Anton Chekhov's tragicomic plays, with their near plotless plots and subtext-rich dialogue, seem odd candidates for dance adaptations. But choreographer John Neumeier, who's created dance from texts by everyone from Shakespeare to Thomas Mann, has distilled the Russian master's The Seagull into a full-length ballet.
"It's really a different kind of ballet for us," says the National Ballet of Canada's Greta Hodgkinson, who dances the role of Arkadina, in Neumeier's version a prima ballerina instead of the grande dame of theatre she is in Chekhov's play.
"The ballet's very character-driven," she says. "It's not about what happens; it's about who it happens to. So it has been nice for us to inhabit these rich characters."
Neumeier has set the tangled love story in the world of dance, where classical movement comes up against a more avant-garde aesthetic. But during rehearsals with the company, he made it clear that he didn't want them to perform like dancers.
"He wants us to be people out there," says Hodgkinson of that apparent contradiction. "Only when you inhabit the characters will an audience become interested. Any dancer can do an arabesque. But John wants to see us moving around the stage and jumping and leaping at each other, all without looking like we're classically trained dancers."
Sometimes the absence of movement can be as dramatic as any thrashing about.
"Stillness can give you an opportunity to look in another character's eyes - it gives the audience a moment to rest," she says. "It mimics life. Our lives are a series of stops and starts. If we were constantly moving, nothing would register for us. John's getting at something real.
"There are moments when we're trying to convey a very complex message, but it's not necessary to use a lot of steps to communicate it," she says. "Sometimes just a slow drag across the stage can put that across."
These days, life and art are intersecting for Hodgkinson. Last summer, she married company member Etienne Lavigne. The two partnered onstage for the first time during last Saturday's performance of Symphony In C.
"It hasn't really affected our work, and not a lot's changed in our lives," she says. "But it was nice to get away for a honeymoon. Two weeks in Hawaii. We're both very happy."