Karen Kain, C.C.

Karen Kain 14/15 Photo Credits

Karen Kain. Photo by Aleksandar Antonijevic.


Long recognized as one of the most gifted classical dancers of her era, noted for her compelling characterizations and versatility as a performer, Artistic Director Karen Kain is one of Canada’s most renowned and committed advocates for the arts. Born in Hamilton, Ontario, Ms. Kain received her training at Canada’s National Ballet School in Toronto, joining The National Ballet of Canada in 1969. She was quickly promoted to Principal Dancer with the company after her sensational debut as the Swan Queen in Swan Lake. 

In 1973, Ms. Kain was awarded the Silver Medal in the Women’s Category at the prestigious International Ballet Competition in Moscow and, along with her frequent partner at the time, Frank Augustyn, received a special prize for Best Pas de Deux. Subsequently, she embarked on a remarkable international career during which she performed many of ballet’s greatest roles with such companies as Paris Opéra Ballet, Roland Petit’s Le Ballet de Marseilles, the Bolshoi Ballet, London Festival Ballet and Vienna State Opera Ballet. Throughout her career she also developed a close creative partnership with Rudolf Nureyev and often performed with him. A favourite of some of the world’s most prominent choreographers, she premiered many new and important works during her time as a dancer.

Ms. Kain retired from dancing following a farewell tour in 1997 and took up the position of Artist-in-Residence with the National Ballet, a role that was later expanded to that of Artistic Associate. In 2004, she restaged Rudolf Nureyev’s landmark version of The Sleeping Beauty for the company and the following year was named Artistic Director.

Ms. Kain has received many Canadian and international awards throughout her career, testifying to her accomplishments both as an artist and an advocate for the arts. She is a Companion of the Order of Canada, the first Canadian recipient of the Cartier Lifetime Achievement Award and was named an Officer of the Order of Arts and Letters by the Government of France. In 1997, Ms. Kain was honoured with a Governor General’s National Arts Centre Award and received a Governor General’s Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement in 2002. From 2004 to 2008, she was Chair of the Canada Council for the Arts. In 2007, she was presented with the Barbara Hamilton Memorial Award for demonstrating excellence and professionalism in the performing arts. In 2008, the Karen Kain School for the Arts officially opened, a tribute to Ms. Kain’s ongoing contributions to the cultural life of her country, and in 2011, Ms. Kain was honoured by the International Society for the Performing Arts with the Distinguished Artist Award.

Career Highlights

1969Graduates from the National Ballet School and joins the corps de ballet of The National Ballet of Canada
1970Replaces an injured Veronica Tennant in Swan Lake during a tour of the Southern United States and is promoted to Principal Dancer
1971Promoted to Principal Dancer
1972Performs with Rudolf Nureyev in The Sleeping Beauty in Houston, Texas
 Makes her debut in Romeo and Juliet with Frank Augustyn
1973Awarded the Silver Medal in the Women's Category at the 2nd International Ballet Competition in Moscow. She also, with Frank Augustyn, won the 1st prize for Best Pas de Deux
1974Dances in Don Juan in Toronto and La Sylphide in New York with Rudolf Nureyev
 First dances with Roland Petit's Le Ballet National de Marseille and returns as guest artist throughout the next decade
1975Dances with Rudolf Nureyev in The Sleeping Beauty with the London Festival Ballet
1976Made an Officer of the Order of Canada.
1977Dances the lead role in Giselle with the Bolshoi Ballet on a Soviet Tour as Guest Artist
1977Karen Kain Ballerina is aired on CBC Television
1980Guest artist with Makarova and Company
 Guest artist with Le Ballet de Marseille in New York
1986Dances in the world premiere of Glen Tetley's Alice 
1987Performs in Impromptu, choreographed by Eliot Feld, at the National Ballet's 35th Anniversary Gala
1988A gala performance, "Celebrating Kain", held in honour of Ms. Kain's 20 years with the National Ballet
1989Karen Kain Prima Ballerina aired on CBC Television
1991Reunited with Frank Augustyn in the Balcony Pas de Deux from Romeo and Juliet at the National Ballet's 40th Anniversary Gala
 James Kudelka creates Musings for the Glory of Mozart Festival as a tribute to Ms. Kain
 Made Companion of the Order of Canada
1992Performing Arts Award from the Toronto Arts Awards
1993John Neumeier creates Now and Then for Ms. Kain
1994James Kudelka creates The Actress in honour of Ms. Kain's 25th anniversary with the National Ballet
 The National Ballet of Canada's 1994/95 season is dedicated to Ms. Kain
 Creates the role of Frau Gabor in James Kudelka's Spring Awakening 
 Movement Never Lies: An Autobiography by Karen Kain with Stephen Godfrey and Penelope Reed Doob is published by McClelland & Stewart
1995Performs the role of Natalia Petrova in sir Frederick Ashton's A Month in the Country, staged by Anthony Dowell for The National Ballet of Canada - this is the first time the ballet is performed by another company other than Britain's Royal Ballet
1996Is the first Canadian to be honoured with the Cartier Lifetime Achievement Award
1996Announces her retirement as Principal Dancer with The National Ballet of Canada following the 1996/97 season.
1997Embarks on a cross Canada Farewell Tour presented by Livent Inc performing James Kudelka's The Actress 
 Honoured with Governor General's Award - National Arts Centre Award
1998Becomes Artist-in-Residence at The National Ballet of Canada
 Inducted into Canada's Walk of Fame
1999Appointed Artistic Associate at The National Ballet of Canada
2001Named an Officier of the Ordre des arts et letters by the French Government
2002Receives the Governor General's Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Achievement
 Receives The Commemorative Medal for the Golden Jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
2004Re-stages Rudolf Nureyev's The Sleeping Beauty to critical acclaim
 Invited by Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to speak to Harvard's Canada Seminar about the challenges facing artists and arts organizations in Canada
2004Named Board Chair of the Canada Council for the Arts
2005Appointed Artistic Director of The National Ballet of Canada
 Inducted into the Hamilton Gallery of Distinction
 Tundra Books publishes Karen Kain's The Nutcracker based on The National Ballet of Canada's production
2007Receives the Barbara Hamilton Memorial Award sponsored by the City of Toronto
2008The Karen Kain School of the Arts officially opens - the school is named after Karen Kain by the children for her significant contributions to the arts over her career
2009Appointed President of the Jury for the 2009 Prix de Lausanne
 Appears as guest judge on CTV’s So You Think You Can Dance Canada 
2011Receives the Distinguished Artist Award by the International Society for the Performing Arts


