Ballerina to dance Swan Lake in first major performance since brain injury

Argentinian ballerina Lucila Munaretto poses for a photograph during a break from rehearsal at Coastal City Ballet in Vancouver on Thursday, May 19, 2016. Munaretto is practicing for her first performance since suffering a brain injury, coma and spine injury after a 2015 rollerblading accident.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

VANCOUVER - After a serious rollerblading accident, Agentinian ballerina Lucila Munaretto refused to accept what her doctors were telling her: that she might never dance again.

She recalls one surgeon attending her hospital bed to advise that she stop stretching and consider alternative options for her future.

"I was like, 'Nope, I need to stretch because this is my life. I need to do it,'" Munaretto, 21, said in a recent telephone interview.

"To be honest, I never gave up. I always kept in my mind: I will be able to be there again. Maybe not now and maybe it will take some time, but I will get there again."

Nine months after suffering brain and spine injuries, Munaretto is about to resume her ballet career. The young dancer will perform for about 45 minutes in a production of Swan Lake on Saturday in Vancouver.

"I'm happy, excited," she said, sounding close to tears. "I can't believe that I am going to be on stage again."

Katrina Bois, rehearsal director at Coastal City Ballet, said the dance company was devastated by Munaretto's hospitalization.

"We felt like something was missing," she said. "To have her back we feel whole again."

Munaretto was seriously injured in August 2015 while rollerblading on a steep road in North Vancouver. She missed a stop sign and slammed into a mini-van.

She was put into a medically induced coma in the neurological critical care unit. She suffered fractures to her pelvis, wrists and jaw.

But only two weeks later, she was revived and practising dance moves in her bed.

By December, Munaretto was doing exercises by herself on the floor. She progressed to simple 10-minute classes, using the bar incrementally before working her way off it and eventually completing jumps.

She performed a bit part — just a few minutes long — in a modern dance show, she said.

Achieving one small goal at a time propelled her to the next, she said. A therapist told her she was recovering faster than anticipated.

"It's weird. Believe it or not, since I started to take class every day, all of my injuries are hurting less," Munaretto said. "The ballet itself has been my physiotherapy."

When she wasn't moving, Munaretto watched old videos of herself dancing. At first, she felt sad. But she began to notice her dedication and newfound patience was making a difference.

She grew stronger physically and that boosted her mood, she said. The better she felt, the easier it was to command her body. Her leg would lift when she wanted it to.

Munaretto expects her first major performance to be a challenge, noting she still has dizzy spells and tremors. The left side of her body is also less responsive.

But she described the ordeal as a "blessing."

"Before the accident, I didn't know how to live. I was all the time rushing and worrying about everything," she said. "But now I'm enjoying every single second of my life."

Rehearsals for Swan Lake began in January. Munaretto attends five days a week, except when she must leave early for doctors' appointments.

She will perform the role of friend in the first act and the role of a Russian princess in the third act. She is striving to dance as a swan in acts two and four during a second show in June.

Last week after rehearsal, Munaretto approached Bois, who is one of her closest teachers, and began to cry. Bois said her student was smiling through her tears and thanking the dance company for the opportunity.

"Even though she doesn't remember the accident, I think she understands how close it was for her to have lost her life," Bois said. "So she feels privileged, almost like she got a second chance."

Other dancers in the company have been uplifted watching Munaretto struggle and persevere, she added.

"I think it makes them inspired, but also more appreciative of what they have," Bois said, noting she would expect many others to call it quits.

"She wants it so badly and loves it so much and is willing to fight for it."

Munaretto's dance companies crowdfunded more than $43,000 to help the young woman, whose family lives in Brazil. She moved to Vancouver in 2012 on a dance scholarship.

— Follow @TamsynBurgmann on Twitter

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