Last night, Greta Hodgkinson, a Warwick native who is now a principal dancer with the National Ballet of Canada, took the stage in her home state for the first time since she was 11 years old.
Hodgkinson trained during her youth at Festival Ballet, which, at the time, was located in East Providence. She started her lessons at age 4, and by the age of 9, Hodgkinson knew she wanted to dance professionally.
“I don’t think I ever was aware that if I chose a career in the arts … that it would be hard,” said Hodgkinson at a State House gathering in her honor on Tuesday night. “[My family] fully supported me.”
At a gathering in the State Room, those from the Rhode Island arts community lauded Hodgkinson for her achievements and welcomed her back to her home state for an all-star gala performance at the Veterans Memorial Auditorium. The performance took place last night, and featured Hodgkinson and other renowned dancers from across the country. Festival Ballet Providence produced the dance concert, called “Together We Dance 2.”
Hodgkinson and her husband, Etienne Lavigne, also a principal dancer from the National Ballet of Canada, performed two pas de deux at last night’s performance. In addition, Hodgskinson performed her signature solo piece, Fokine’s “Dying Swan.”
Hodgkinson has performed all over the world, in Russia, Italy, Japan and across the U.S., but her roots are here in Rhode Island. At Tuesday’s gathering, Hodgkinson said she takes a piece of her home state with her wherever she travels.
Misha Djuric, Festival Ballet Providence’s artistic director, said Hodgkinson is the “embodiment of good training and God-given talent.”
And Hodgkinson knows how important her training was, and still is. When she expressed her desire to become a professional dancer at the young age of 9, her family began to research the best ways to make her dream come true. They spoke with professionals about Hodgkinson’s talent and where to best nurture her ability. It was the National Ballet School of Toronto that, starting at age 11, groomed Hodgkinson for her career as a ballerina.
“[My family] knew me and that I was very ambitious and that I had very big dreams for that,” said Hodgkinson.
At 16, she landed her first professional gig with the National Ballet of Canada. Three years later, she became second soloist, and then, two years after that, was promoted to first soloist.
Despite her early success and rapid climb up the professional dance ladder, Hodgkinson said there was never one moment where she felt like she had “made it.”
“I had a lot of other career goals for myself,” she said. “I still do, even after all that I feel like I’ve accomplished and I’ve done.”
Hodgkinson said she is grateful for all of her experiences and opportunities, but continues to push herself as an artist.
“I guess I’ve ‘made it’ in that I’m a professional dancer and I’ve had wonderful experiences,” she said. “But I don’t know there’s ever that defining moment. As an artist, if you stop learning and sit on your laurels … I think you start to diminish.”
Nancy McAuliffe, the artistic director for Rhode Island’s Ballet Theater, said that all ballerinas must be “hardworking perfectionists who can tolerate daily pain.”
The physical stresses of a career in dance have been illustrated in countless movies and documentaries of the craft, and for Hodgkinson, the self-discipline of being a dancer is the major difference between those that make it professionally, and those that do not.
“You have to ask a lot of hard questions of yourself,” she said. “It is difficult, but you have to love it. There are more reasons not to do it than to do it.”
Hodgkinson said natural talent and ability are only a small portion of what makes a dancer great,
“Talent is certainly a key part of it, but it’s not the only part. The kind of discipline and dedication that it takes to do what we do … there are very few that actually get there,” she said.
Hodgkinson said young people looking to get into the professional dance world should start their training very early, so as not to always be a step – sometimes literally – behind.
And perhaps most importantly, she offered: “You have to be realistic with yourself.”
At Tuesday’s gathering, Hodgkinson spoke briefly, extending her gratitude to those in attendance for their support. But her deepest thanks went to her family; especially her parents, grandparents and sister for helping her realize her dreams. Holding back tears, Hodgkinson looked at her mother and father, who were seated close to the podium from which she spoke.
“I would have never been able to achieve what I’ve achieved without my family,” she said.
Marcia and David Hodgkinson, Greta’s parents, expressed their pride in their daughter.
“She worked hard for this,” said David.
Hodgkinson’s husband, Etienne Lavigne, who held their son, Maxime, while his wife spoke, said that it was great for the state to recognize Hodgkinson’s talents and contributions to the arts community.
For Hodgkinson, who has been trying to plan a return to a stage in her home state for years, last night’s performance was a long time in the making.
“I’m very, very humbled,” she said.