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On the threshold of a stellar career: Greta Hodgkinson of the National Ballet of Canada has the technique, drive, and attitude for international stardom.

There is no doubt in the minds of Canadian dance aficionados that Greta Hodgkinson is poised on the threshold of a glittering international career. Europeans first learned of the twenty-four-year-old National Ballet of Canada principal when she was a guest at Stuttgart Ballet's Cranko gala in October 1997. She and partner Rex Harrington brought down the house performing the explosively dramatic and fiendishly difficult "Summer Pas de Deux" from James Kudelka's The Four Seasons. "There was so much publicity," says Hodgkinson. "Every newspaper wrote us up. It was a fantastic response." New Yorkers can sample her artistry when NBC performs The Four Seasons during its appearances at City Center, October 6 to 11. Hodgkinson now has a whole new world to conquer.

Growing up in Warwick, Rhode Island, a suburb of Provincetown, Hodgkinson was such an active child that her parents had a full-time job chauffeuring her to skating, gymnastics, and ballet classes. When the time came to specialize, however, she chose ballet. "I know it sounds corny," she says, "but I just love to dance." Along with studies at the Festival Ballet of Rhode Island, she had additional summer training in Boston and New York City. Once it became evident that the talented young dancer was ready for a full-time professional school, a friend of the family suggested the National Ballet School in Toronto. Her parents had ruled out New York City because they wanted a school that offered both academic training and a supervised boarding facility. After a successful audition, Hodgkinson came to the NBS when she was eleven and joined the National Ballet at sixteen. She was promoted to second soloist in 1993 and to first soloist in 1995 after her spectacular debut in Swan Lake. When Kudelka took over the company in 1996, he made Hodgkinson a principal dancer.

Hodgkinson credits the NBS with taking her natural aptitude and honing it into a formidable technique. In fact, the discipline sits so easily on her body that in assessment class, she would throw in an extra four or five fouettes above the required thirty-two. "At the school I was a real go-getter who loved to perform," she says. "I know that I stood out."

One of the first to take notice of the student was her partner-to-be, Harrington. "Greta was very talented and confident and could toss off anything," he recalls. "It took me years to develop my technique, but Greta is blessed. She doesn't have to fight her body. In Stuttgart, we pushed James's choreography right to the edge, and even Marcia Haydee was impressed with the difficulty of the lifts. Greta doesn't know the meaning of the word fear. It's lovely to watch someone dance with that much freedom."

Hodgkinson's obvious gifts did not escape the eye of former National Ballet artistic director Reid Anderson, either; a week after she entered the company as an apprentice, there was an opening in the corps, and Anderson immediately hired her. Within her first year, she was given the demanding Diamonds Pas de Cinq in Nureyev's Sleeping Beauty. "Reid knew that I wanted to be pushed," Hodgkinson says. "He helped shape my career by giving me the right challenges at the fight time."

National's ballet mistress Magdalena Popa recalls Hodgkinson's transformation into a ballerina. "Reid wanted new people for Swan Lake and suggested Greta," Popa says. "I found her a strong dancer with tremendous energy in her movement, but her lyric and dramatic sides were not well developed. I worked with her on details, and she was open to all suggestions. I redesigned her shoes and realigned her bones to make her line longer and more elegant. I literally changed her body structure. Not everyone can take that kind of pressure, but Greta did without a sign of temperament. Her concentration was fierce, and when she went out on the stage, she was transfigured. No one recognized her."

Cynthia Lucas, Popa's colleague at the National, recalls this makeover with awe: "It's unbelievable how Greta let Magda pull her apart and put her back together, but she's very ambitious and wants to learn. It's almost eerie how she can assimilate information. I find that dancers, at best, can absorb about five corrections, but you can keep piling corrections on Greta and know that you'll see them onstage. Everyone who comes to set ballets on the company loves working with her because she allows herself to be molded. I've never heard anyone say, `What's the matter with that gift?'" Hodgkinson, however, is not all work and no play. Popa, Lucas, Harrington, Kudelka--everyone comments on her upbeat attitude and the sense of fun she brings to the rehearsal studio. Says Lucas, "She's an incredibly positive force in the company."

