Saturday, July 14, 2018

Lia Cirio Makes Her Entrance

To live the life of a dancer would be to commit to the unending cycle of entrances and exits. It is the acceptance that the conventions of ballet would demand a routinary sequence of preparation, performance and moving forward to the next level. Each entrance you make whether it is the studio to rehearse or a stage to perform in determines who you are and who you will be as an artist. It gives you a glimpse of how you will exit the world of dance.The cycle is mandatory is fulfilling itself but success is never a certainty For a non-dancer the uncertainty of it all and the amount of sacrifice it requires seems inequitable.  But then again, once in awhile success stories of people remind us that the  roads less traveled could sometimes give a lifetime of blessings. Filipino-American Lia Cirio's ballet career is a glorified example of how this potentially frustrating life could turn out to be a tale filled with happy ever afters.

Cirio is currently one of Boston Ballet's Principal Dancers. While the globe is filled with Filipinos making a name for themselves in the field of dance, Cirio is one of the few who have attained the highest rank possible in a high profile company. She has even been hailed as "one of the most accomplished actress-dancers in Boston Ballet" by the Patriot Ledgers. Looking at her roots, her journey seems to have been easy peasy lemon squeezy. At sixteen she was awarded a Level One award from the Advancement of the arts and was Presidential Scholar in the Arts Finalist. In the same year she was given an apprenticeship in Boston Ballet. She went from apprentice to corps de ballet and then soloist in a very short time. At 24 she was named Principal Dancer. This olive skinned medium-sized Asian girl with broad shoulders managed to quickly inch her way to the top despite the hundreds or thousands of statuesque pristine ballerinas crowding her way. At 29, she leveled up and created, along with her brother Jeffrey, Cirio Collective. This company is one that is committed to artistic cross collaboration. She now manages it in the capacity of Associate Artistic Director. At 32 she is about to explore choreography for Boston Ballet and will premiere her first work sometime in November. With a timeline like that, one would assume there was a fairy godmother working overtime to help her perfect each plie and tendu. At a time where racism has taken a new life form, Cirio seems to have been sheltered by a magical force field. Talking to this ballerina and seeing her move on stage however grounded me back to reality. Cirio is unscathed and continues to progress  not by any  miracle but because she is  a force to be reckoned with. 

Cirio was flown in by Ballet Manila to star in their American Ballet Stars Gala. This is her very first time to see the Philippines, meet her relatives and perform for her countrymen. I went inside the dressing room expecting to meet a very straightforward cutthroat type of over achiever. Instead I met a bright eyed "familiar" face who immediately reached for a hug. She had a warmth in her eyes that easily put me at ease. She also had that infectious electric energy that made you feel her inner strength. It's quite uncanny because she was very excited about getting to know her heritage but in an instant she exuded the typical Filipino charm. 

When asked about her journey as a Filipino-American artist, she confirmed that just like any successful artist, she had gone through the mandatory aches and pains. It was not without sacrifices that she got this far. With evident intensity, she shared her gratitude for her family who was the driving force of her success. She mentioned all the teachers that believed in her as instrumental in her journey. 

When asked if she thought her being Filipino was in any way a deterrent, she explained the sensitivities she encountered. Growing up she says she never felt she was different. She was lucky enough to be discovered and nurtured by a company who believed fiercely in the power of diversity.  Boston Ballet's leadership has always been focused on simply the art of dancing. With a very open-minded company she never really experienced any discrimination. However when she started getting principal roles she did have to deal with the expectations and standards of the audiences. A woman of color getting roles usually reserved for  the stereotype of fair skinned dancers is an issue for some. This she overcame by giving the roles a flavor incomparable to anybody. It was a conscious effort to give and give more of herself so that they would enjoy her as an artist and blur the lines of color. While she recognizes this as a sacrifice, she is not burdened by it knowing she is paving the way for more Asian women to follow her lead. Now at the peak of her career, she is focused not on getting the accolades but more intent on the amount of art  and inspiration she can  share with others.

Cirio honestly declared that she feels there is much to be discovered about her Filipino roots. Beyond pancit, adobo and Filipino holidays she isn't quite sure what exactly is distinctly Filipino about her. She was ecstatic at the prospect of coming here and interacting with the locals and discovering the persona she (willingly or unwillingly) represents in a global scale. She was already floored with her simple encounters with prima ballerina Lisa Macuja and the Ballet Manila Dancers. She reckons the  complete experience will build her up as both a dancer and a person.

As a dancer, Cirio has been commended for her boldness, sophistication and athletic pliability. Her physique fits the profile of a bravura dancer or a neo-classical ballerina. When she said she was doing swan lake for the gala I assumed she was doing the black swan grand pas de deux. In rehearsals, she surprised me with her white swan transformation.  In a role I would not associate with her, she had me mesmerized. Watching her articulate the ethereal swan was quite an experience. When we were talking about her art she said that her only goal was the pursuit of finding herself in every role that she takes on. Bit by bit she wanted to unravel her soul by finding the feeling in her steps. As I was watching her give breath to her every movement, I felt the sincerity in her words. She  humanized the role of the white swan, pouring out visibly all the emotion she could muster. She was not simply the soft ethereal creature that needed saving. She was a feathery swan in movement but her flow and expression was punctuated by the boldness inside her. Her dancing was full bodied yet sensitive. It was nice to see her brand of uniqueness. Filipino pride swelled up inside my heart knowing the rest of the world have seen this girl shine under the spotlight.

Beyond her dancing duties for Boston Ballet, Cirio is busy with Cirio Collective. With her brother Jeffrey Cirio of American Ballet Theater, they  plan out their season while they are performing in their respective companies. During their off season, Cirio Collective launches into the creative process of choreography and rehearsals. The Company is now on its fourth season and she looks back at the new pieces that they have done fondly. In their fifth season, they will attempt produce choreographers from within the group. This exchange will definitely allow the dancers to understand the roles of both the choreographer and dancer more and will surely transform the people involved.   The Company  provides a safe space for artists to go deeper into their art by means of interaction.  She looks at this project not just as a performing group but an advocacy project for dance artists. She also looks forward to the possibility of bringing her company here in the Philippines through the generosity of Ballet Manila. 

After my encounter with Lia Cirio,I realized that she is the personification of a typical ballerina- hardworking, dedicated, humble. She is living proof that the ballerina mandate can take you far. But frankly, I believe what has helped her achieve what she has in such a fast pace was her giving spirit. With every entrance she makes she delivers with the intent to give back and that's why her every exit is a satisfying end and beautiful beginning.  Throughout her journey, she would gather all the energy, lessons, support that she received and deliver performances with optimum gratitude. Filled with loyalty for the people who have been part of her journey, she finds different ways to give back through her dancing. Her visit here in Manila was the perfect example. She came  excited to perform for a crowd she's never met knowing they have supported her from a distance. She came wanting to inspire them beyond entertainment. That giving spirit is what makes her a progressive, evolving and sincere artist. It's what makes her a true example of an empowered modern woman worthy of emulation. While her visit was brief, I reckon she left a trail of happiness in inspiration with the local dance community. May this lovely woman make her way back to the Philippines very soon so we can all relish her art and her spirit.