” he says. “You can create your own language from that, from the inspiration of others.”

Clad in black, Adidas pants and a black sweatshirt with the words “Ocean City” across the back, Cirio runs his rehearsal with calm control. Watching him demonstrate his own choreography is mesmerizing, but the complex movement appears just as natural for the dancers in his piece. Each step melts into the next with a velvety quality, but sharp motions occasionally interrupt the fluidity, adding elements of vitality and surprise. “Of Trial” consists of only five dancers, but the small cast is a force to be reckoned with. Whitney Jensen finds working with a fellow company member to be an advantage. He has “a sense of how you move already,” she explains, and vice versa, dancers develop “a really good eye for what he’s trying to get across.”

Jeffrey Cirio and Whitney Jensen. (Lawrence Elizabeth Knox)

Jeffrey Cirio and Whitney Jensen. (Lawrence Elizabeth Knox)

The familiarity with each other’s movement is not the only aspect that contributes to the dancers’ unwavering energy in “Of Trial.” The music, a mixture of compositions by artists Max Richter and Yann Tiersen, is fast, but hauntingly beautiful. “My inspiration is almost always the music,” Cirio says. “It sort of pulls me into a mindset that I can just visualize what I want.” From idea to actuality, his choreography has maintained a riveting connection with the music, a detail that often describes the work of world-renowned Jorma Elo, Boston Ballet’s Resident Choreographer. Having worked with Elo for so long, Cirio says, “He’s been a big influence on my choreography.”

Occasionally, Cirio will blend a story into his movement, but he prefers to leave his choreography open to interpretation. He says, “What I usually want the audience to take away is their own experience of my choreography.” For Cirio, finding out what people think is the culmination of the whole process; he adds, “it’s always fun.”

Cirio will be back dancing in Boston Ballet’s next repertoire, “Close to Chuck,” a triple bill featuring works by Jiří Kylián, Elo, and José Martinez, but for now, enjoy seeing his artistry take shape in a different form.

Lawrence Elizabeth Knox is a junior, journalism major in Boston University’s College of Communication. Prior to attending college, she was a professional ballet dancer with Tulsa Ballet. Contact her at knoxlawrence@gmail.com.