“One of the best things about Karen Kain’s reign as doyenne of The National Ballet of Canada is her willingness to experiment with European-style ballets. Without her passion for presenting such work, we might never see these productions on our home turf.”
The Hamilton Spectator, 2012

“Company of the Year: The National Ballet of Canada. How smart is artistic director Karen Kain? Delivering two original superhits by red-hot choreographers – Christopher Wheeldon’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Alexei Ratmansky’s Romeo and Juliet – in the same calendar year was an incredible feat. Not only were both shows box-office champions; they have opened the door to international touring. Now the National, ballet’s best-kept secret, will get the worldwide profile it deserves.”
http://national.ballet.ca/WorkArea/edit.aspx The Globe and Mail, 2011

“A triumph for Kain and company… one of those moments that defined the company's history”
The Montreal Gazette on Romeo and Juliet, 2011

“Karen Kain… raised the standard of classical dancing, offering opportunities to a range of promising outside choreographers.”
Dancing Times, 2010

“New work. Life blood. Thought for the future. Cheers and more cheers. Floreat Karen Kain and her company.” 
Financial Times (London, UK), 2009

"Kain has reinvigorated the company by hiring some superb dancers and courting the world's top choreographers. She is also assembling one of the most diverse repertoires in the company's history."
Maclean’s Magazine, 2008

Suggested Resources 



Passion to dance: the story of The National Ballet of Canada 
By: James Neufeld. Toronto: Dundurn Press, 2011.
Passion to dance is the story of The National Ballet of Canada – the people who dreamt the company into existence, the determination needed to keep it afloat, the bumps on the road to its success, and above all, its passion for dance as a living, evolving art form.

Dynamic women dancers 
By: Anne Dublin. Toronto: Second Story Press, 2009.
From the United States to Russia to India, these women have danced and choreographed their way to the top of their field. From classical ballet to modern, flamenco, and Bharatabatyam, they have made the dance world their stage, performing and teaching all over the globe. From The women's hall of fame series.

Reflections in a dancing eye: the role of the artist in contemporary Canadian society 
Edited by: Carol Anderson & Joysanne Sidimus. Banff, AB: Banff Centre Press, 2006.
Forty-seven prominent Canadians - artists, politicians, scientists, academics and business leaders - examine the role of arts and artists in Canada, basing their answers on the same set of questions.

Karen Kain: Canada’s prima ballerina 
By: Melanie Jones. Canmore, AB: Altitude Publishing Canada Ltd, 2005.
One of Canada's best loved and most respected dancers of this century, Karen Kain's rise to ballet stardom is an inspirational story of dedication and passion. This is a story of artistry and ambition - the joys and the sacrifices of a prima ballerina.

