Ex-Victoria farm girl makes career out of high life

What: Cirque de la Symphonie
Where: Royal Theatre
When: Friday and Saturday, 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m.
Tickets: $30 to $80 for adults, $28 to $68 for seniors and $15 to $20 for students. 250-385-6515

 

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Former Victoria farm girl Shana Lord will take to the heavens when she arrives here this week.

Well, not exactly the heavens. But she’ll soar pretty darned high above the Royal Theatre’s stage.

Lord is a professional aerialist with Cirque de la Symphonie, a troupe of American acrobats, balancers and jugglers. They’re teaming up for three shows with the Victoria Symphony, which will play selections by Dvorak, Bizet, Debussy and Rossini while the Cirque gang cavorts. The orchestra will be guest-conducted by Gordon Gerrard, the new music director of the Regina Symphony.

Now in her early 40s, Lord is an acrobat and dancer who has worked with Cirque du Soleil, Disney and SeaWorld. She has also performed with pop stars such as Gwen Stefani and Anastacia.

A highlight of the Cirque de la Symphonie’s show is Lord’s high-flying finale performed on aerial silks (rope-like lengths of fabric). The routine is performed to music from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake.

“It’s an aerial dance. It’s kind of my specialty. I grew up as a gymnast,” Lord said from Los Angeles, her home since 1993.

The daughter of an electrical engineer and a real-estate appraiser, Lord was raised in Surrey and Coquitlam. She spent her childhood summers at Michell Brothers Farm in Saanichton, owned by her uncle. The sixth-generation family farm is a historic operation founded in the 1880s.

Lord was just six when she started gymnastics. By the time she was 10, she was also studying dance: ballet, modern, jazz and tap. As a child, she imagined becoming a singer or a dancer. Being an aerialist/dancer wasn’t on the radar.

“I didn’t really know that existed. Later, I thought: ‘Oh my gosh, this is perfect for me.’ ”

Lord excelled as a gymnast, competing at a national level. Her coach happened to be head coach with Cirque du Soleil as well. Impressed with her talent, he encouraged Lord to audition for the legendary company at its Big Top in Santa Monica.

She was immediately hired for Cirque’s show Quidam — a significant show-biz break. The production, which premièred in the mid-1990s, marked the company’s shift from sheer athleticism to more dance-like style.

“They wanted to step up the artistry,” Lord said.

Happily, with her gymnast/dance background, she was exactly what Cirque was looking for. Lord eventually learned how to perform with rope, aerial silks, hammocks, trapeze, bungees, Chinese poles and hoops.

There has been plenty of TV work, including The Today Show, the Grammy awards and the MTV Video Music Awards. One of Lord’s unforgettable experiences was performing with Gwen Stefani at the Grammys with four other aerialists.

“We just started off up in the rafters and got lowered by a motor. We were well wrapped up in our ropes. We flew down from the ceiling and performed with her,” she said.

In Victoria, she’ll be partnered with Alexander Fedortchev, a Russian-trained gymnast. During the Swan Lake finale, there’s a moment when she holds Fedortchev aloft. It’s feat of considerable strength — he’s a large fellow who (according to his bio) has “been compared to Tarzan because of his imposing physique.”

“It’s a spectacular moment. He’s a male performer — there’s always a feeling of: ‘How does she do that?’ ” Lord said with a laugh.

achamberlain@timescolonist.com

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