Even as Boston Ballet principal dancer Lia Cirio prepares for the starring role in the company’s upcoming production of “Cinderella,” she’s undergoing a transformation offstage, too. After 15 years in the Boston Ballet family, Cirio is turning some of her artistic energy toward choreography, with a new piece in the works for Boston Ballet School’s 10th-anniversary performance of “Next Generation,” at the Citizens Bank Opera House on May 22. It’s only Cirio’s second choreographic effort — the first was for last fall’s “BB@home: ChoreograpHER” program — all while rehearsing and performing some of the most demanding roles in the repertory.
Predominantly trained at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, Cirio was a gold medalist in the USA National Youth Ballet Competition in 2003. Mikko Nissinen tapped her to join Boston Ballet II when she was only 16, and she quickly began rising through the ranks. After a year away to dance principal roles with the Trey McIntyre Project, she returned to Boston Ballet in 2009 and was promoted to principal dancer the following season.
During the last decade, she has developed into one of the company’s most accomplished and versatile ballerinas, acclaimed for her polish in roles ranging from Odette/Odile in “Swan Lake” to some of Boston Ballet’s edgiest contemporary works. With “Cinderella,” Cirio has the opportunity to display her lighthearted side as well.
Q. This is your second time in the role. How demanding is it dramatically and technically?
A. I really love dancing this role. It’s one of my favorites. I find the acting part pretty easy. [Cinderella] has a very good heart and soul, and it’s important to portray that throughout the ballet. It’s what sets her apart for the Prince. Even though her circumstances are terrible, she loves her stepsisters and father and misses her mother. Every little detail of the story goes into her. The technical aspects are challenging because it’s super Ashton classical. The repetiteurs are very specific in how they want the arms to be and the shape of your legs. Doing the role a second time is really great because I can take it on with more confidence and have the opportunity to grow in the role, find different nuances in the character.
Q. Sir Frederick Ashton’s version of “Cinderella” is chock full of spectacle and magic, but it’s also enlivened by that dry British sense of humor, isn’t it?
A. Yes, the stepsisters are very humorous, super-exaggerated, and their way of acting is perfectly timed to the music, which carries the humor through. And they’re men, so that’s hilarious, seeing them trying to be feminine.
Q. What do you like best about this ballet? Why is it so popular?
A. I’m such a fairy-tale person, a big Disney fan, and the little nuances Ashton puts in, like the carriage ride, the glitter at the end, make it so, so magical. I remember the first time I rode around in the carriage with the cape on, I was tearing up a little. It’s cheesy, but it’s every little girl’s dream, and I think Ashton really embodies that.
Q. At its heart, this ballet is really about transformation, isn’t it?
A. Yes, you see this poor girl become an amazing princess. The person that you least expect can have this beautiful moment. I think that’s why people enjoy the “Cinderella” story, why they keep coming back, and why there are so many different versions. And I really feel like no matter what experiences she has, she still has that beautiful, beautiful soul, and I think that’s something we can all take from. You don’t have to become harsh and angry, you can still maintain a giving and loving nature.
Q. You seem to be going through some transformation yourself with the recent jump into choreography, especially with this new ballet you’re creating.
A. It’s been crazy. I started choreographing the new piece in February, while preparing for the Forsythe [program]. I was [dancing] Forsythe for six hours then rehearsing the kids on my lunch break. But it’s almost finished, and I’ve learned a lot about myself. I thought I was disorganized but found I can manage time very well. Being active makes me thrive, and I get even more creative when I think I can’t do it anymore. In some ways, my dancing and personal life have grown because I’ve gained so much confidence. It’s a pretty cool feeling.
Q. What’s the new piece about?
A. It’s for four boys and four girls and has original music by violist Anna Stromer. It’s loosely based on poems from Shel Silverstein’s “Where the Sidewalk Ends.” Certain moments are funny, others a little dark. These trainees are about to embark on their careers, so I’ve been thinking it’s about them grabbing at their dreams.
Q. Why is this opportunity and the “BB@home: ChoreograpHER” initiative to showcase female choreographers so important?
A. For so long, women in this field have felt that it’s the men who are supposed to be at the front of the room. Now we can be in charge and create amazing works of art. . . . I got bitten by the choreographer bug. Now I feel this confidence in my career and experiences to show my voice. I feel I have even more to say.
Q. Where does the emotional, physical, and artistic reserve come from?
A. We all have our routines to keep up the stamina, to make sure [we’re] as healthy as possible. Boston Ballet is very avid in the way we cross-train. Emotionally, we just take moments when we can. On Saturday or Sunday, I have to chill, take a bath, do my own thing, watch “Game of Thrones” . . .
Q. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
A. I’d love to settle down, have a family. A degree is important to me, and I’m really interested in running a second company like BBII after a ballerina career. I feel like I have that to give. But right now dancing is what I want to do. Dancing gives me freedom. Being onstage, there are no words to describe it for me. Dancing is just in my body. It’s part of my soul.
Presented by Boston Ballet. At Citizens Bank Opera House, May 10-June 8. Tickets $37-$169. 617-695-6955, www.bostonballet.org
Interview was edited and condensed. Karen Campbell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.