At the impressionable age of nine he gave ballet a try two years after older sister, Lia, then 14, was accepted into the prestigious Central Pennsylvania Ballet School. Eighteen years later, Jeffrey is a Principal Dancer with American Ballet Theatre in New York City. (Lia Cirio, 30, became a Principal Dancer for Boston Ballet in 2010.)
In between Central Pennsylvania Ballet School and Ballet Theatre, Jeffrey studied at Boston Ballet School, joined Boston Ballet II, and trained at Orlando Ballet School before resuming his career with Boston Ballet. There, he ascended from the corps de ballet in 2009, to Second Soloist in 2010, Soloist in 2011 and Principal in 2012. In 2015 Jeffrey left Boston for a Soloist position with Ballet Theatre. Last August he was appointed Principal. He joined Stella Abrera as the second Filipino Principal in the company.
Along the way he won gold medals at the Youth America Grand Prix in New York and Helsinki International Ballet Competition, and a bronze medal at the U.S. International Ballet Competition in Jackson, Mississippi. He also received a Princess Grace Fellowship.
Experienced Beyond His Years
Attaining Principal status last year has opened up opportunities to perform coveted roles that were harder to access as a Soloist. Ballet Theatre benefits from his previous experience in classic productions as a Principal with Boston Ballet. “When I was 20, I was first cast Basilio in Don Quixote at Boston Ballet. Being first cast meant I would dance on opening night.” Affirming feedback came in the form of a promotion to Principal after his second show.
Ballet Theatre has designated Jeffrey for Don Quixote in May 2017. While he did play Romeo’s friend Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet, he hopes Ballet Theatre will eventually entrust him with Romeo himself and as Duke Albrecht, the male lead in Giselle. He says his most immediate challenge is “just trying to take on all the projects I’m offered.”
A Typical Filipino Childhood in America
Jeffrey grew up with siblings Lia and Gabriel in Philadelphia. Their Filipino genes come from their father, Ardel, a chiropractor in Newton, Pennsylvania. Ardel was born at Subic Bay and was raised in a Navy household. While Ardel’s father was stationed in Philadelphia, he met his wife, Mimi, Philadelphia born and raised.
“My father is very Americanized because his parents wanted him to assimilate into the American culture when they moved to the U.S. My mother’s heritage is Irish, German and French. Consequently, my family is very American.” Jeffrey laments, “I would love to be more involved in the Filipino culture. I just never had the opportunity.”
Jeffrey has never visited the Philippines but has come close. Ballet Theatre commitments forced him to decline a recent invitation to perform in the Philippines. “Hopefully, I will be able to dance there someday.”
An Ascendant Artist
“I have had very few disappointments,” Jeffrey concedes almost guiltily for his success on a road countless other talented dancers find forbidding. “I feel very blessed, though there have been times when I wasn’t cast for something I wanted. My support system of family and friends and my faith sustained my positive attitude. I know that ultimately God is in control so that even when decisions didn’t go my way, in hindsight those setbacks were for my own good.”
Humble like the Pope, Jeffrey would rather credit his meteoric rise to Principal Dancer to serendipity than boast of the obstacles he overcame. One glaring disadvantage was his 5’9” frame, which would relegate an ordinary dancer to a calamansi tree among redwoods. Nonetheless, he downplays his stature.
“I don’t worry about my height. After all, there have been plenty of successful shorter male dancers. For instance, Fernando Bujones is one of my inspirations, and he was on the shorter side,” Jeffrey references the late Ballet Theatre Principal and Artistic Director of Orlando Ballet. “Obviously, there are roles that most directors might believe I am not suited for, but that doesn’t stop me from proving that I’m capable.”
To stand out, Jeffrey never resorts to gimmicks. “As far as technique, I try to be the best I can be. While I believe acrobatics are amazing, I am more inspired by clean, beautiful technique and artistry.”
His reverence for refined, spirited movement extends to his choreography work with Cirio Collective, the company he and Lia formed in 2015. As participants in their own pieces, they can display their emotions and sense of humor. The audience imbibes in fun, intimate doses of their best selves.
“I am very inspired by how music meets movement. I do not have a set formula but usually start with a piece of music that inspires me. I have a huge collection of music,” he cites the resources he uses as a deejay in demand. “Then I go into the studio and start trying things out.”
Cirio Collective also reflects the Cirios’ generosity with original choreography that accentuates the moods and talents of their dancers. “Each piece I do, I approach in an open way and let it take shape. A piece with personal meaning often creates itself, but it also depends on what the dancers are like. One reason I love choreographing in Cirio Collective is that the dancers and I know each other, so it’s truly a collaboration.”
The Cirio Collective website includes dates for summer performances at the Joyce Theatre Ballet Festival in New York City.
“I don’t have outside interests to prevent ballet burnout. I have outside interests because I love those things,” Jeffrey states like a Bartlett quote.
A conversation with Jeffrey is always an education because of the depth of his varied passions. Last year, Jeffrey put his massive sneaker collection up for sale before it crowded him out of his apartment. The shoes were an offshoot of his devotion to fashion. The purge did not include garments, his real sparks of joy.
Ballet documentaries often depict ballet dancers at rehearsals in frayed tops and cutoffs. Voila! Evening comes, the curtain opens to the same dancers now barely recognizable in embroidered doublets and colorful hose. For Ballet Theatre dancers, the transformations are less dissonant since they arrive at the rehearsal studio groomed, well-dressed and ready to be remembered.
Jeffrey presents a photo-op everywhere he goes. Decades from now, a museum curator would be hailed a visionary for the prescience to exhibit Jeffrey’s skateboard outfits next to dressage attire.
About the only times New Yorkers can’t interrupt Jeffrey on the street for fashion advice are when he’s furiously pedaling one of his custom bicycles. “I like to ride fixed gear/track bikes. Because the gear is fixed to the wheel, you have to constantly pedal, which makes it difficult yet freeing. I have total control of the bike instead of just coasting on a multiple gear bike.” Considering the relentless effort, he admits, “It's not for everyone.”
He has special intimacy with his bicycles since he builds them himself. When his place became short on space, he chose his beloved bicycles over his sneakers; that’s motion over style. Jeffrey is always on the move.
He puts a hundred percent of himself into each of his many passions. The more projects Jeffrey takes on, the larger than life he becomes. This magical math gives American Ballet Theatre a dancer who is well rounded and genuine to the extreme.
Ballet Theatre will be premiering "Whipped Cream," March 15th to 19th at Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California. Jeffrey Cirio has been cast for performances at 7:30 PM, March 17th, and 1 PM, March 19th. Both shows also feature Misty Copeland. Should you cross paths with Jeffrey on tour or in New York, find a common interest to strike up a conversation. Pick from a wide range of topics, including music, sneaker releases, Philadelphia, Boston, bicycles, ballet, and of course, all things Filipinos.
Anthony Maddela is searching for Filipino-Americans whose interest in birds extends beyond the fried chicken special at Max's. If that quip offends you, or you're somewhere between a fledgling birder and full-fledged ornithologist, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He and daughter Charlotte will see about forming a club for fellow bird brains of all ages.
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