Drake One Fifty Lunch & Learn: Greta Hodgkinson

Posted by Jen McNeely, April 01, 2016
greta-5

The year ahead is a big one for Greta Hodgkinson: she's celebrating her 25th year as a member of The National Ballet of Canada, and her 20th anniversary as a Principal Dancer. For the intensely physically demanding career, this longevity is a rarity; a true triumph. Beyond her outstanding professional achievements, Greta is expecting the birth of her second child any day now. Told you: BIG YEAR.

We met at Drake One Fifty (a skip and a jump from the Four Seasons Centre), and over Waldorf Salad and a healthy heaping of house-cut frites, discussed everything from Greta's conviction to dance to keeping the age-old art of ballet fresh and relevant in an ever-shifting cultural landscape.

Greta was born in Providence, Rhode Island. No one in her family was a performer, but from a very young age, she knew her destiny was to dance. "I remember feeling like the odd one out in elementary school because I knew what I wanted...I was very focused," Greta says. It was only when her parents shipped her to Toronto at age eleven, to attend the National Ballet School of Canada, where Greta found her tribe.

At that time, the school lived on Maitland Street and was less than a quarter of the size that it is today. "I was in a class with seven girls. I graduated in a class with seven girls. We're all still friends today," she reminisces.

I couldn't help but picture scenes from Black Swan, a young Natalie Portman in cutthroat competition with her peers. Intense drama in between dance classes. Broken toes and broken hearts. Hoping to discover a whiff of scandal, I ask Greta if her high school life was similar to that of The Swan Queen.

"It's just a movie," Greta says. (I had to ask.)

greta-2

While the drama between ballerinas may be not real, Darren Aronofsky's award-winning film does touch on the difficult balance of skills required to make it as a dancer. Even in this discipline, one's success isn't determined solely on physical strength or ability. "Just being talented doesn't get you anywhere. It's as much of a mental game as anything else," Greta says. Now, it's also become a game of self-promotion, "Dancers are promoting themselves on social media, with pictures and videos, in a way that just wasn't happening before."

Greta-3

While social media may be changing certain aspects of the company, what hasn't changed is the demand and love for classics: Romeo & Juliet and Swan Lake still draw a full house. "All the classics are still stories that have relevance today...that's what makes them classics," says Greta. "We will always do the classics, but there's a push for new, innovative stories that will attract a younger crowd."

One way the National Ballet of Canada has been drawing new crowds is by focusing on productions that are more family-friendly, like Alice In Wonderland, Sleeping Beauty and the highly anticipated world premiere of Le Petit Prince, opening June 4th.

greta-4

In her twenty-five years, Greta's life as a Principal Dancer is an outstanding one that very few in the world could compare to. Critics and adoring fans would easily say she's at the apex of her career, but in this world, the job is never done. "We're striving for perfection that doesn't even exist," says Greta, who after twenty-five years, still works as hard as she did on day one, "We start every day with a dance class. It's like taking your medicine".

Greta-1

There is no secret to Greta's success. Being a lifelong dancer is something that requires painstaking dedication and endurance each and every day, "There's no advice you can give that compares to experience. You have to go through it. I dance because I have to, because I love it."

Congratulations, Greta. On everything.

All photos by photographer, Solana Cain.

Posted in: Drake One Fifty