Greta Hodgkinson has danced in the great opera halls of Europe, but this week she performs in the tiny town of Annapolis Royal.
“I'm originally from Rhode Island, so I'm really excited," says the Toronto dancer, who has never been to Nova Scotia. “We're going to stay an extra day.”
Hodgkinson is coming with her husband, six-year-old son and four-month-old daughter to perform at Festival of Dance Annapolis Royal, now in its third year and running Thursday to Sunday at King's Theatre.
For her, it's an opportunity to present a seven-minute solo that is “out-of-the-box” for the ballerina.
She commissioned Being and Nothingness from National Ballet of Canada associate choreographer and principal dancer Guillaume Côté, with whom she has danced for many years. “I wanted something I could perform at galas and festivals, something tailor-made for myself. I can perform it anywhere.”
At the time of creation, Côté was reading philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre's existential treatise Being and Nothingness. He set the “extremely detailed” piece to a piano score by Philip Glass.
“I think the repetitiveness of Glass's music complements it,” says Hodgkinson, “and it's very intricate — the solo — and it shows me off well. It plays off my strengths.”
The piece “has a certain amount of drama to it; it is very detailed but extremely expressive, a lot of upper body and arms, very physical and yet it has a delicacy that is quite poignant.”
After 25 years with the National Ballet of Canada, she has danced every leading role in the classical repertoire. “It's my 20th anniversary as a principal dancer. The audience knows me as a ballerina and this solo stretches me in other ways people haven't seen.”
Hodgkinson grew up in Providence and started dance “like any little girl doing tap, jazz, ballet when I was four years old,” she says. Ballet “just kind of stuck.”
At the age of 11, she passed auditions to study at ballet schools in Boston, New York and Toronto. “I really wanted to go to New York, but we weren't going to move to New York City and I couldn't go to New York City at 11. There was no boarding school.
“My parents had heard wonderful things about the National Ballet of Canada School and they shipped me up here. I was extremely homesick, but as soon as I settled in I really enjoyed it. We were so busy.”
She graduated from the school into the company and has never wanted to leave.
“I've been really fortunate in my career to have guested internationally, to have danced with other companies. The National Ballet has always been my home through my 25 years. I've always been stimulated and challenged and inspired being here.”
Apart from dancing all the classics, she has had numerous roles created for her and has worked closely with icons including William Forsythe, Jiri Kylian, Glen Tetley, James Kudelka and Crystal Pite. She has been on the covers of Dance Magazine and Dance International Magazine and in fashion magazines like Vanity Fair, GQ Italia and ELLE.
Hodgkinson also played Margot Fonteyn in the Bravo! TV docudrama Nureyev, and in 2013 performed Giselle in Emerging Pictures’ film Ballet’s Greatest Hits.
There is still a ballet on her must-do list — Marguerite and Armand, created in 1963 by British choreographer Sir Frederick Ashton for Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev.
“It's still done at the Royal Ballet and recently at the Sarasota Ballet and it's very special. I gravitate more towards the dramatic story ballets — that's what I really love.”
To celebrate her two anniversaries with the National, she will dance Onegin this November and “there are exciting projects down the pipe.”
As for the future, she wants to keep dancing. “I'm lucky. I feel I'm strong and my body's feeling good. This is the kind of career where you don't know how you're going to feel tomorrow, let alone in two years.”
After giving birth four months ago, Hodgkinson took two months off, then got back into the dance studio. She performed recently at the Festival des Arts de Saint-Sauveur run by her husband, Etienne Lavigne, a principal character artist with the National Ballet of Canada.
The baby comes with her wherever she goes and Hodgkinson has a nanny. Being a new mother and a ballerina, however, is "difficult both mentally and physically, but this is the kind of career that the sooner you do it, the better it is. I've got a special anniversary year. I wanted to be ready. She's very accommodating. She's a really great baby."
Hodgkinson was invited to perform in Annapolis Royal by the Canadian contemporary dance festival's artistic director, Randy Glynn, who saw her dance Being and Nothingness in Toronto.
The festival “is a really good opportunity for me,” she says.
The Festival of Dance Annapolis Royal has two programs:
Program 1: Thursday, Friday, 8 p.m.:
The Man in Black, a reprise of last year's hit homage to Johnny Cash by former National Ballet of Canada artistic director James Kudelka with dancers from Toronto’s Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie.
Live from the Flash Pan, Nova Scotia choreographer Cory Bowles' satire on the demise of a singer with dancer Rhonda Baker.
Being and Nothingness, by Guillaume Côté, performed by Greta Hodgkinson, inspired by Sartre's existential treatise.
Curious Schools of Theatrical Dancing, a remount of a 1977 signature solo work by Danny Grossman, with dancer Michael Caldwell.
Program 2: Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m.:
LEO, a multi-award-winning, mind-bending solo of acrobatics, mime, animation and video performed by William Bonnet, by Y2D Productions (Montreal) in association with Chamaleon Productions (Berlin), inspired by German acrobat Tobias Wegner's fondness for Astaire’s dancing in the 1951 film Royal Wedding, in collaboration with Canadian playwright Daniel Brière.