Retired ballerina, Isha Lloyd, couldn’t stay away.
After retiring just a few months ago in fall 2013, she’s back to play the lead in Sacramento Ballet’s powerful and popular Carmina Burana (March 27-March 30).
“I couldn’t resist,” Lloyd said of her decision to return for this performance.
Lloyd retired from ballet due injuries she sustained over the years. In addition to enduring congenital cysts in her feet and knees—and a foot surgery in May as result—she was in a terrible car accident a year before joining the company. That accident put her in a coma and left her with a broken leg, broken pelvis, brain trauma, and a surgery to put a titanium rod in her femur.
“My doctor said I would never dance again,” recalled Lloyd. “I took that to heart, but I knew that professional ballet was in my future and I absolutely did not let that happen…I said I would prove him wrong and I did.”
Lloyd defied all odds and not only danced again, but also went on to have a remarkable 7-year career with the Sacramento Ballet, playing roles in performances such as Bolero, Romeo & Juliet, The Great Gatsby, and as the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker. While it was difficult to leave, Lloyd knew retiring was the best decision for her body.
But when the Sacramento Ballet decided to put Carmina Burana in their March line-up, Artistic Director, Ron Cunningham, contacted Lloyd. The request came as shock to her because, even though she had taken the required post-surgery time off, she was still in the healing process and transitioning life from the arts and ballet to science, needles, and x-rays in pursuit of a career in Sports Medicine.
“It’s one of my favorite ballets of Ron’s and I just couldn’t tell him no,” said Lloyd, who kept in ballet-shape with Pilates, rehab exercises, rock climbing, running, and ballet barre in the studio.
There’s a reason she couldn’t say no. Carmina Burana is said to be Sacramento Ballet’s signature ballet. It’s based on a medieval collection of bawdy poems of the same name, set to music by composer Carl Orff. Cunningham’s interpretation of Carmina extols the curse and fickleness of fate and fortune, and the pleasure and peril of love and desire. The ballet, which is performed with a live orchestra and 100-member chorus, opens with the famous “O Fortuna” as Lloyd dances atop a 3-tier plate.
“I can see men’s arms wobbling in the mirrors!” Lloyd said of her rehearsal of the scene. “The slightest movement I make–I can’t imagine how much that jerks there bodies. [I have to put] a lot of trust in the guys.”
Lloyd credits the captivating lure of the ballet not only to the power of the music and the visual beauty of the dancers, but also to Cunningham’s sensual delivery of the ballet’s themes. “Ron is really good at captivating audiences and knowing what his audience wants…he always has a sexual connotation to his ballets, and he’s not afraid to admit it,” said Lloyd.
She explained that as Cunningham choreographs his ballets, he tells dancers what movements are supposed to mean—sensual themes frequently among them—as well as the emotion they should convey. Of Lloyd’s performance as the complex, double-natured Fortuna, she says Cunningham wants her to be “very staccato. Very sharp. Very fierce.”
This is her first time playing Fortuna, who is a different type of character than Lloyd says she’s accustomed to playing. She describes herself as a flowy, long, and slow dancer. But Fortuna is completely the opposite, she says.
“She’s kind of a mysterious character,” Lloyd said of Fortuna. “You don’t really understand her. And in a sense of love and passion, she’s just a figurehead. She’s not in love with anybody or she may be in love with everybody. She’s dominating…She’s fate.”
While playing a dominating role on stage may not be something she’s used to, the same cannot be said for the way Lloyd dominated her own fate by pursing a career in ballet despite being told she could not. Recalling an audition in Seattle shortly after her car accident, she spoke of the awkward wobbliness of her body and the feeling of screws catching on ligaments and muscles in her legs (which still happens). The instability and pain was wiping her trust in her body, she said, but a glance at the face of her mother and dance teacher reignited her confidence and trust in what she was doing to make it through the audition. That audition ended up being a stepping stone to the rest of her career.
Of her ability to push through pain on stage in a way that the audience has no clue she’s in pain, she said quite simply, “That’s a secret of all the ballet performers here.”
So will this be the last time we see Isha Lloyd in a Sacramento ballet? “It’s hard to say! I said Firebird was going to be my last show,” Lloyd replied, adding there are many roles within the ballet community. “I can still be a part of the family here and still be a part of ballets…I’m excited and looking forward to those possibilities.”
And what advice does a hard-working, odds-defying, gracefully strong woman have to anyone who has a dream?
“No matter what comes in your way, whatever obstacle it is, know that that’s not solid stone. There’s leeway in everything, if you have enough passion and determination. And the more you live, you can realize that. You can shape life to whatever you want it to be, if you trust it enough and know that you can succeed. Live your life by that. Then there’s nothing you can’t do.”
Don’t miss the opportunity to see Lloyd in her return performance of Carmina Burana, Thursday, March 27-Sunday March 30! For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.sacballet.org.