Toronto

'I'll always be a dancer': Greta Hodgkinson dances final night with National Ballet

After 30 years with the National Ballet of Canada, principal dancer Greta Hodgkinson took the stage for the final time with the company on Saturday.

Principal dancer began National Ballet School of Canada at age 11

Greta Hodgkinson will dance her final night in 'Marguerite and Armand' on Saturday. (National Ballet of Canada)

After 30 years with the National Ballet of Canada, principal dancer Greta Hodgkinson took the stage for the final time with the company on Saturday.

It's a bittersweet goodbye.

"This is definitely the end of a big chapter of my life," said Hodgkinson, speaking to CBC's Fresh Air before the performance.

Hodgkinson's final performance was in the role of Marguerite in the classical ballet, Marguerite and Armand, which ended its Toronto run on Saturday.

Listen to Greta Hodgkinson's full interview on CBC's Fresh Air.

Hodgkinson was 11 years old when she started at the National Ballet School of Canada in Toronto, leaving her family in Rhode Island. It was difficult as a homesick child, but the school became "a wonderful place" filled with like-minded students, she said.

Hodgkinson was named a principal dancer in 1996, dancing around the world and receiving the Order of Ontario for her work.

Dancing was never something she did, said Hodgkinson: "It was just more of who I am."

"I'll always be a dancer," she said. "It's something that I didn't necessarily choose, but it chose me."

In dance, "everything that we are goes into what we're doing," said Hodgkinson on CBC's Fresh Air. (National Ballet of Canada)

During hard times, personally and professionally, "dance was the thing that really saved me," she said. "I could really dive into something I was so passionate about and ... sort of forget other things."

Hodgkinson, 46, has danced every leading role in the classical ballet repertoire, according to the National Ballet website. She's also danced many contemporary works, with several created specially for her. The dancer has appeared as a guest artist with ballets around the world, as well as in multiple films.

Leaving was an emotional and difficult decision, she said. But Hodgkinson wanted to be in control of her exit, she said, and to leave while still dancing strongly.

She started discussions a few years ago with artistic director Karen Kain, who is also retiring next January.

Leaving won't be easy. It will be hard to let go of the "principal dancer" title, roles and persona, Hodgkinson said.

But Hodgkinson has no plans to stop dancing after Saturday, with several other dance projects in the works.

"It gives me a lot of ... peace to know that it's not like I'll be hanging up my shoes entirely," she said.

Dancing not a 9-5 job

At age 46, Hodgkinson says she kept healthy throughout her career with daily physiotherapy, and regular pilates, massage and osteopathy visits. 

Dancing isn't a 9 -5 job, she said, it's a way of life. Everything you do affects your work, she said, and you have to be rigorous and disciplined.

Greta Hodgkinson, now age 46, says being a dancer "chose her." (National Ballet of Canada)

But Hodgkinson doesn't want to stop moving over the next few years — she wants to keep training and stay strong and agile.

She has a strong support network, she said, including her fellow-dancer husband and a coach who has been with her since age 16.

Final performance 'a fitting bookend'

Marguerite and Armand, which Hodgkinson danced on Saturday night, was acquired "in [her] honour" by artistic director Karen Kain, the National Ballet says.

Hodgkinson wanted to finish with something new for her — not an old favourite. 

"It's hard after having danced so many roles to find something that I haven't danced," said Hodgkinson, who says she's wanted to dance Marguerite and Armand for a long time.

Greta Hodgkinson has danced every leading role in the classical repertoire, the National Ballet of Canada says. (National Ballet of Canada)

This ballet is a "vehicle for two really mature artists to bring all their experience and all their knowledge and all their artistry to the stage" she added.

Hodgkinson called it a romantic, tragic and dramatic ballet — and she loves dramatic roles.

"I felt like it was a fitting bookend to my career."

With files from CBC's Fresh Air

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