Encyclopedia of theatre dance in Canada 
By: Susan Macpherson. Toronto: Dance Collection Danse, 2000.
The ETDC/EDTC is the most comprehensive Canadian dance reference book and includes over 200 entries on artists, teachers, and companies, a list of music for dance, and over 60 entries on choreographic works. It is a must-have for academics, journalists, and educators.

All about famous Canadians from Ontario 
By: Barbara McDermott & Gail McKeown. Edmonton: Reidmore Books, 1999.
Brief biographical information for children about six people from Ontario. From the All about. series.

Power to rise: the story of The National Ballet of Canada 
By: James Neufeld. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1996.
The precursor to Passion to dance: the story of The National Ballet of Canada.

Karen Kain: movement never lies, an autobiography 
By: Karen Kain, Stephen Godfrey & Penelope Reed Doob. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1995.
The sumptuously illustrated autobiography of the internationally acclaimed ballerina Karen Kain.

Karen Kain's fitness and beauty book 
By: Karen Kain & Marilyn Linton. Toronto: Doubleday, 1983.
Karen Kain shares information about her exercise program in a beautifully-photographed publication that takes the reader from the initial warm-up to the final cool-down, including suggestions for a beginner's program that may be developed into a more demanding advanced one. Tips on skin and hair care are provided, along with information about looking after the hands and feet. Kain also discusses stress and puts forth suggestions for handling it.

Karen Kain: born to dance 
By: Meguido Zola. Toronto: Grolier, 1983.
Comprised of black-and-white photographs of Kain in private life and in various roles, Zola attempts to illuminate the important events in Kain's life and to give a glimpse of what it is like to be a ballerina, stressing the physical, mental, and emotional effort and skill that ballet demands. Includes excerpts from a diary Kain kept in grade 3. From the Picture-life series.

Karen Kain: lady of dance 
By: David Street & David Mason. Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson Ltd, 1978.
A photographic record of the world and professional life of the young increasingly famous ballerina shows her in performance and in rehearsal, solo and with Nureyev, Augustyn, and others. With photographs by David Street and text by David Mason.

Kain and Augustyn: a photographic study 
By: Christopher Darling & John Fraser. Toronto: Macmillan Company, 1977.
Photographic celebration of a partnership, captured here both in rehearsal and performance by the camera of Christopher Darling and the text by dance critic John Fraser. Foreword by Rudolf Nureyev.

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Appel Salon Star Talk with Karen Kain 
Presented by: Toronto Reference Library, October 11, 2011.
Karen Kain, Artistic Director of The National Ballet of Canada, discusses the company's 60th Anniversary with Toronto Star's Michael Crabb.

Karen Kain: dancing in the moment 
By: Veronica Tennant & Joan Tosoni. A CBC Television production, 1998.
A program showcasing the versatility of ballerina Karen Kain. Part documentary, part performance piece, the program follows the arc of Kain's career, from her student days in the National Ballet School to her final performance in Winnipeg dancing The Actress.

Can't stop now 
By: Eileen Thalenberg. A Stormy Nights production, 1998.
A compelling and uplifting portrait of six older dancers. All are leading, international figures who participate in Netherlands Dance Theatre III, a daring experimental company for dancers over the age of 40.

Making ballet: The Actress 
By: The National Ballet of Canada. A Cinerouts productions inc, 1995.
Filmmaker Anthony Azzopardi goes backstage to capture the birth of a ballet. Choreographer James Kudelka and world-famous prima ballerina Karen Kain rehearse and develop his new piece The Actress. Kudelka created the work, which explores the career and life of a famous thespian, especially for Kain in honour of her 25th Anniversary with the National Ballet, a dancer well-known for her strong dramatic ability.

Just little ol' me from Hamilton: the life and times of Karen Kain 
Produced by: David Langer. A CBC Television production, 1997.
From the series Life & Times on CBC, traces the life and career of Karen Kain through interviews, photographs, home movies and film excerpts.

The Merry Widow 
By: The National Ballet of Canada. Primedia production in association with CBC and RM Arts, 1990.
This special studio recording of The Merry Widow is set to the music of the popular operetta by Franz Lehar, whose intricate tale of love affairs and diplomatic intrigue in turn-of-the-century Paris has been transformed into a sumptuous ballet. Australian dancer John Meehan is excellent as Count Danilo, ordered to marry into the fortunes of the recently widowed Hanna Glawari, danced superbly by Canadian prima ballerina Karen Kain.

