Top Boston Ballet Dancers Share a ‘Reverie’ to Inspire Creativity During Lockdown

By Gaia De Simoni

Published on NBCboston.com

When Boston’s cultural institutions started closing their doors to the public in March, Lia Cirio was rehearsing her leading role in Jorma Elo’s “Carmen” on the stage of the Boston Opera House. 

She was working with the other dancers in the Boston Ballet when Artistic Director Mikko Nissinen came in the theater, telling the company that Carmen “was over” because of the coronavirus pandemic, Cirio recalled.   

“I just remember feeling like the whole stage was pulled out from under us and it was pretty devastating,” said Cirio, a principal dancer at the Boston Ballet. “I wasn’t in a good place, I was pretty depressed. My life as I know it has been taken from me.” 

But the 33-year-old, who has been with the ballet’s first company since 2004, said she realized she could find something positive from her quarantine and try to continue creating art. 

“Art and creativity don’t stop in a lockdown or a pandemic,” Cirio said. “We are always wanting to share joy.” 

So she and another of the 12 principal dancers at the Boston Ballet, Paul Craig, composed a dance meant to inspire people during the quarantine. It’s called “Reverie,” which refers to the state of being pleasantly lost in the thought of what life used to be.

“Those first couple of days after we found out our performances were canceled we had that feeling of being you know, stuck like you can’t do anything,” said Craig, 31. “We wanted to show people that you can still do something.”

The video starts with Cirio and Craig doing what a lot of us are doing during this time of social distancing: sitting on the couch watching TV. But as Josh Knowles’ music begins, the two dancers start slowly moving their bodies in the act of dancing. Suddenly, they’re transported to another place entirely.

Cirio and Craig, who live near each other in Jamaica Plain, released the video in mid-April, a few weeks after production on “Carmen” was suspended.

“The surface message is, ‘Get up, move, dance!'” said Cirio, who now uses her kitchen island as a dance barre for training. “‘Don’t just sit. Turn off the TV and move around.'”

They asked Knowles, a Boston-based violinist and composer who collaborates with Boston Ballet and Cirio’s choreography collective, to compose the music for the dance. 

Craig had the space for the first scene, transforming his 132-square-foot dining room into a ballroom, with a dance barre and a rollout vinyl dance floor. 

Paul Craig transformed his 132-square-foot dining room into a dance room where he can train daily. Courtesy: Paul Craig

“I took all the furniture out of my dining room and got a bunch of piping from Home Depot,” said Craig, who has been with the Boston Ballet since 2007. “Having the space, we were like, ‘Oh, we need to use that and use this time to create something.'”

Ernesto Galan, a filmmaker, producer and editor, filmed the two dancers and suggested that they produce part of the dance in the loggia of Dom Paragon, antique collector Alexander Westeroff’s showroom in Manchester-by-the-Sea.

The room is a huge space compared to Craig’s dining room. 

“Within the dining room area where my studio is, you don’t realize how little space you have until you have a big space to really move around,” Craig said. “Then you remember what it feels like to move.”

Cirio and Craig said they spent weeks going back and forth on a name, and “Reverie” was not their original idea. They wanted to call the performance “Lazaretto,” the word for a quarantine hospital coined in Italy in the 15th Century as it fought the plague. But Cirio she wanted something more uplifting, and “‘Reverie’ brings a whole daydreaming inspiration,” she said.

Cirio also created a line of T-shirts and masks that say, “Art heals, Wash your hands,” which raised more than $1,000 before selling out. The proceeds go to the Boston Artist Relief Fund and the Greater Boston Food Bank.

“It really helped me a lot,” Cirio said. “Just knowing that I was doing something small in the big scheme of things.”

She and Craig are scheduled to be back rehearsing at the end of July, but it’s uncertain if they will be able to step in the studio before then. While they recreated space in their houses to train, what they both miss is the ability to travel in space and to jump. 

It will also be a challenge once this is all over to get back to where we once were,” Craig said. “They say that if you miss one day, it takes two days to get back into it. I don’t know how many days we are missing.” 

While “Carmen” was rescheduled for Aug. 20-30 and the rest of the spring season of the Boston Ballet was canceled, dancers like Cirio and Craig try to find inspiration at home and engage the community in being positive. 

“Inspiration comes out of nowhere and it’s in everything,” Craig said. “Hopefully, the people who are stuck with things and not knowing what to do, they can sort of shift their mindset and be a little bit more open to possibilities. Because everything is possible.”

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