Onstage, Hodgkinson gives the illusion of fragility; although her five-foot-six-inch frame supports a small bone structure, she is a steel magnolia who can do any choreography thrown at her and perform it with consistent excellence. She is known around the company as a quick study--she can literally see a combination once and repeat the steps. Her enormous versatility is demonstrated by a repertory that includes such technically demanding roles as Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty and Kitri in Don Quixote, such dramatic lyrical roles as Giselle and Juliet, and in a wide range of contemporary ballets from the likes of George Balanchine, Glen Tetley, Jiri Kylian, William Forsythe, and John Neumeier. Hodgkinson has even jumped the generation gap to pull off a delightfully mature Hanna Glawari in Ronald Hynd's Merry Widow.

With the retirement of Karen Kain last year, Hodgkinson has become Kudelka's principal muse. "James has given me wonderful roles. The movement is hard but feels great on the body and looks gorgeous onstage. His works are so musical that they express the different layers in the orchestra. He makes you listen to music with new ears." Before Kudelka's appointment as artistic director was announced, Hodgkinson was seriously considering following Anderson to Stuttgart. She stayed for Kudelka's choreography. For his part, Kudelka is equally admiring of Hodgkinson. Their association began when Kudelka gave Hodgkinson a lead role in Musings in 1991 and solidified when the choreographer became the National's artist in residence in 1992. "Greta takes the stage in a big way," he says. "She has an intelligent body, remarkable coordination, and excellent articulation; and she sails through technique. More to the point, she's growing as an interpretive artist and is beginning to take us into her performances, although this side still needs work. Greta is important to me, and it's an exciting moment in time for both of us."

All this attention is pretty heady stuff for a young dancer, but Hodgkinson appears to be taking it all in stride. Her rapid rise has not alienated her from her colleagues. In fact, her closest friends are in the company, and her significant other, William Marrie, was a National dancer before joining Edouard Lock's La La La Human Steps in Montreal this season. Principal dancer Chan Hon Goh, a close friend, says, "Greta views things in open-minded ways, and she's not inhibited with her opinions. In fact, she's outspoken, but always respectful. I like talking to her because she's very understanding. She's also great fun to be with because she has a terrific sense of humor. She likes reading, music, and movies; she's a wonderful hostess at parties; and she's obsessed with buying designer purses."

Hodgkinson's views on fitness also mark her as a dancer cut from a different is mold. "I got a stress fracture in my left foot in 1994 because I didn't know how to stop working. I know better now. I'm very health-conscious. Dancers are athletes, and, like other athletes, I listen to what my body tells me about how far I can push myself. The old days of dancers punishing their bodies are over for me. Nutrition is also a vital factor. I don't understand how some dancers can be vegetarians. I eat a lot of protein, carbohydrates, and no dairy products. I don't worry about weight; how much stress I'm putting on my body dictates my food choices. I also think that drinking water isn't enough to replenish the enzymes lost through sweat, so I use liquid supplements. I love the aesthetic of a thin dancer, but only if there's meat on the bones. I look after myself."

In conversation Hodgkinson comes across as a bright young woman with a lot of common sense. "Although I'm a perfectionist, I try not to be obsessive," she says. "I want to be pushed to my limit, but not over--and I won't let myself be panicked into making career mistakes. I think I've spaced my roles well, and I haven't done one I wasn't ready for. Of course, I'd like new roles, but I also want to keep growing in the ones I have--and I won't be satisfied until I become a great acting dancer, because ballet is more than just a bag of tricks. An international career is also very important to me. I have a European agent and after Stuttgart, I know people are talking about me--but, because I understand that the journey from prodigy to artist is a long one, I need a home base and a coach and a director who I trust. Magda and James rein me in and center me. I don't ever want to be the type of ballerina who won't listen. I'm confident but not cocky, and I hope I'll always have an accurate assessment of my talents. I'd like to think that I have a good perspective on what a dance career is all about."

Clearly, Hodgkinson's passion for the art has not obscured her wisdom. As Lucas says, "Greta is strong-willed. She's a woman with a mission. She knows she has the talent to get to the top, but--more important--she has the intelligence to make sure she stays there."
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Author:Citron, Paula
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Oct 1, 1998
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