Karen Kain: prima ballerina 
By: Norman Campbell & W. Paterson Ferns. Primedia production in association with CBC and RM Arts, 1989.
The illustrious 20-year career of Canada's prima ballerina Karen Kain, is celebrated in this special. The program features footage of Kain dancing in many of her greatest roles, including The Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, Romeo and Juliet and Alice.

By: The National Ballet of Canada. Primedia production in association with CBC and RM Arts, 1989.
Choreographer Glen Tetley has created a multi-layered ballet with dancers from The National Ballet of Canada, which presents many of the famous antic characters from the Alice books, including The March Hare, The White Rabbit and The Mad Hatter. Moving back and forth in time from reality to fantasy, the ballet shows the profound impact Carroll had on the emotional life of Alice Liddell, the child, and Alice Hargreaves, the woman.

La Fille mal gardée 
By: The National Ballet of Canada. A CBC Television production, 1979.
The National Ballet of Canada's production of the comic ballet based on the original stage production by Sir Frederick Ashton. Set in a peasant village in the French countryside, La Fille mal gardée is a delightful tale of the difficult path of young love. Widow Simone is determined to betroth her wilful daughter Lise to the eccentric son of a rich farmer, but Lise and her love Colas conspire to thwart the widow's plans.

Karen Kain: ballerina 
By: Philip McPhedran, Richard Nielson & W. Paterson Ferns. A CBC Television production, 1977.
Follows Karen Kain dancing with the Ballet de Marseille on tour with them, and back to Canada.

By: The National Ballet of Canada. A CBC Television production, 1976.
Canada's beloved prima ballerina Karen Kain and premier danseur Frank Augustyn star in this timeless tale of doomed love and eternal longing. The romantic ballet tells the story of the peasant girl Giselle who goes mad with grief and dies upon learning that Albrecht, her peasant lover, has deceived her and is really a nobleman. In the ballet’s haunting second act, the Wilis, maidens who have been betrayed and died before their wedding day, attempt to dance Albrecht to his death. But the power of love prevails and Giselle, now a Wili herself, saves him.

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The big interview: raising Kain.”
By: Richard Ouzounian. The Toronto Star, November 4, 2011.
Interview with Artistic Director Karen Kain about The National Ballet of Canada’s 60th Anniversary.

“Karen Kain.”
By: Michael Crabb. Dance International, Summer 2011.
Article looking at the role reversal of Karen Kain from Canada’s top ballerina to a “nurturer of tomorrow’s ballerinas.”

“Dear me….”
By: Karen Kain. The Toronto Star, March 28, 2010.
A letter written by Karen Kain to her 10-year old self.

“Karen Kain’s encore.”
By: Maryam Sanati. Chatelaine, September 2009.
Interview with Karen Kain at the start of her fifth season as Artistic Director of The National Ballet of Canada.

“Sweeping Beauty.”
By: Sarah Hampson. The Globe and Mail, February 11, 2006.
Article on Karen Kain’s vision for herself as Artistic Director of The National Ballet of Canada.

“Steel City’s gift to the world.”
By: Gary Smith. Hamilton Spectator, November 9, 2005.
A tribute to Karen Kain from the Hamilton Spectator (and the City of Hamilton) following induction into to the Hamilton Gallery of Distinction.

“The making of Karen Kain.”
By: Jenny Jackson. Edmonton Journal, September 10, 1997.
A seven part article tracing the life of Karen Kain from childhood through to her final performing season.

“Considering Kain.”
By: Solange de Santis. Dance International, Fall 1994.
Article dsicussing Karen Kain’s career with The National Ballet of Canada in honour of her 25th Anniversary season.

Visit national.ballet.ca/media/media_coverage for more articles.

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Interact @ national.ballet.ca 
Watch videos, visit the Virtual Museum and follow company activities on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest and Tumblr.

Karen Kain @ ArtsAlive.ca 
ArtsAlive.ca is a performing arts educational website produced by the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. The goals of ArtsAlive.ca are to engage younger generations of Canadians in information, multimedia resources and activities pertaining to the performing arts, and to provide free performing arts-related primary and secondary resources to students, parents and teachers to aid them in learning about and teaching the topics presented.

Karen Kain @ CBC Digital Archives 
As Canada's public broadcaster, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has been producing award winning programming since 1952. The Archives site is your gateway to CBC's extensive collection of Canadian and International footage.

Karen Kain @ national.ballet.ca 
Biography and career highlights of The National Ballet of Canada’s Artistic Director.

Media @ national.ballet.ca 
Media releases, kits and more articles about Karen Kain and The National Ballet of Canada.

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