Artistic Director Karen Kain Steps Down

June 28, 2021


Karen Kain. Photo by Karolina Kuras.

When Karen Kain steps down from her role as Artistic Director of The National Ballet of Canada on June 30, 2021, she will do so as one of the most accomplished and recognizable dance professionals in recent history. Her talent as a dancer, creative collaborator, arts advocate and leader have made ballet – and especially Canadian ballet – a stronger and more innovative force in global culture, and she has put a personal face to the artform in a way few others have matched. Widely respected as an artist, Karen is also held in high esteem as a role model, colleague and friend.


Karen Kain as the Swan Queen in Swan Lake. Photo by Andrew Oxenham.

She joined The National Ballet of Canada in 1969 as a member of the Corps de Ballet and was promoted to Principal Dancer in 1971 after a stellar debut as Odette/Odile in Swan Lake. In the years that followed she trailblazed an international career, collaborating with leading choreographers, dancing with Rudolf Nureyev and appearing as a guest artist with the world’s top companies. Her fame was such that Pop Art icon Andy Warhol created a portrait of her in 1980, Karen Kain 236.

Karen assumed the role of Artistic Director in 2005 intent on providing similar opportunities for creative growth and freedom to dancers today. She gave them international exposure and a challenging repertoire to dance, all while setting a new high bar for artistic excellence. The National Ballet added 71 works to the repertoire during her tenure, several by Canadian choreographers. The company also toured for the first time to Russia and fulfilled prestigious engagements in London, Paris, Hamburg, San Francisco and New York City.


Karen Kain at the 2006/07 Season Announcement Press Conference. Photo by Bruce Zinger.

More Canadians were able to experience the joy of dance and were introduced to the National Ballet under Karen’s leadership, with Canadian tours and community engagement programmes reaching thousands of adults and students each year. Karen appointed three Choreographic Associates to encourage dance creation in Canada and established an in-house Dancer Health and Wellness Programme to support dancer health and career longevity. CreativAction also began during her tenure, an innovative programme conceived and led by Choreographic Associate Robert Binet to share the company’s resources with local dancemakers.

The National Ballet will appoint a new Artistic Director from a position of financial stability, owing to careful planning on behalf of the executive leadership and Karen’s longstanding ability to bring people together in the interest of great dance.


Karen Kain. Photo by Karolina Kuras.

The 2021/22 season is the last that Karen has programmed and it is a fitting reflection of how well she knows and respects the National Ballet’s artists and audiences. Full of pathos, beauty and anticipation, this is the season the National Ballet has been waiting for after more than a year without live performances. The highlight will be Karen’s new staging of Swan Lake, a production with great significance for her as a dancer and one that serves her long legacy of excellence at The National Ballet of Canada. Karen will be named Artistic Director Emerita on July 1, 2021.

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