A few weeks ago, American Ballet Theatre soloist Jeffrey Cirio made an extended trip to Chicago to hone his choreographic chops. His muses? The Joffrey Ballet Studio Company and Academy trainees. Cirio, along with choreographers Mariana Oliveira and Christian Denice, are the winners of Joffrey’s sixth annual Winning Works competition, an initiative that recognizes emerging African, Latino, Asian, Arab and Native American choreographers. Their prize is the stuff budding dancemakers dream about: a $5,000 stipend, 30 rehearsal hours and a group of beautiful dancers, all culminating in three performances at the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art March 5 and 6. The program also includes Coco + Igor, a world premiere by Joffrey Academy director Alexei Kremnev that explores the creative genius of Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky.
“Winning Works is one of the most important projects that we are doing for the Joffrey’s young generation,” says Kremnev, noting that it gives the Studio Company and trainees an opportunity to produce a first class professional performance. “Our winning choreographers are in the process of developing their own voice and we are thrilled to help them to realize their artistic vision.”
“I wish more companies had similar programs,” says Cirio, who’s been dabbling in choreography for a few years. He formed his side project, CirioCollective, with his sister Lia last year. His new piece, Chapter 1, Chapter 6, includes elements of step dancing (Cirio’s no stranger to hip hop). The dancers are also delving headfirst into contemporary dance with Chicago-based freelance artist Christian Denice (a former member of River North Dance Chicago) and Brazilian-born choreographer Mariana Oliveira, who directs The Union Project Dance Company in Los Angeles.
“Being a Brazilian female choreographer, I feel that Winning Works empowers me,” says Oliveira. “Working with the Joffrey Academy dancers has been an amazing journey and being able to contribute to their career somehow is the most gratifying thing.”
You can check out a sneak preview of the new ballets here: