Monday, August 17, 2009


From time to time, I will do features on contributing artists to Nureyev. That series begins today with Greta Hodgkinson.

I have always marvelled at Greta's gifts as a dancer, but her work with Moze has helped me to appreciate what a fine actress she is as well. Her performance in Moze's previous film, Roxana, required her to be emotionally present with her face as much as her body in a way that is often challenging for an actor coming from a stage environment. Usually, years of having to 'project', causes the acting to be bigger than it should be for camera. But Greta never seemed to have that problem.

On the phone recently, she explained. "One of the reasons why I jumped at Roxanna was that it was nice to have the dance because it gave me something to fall back on, but at the same time I was challenged like I haven’t been challenged." In a film that had a nearly three week shoot, and in which Greta appeared in almost every scene, she forged a strong relationship to Moze as a director, and to the art of filmmaking as well. "Moze was there all the time to almost guide me through the film - my first really big film in terms of playing a character like that. Working with other actors and speaking and feeling comfortable - everything was so new - it was amazing to have him there and even just inbetween shots, his one word feedback, a little bit here and there, helped me do it."

In making Nureyev, she observed as Moze focussed that same attentive guidance on Nico, and meanwhile felt his trust in her capacity to work more on her own. "If it wasn’t right or he needed to tell me something, he would," she said, but otherwise she was free to experiment and discover things for herself.

Greta's history of working with other artists on this project includes her husband, Etienne Lavigne, who plays Erik Bruhn in the film, and choreographer Matjash Mrozewski, whom she has known for years through their mutual association with the National Ballet Company of Canada. Greta first worked with Mat on his piece Delicate Battle. Like him, she coaches members of the company and occasionally teaches, work she enjoys and hopes to do more of during a rest hiatus she has planned in the near future. Working with choreographers is something she enjoys, but has no aspirations to herself. "I’ve always worked really well with choreographers and enjoyed being on the side of making someone else’s ideas come to fruititon," she said. "I enjoy coaching too and would like to do more, but creating dance is something I've never been inclined to."

Watching Greta in rehearsal, I was constantly amazed by the speed with which she picked up choreography, and offered it back in its fullest form. It is a great joy to watch her work this way as she makes it look so effortless. Performing with dancers who have different training backgrounds doesn't seem to stand in her way. I remember being moved by her pas de deux work with Sheila McCarthy on Roxana. McCarthy's dance experience comes mostly from musical theatre. That flexibility was evident again as Greta worked with Nico Archambault. Prior to Nureyev, Nico had never had formal ballet training. Greta has a natural talent for drawing performers to her level without ever making it look 'superior'. Perhaps she learned this in her childhood training in Rhode Island and New York city, or in her formation as a dancer at the National Ballet School, or in her critically acclaimed and prize-winning work as a soloist for the National Ballet. Being able to work in ensemble is a necessity for any dancer.

While on set, I listened to her give an E-Talk Daily interview in which she talked fluently about the differences between the world of western ballet and the Russian ballet technique of the Kirov, which was the training of Rudolph Nureyev. I decided to ask her about it, in the context of playing Margot Fonteyn, the great British ballerina. Greta explained that both the Russian technique and the Royal Academy of Dance styles create a strong technical dancer. "The Russian style is very refined, especially upper body, the port-au-bras. There is a huge focus on shoulder turn and the shape of the entire body. Women and men are equally strong and are both able to jump."

She also explained how combining techniques only enriches the dancer. "What’s happened now," she said, "since Rudy defected and the wall came down, dancers have started moving much more freely back and forth between styles of training - English, Russian and French - finding the best things of each. In the French training you find at the Paris Opera ballet, they choose only specific bodies. In North America, that's not the case. There are dancers who have trained and changed their bodies - if they had been seen at a younger age, they would have been discarded [by the French]. It's a very different way of picking and choosing." Nureyev's own enthusiasm for finding new styles was a source of great interest to Greta in preparing for the movie. "It’s incredible that he was so hungry about the art form and learning, in order to be the best dancer."

Greta looks forward to more film work in the future and more challenging roles. "I think I would really like to do something completely out of my world," she said. Let's hope she gets that opportunity. There is much this fine artist has yet to explore!

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