A New Swan Lake
by Susan Walker
February 12, 2019

The 2019/20 season of The National Ballet of Canada will be something special. Artistic Director Karen Kain is celebrating a remarkable 50 years with the National Ballet.

To mark the occasion, Ms. Kain will direct and stage a new production of Swan Lake to premiere in June 2020. Considered an essential work for any classical ballet company, Swan Lake premiered in Moscow in 1877 with choreography by Marius Petipa and music by Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky. National Ballet founder Celia Franca produced the first Swan Lake for the company in January 1955. Erik Bruhn, Artistic Director from 1983 to 1986, choreographed the Swan Lake the company premiered in March 1967. Thirty-two years later, when he was Artistic Director, James Kudelka created a radically new version of the classic with sets and costumes designed by Santo Loquasto.

It is Bruhn’s version to which Ms. Kain, who joined the National Ballet in 1969, is paying homage with her production. And for quite personal reasons.  

“The ballet has been a huge part of my artistic life from the time I was first in the National Ballet. I was thrown into performing Swan Lake during an emergency when I was 19 years old,” says Ms. Kain. “We ran out of ballerinas and everybody was injured. Celia Franca turned to me and said, ‘you know, you've got a week before going on tour and you're going to do it.’ I wasn't really strong enough, but I had a fantastic partner in Hazaros Surmeyan. Whenever my legs would buckle in the fourth act, he would just kind of lift me off the floor and help me float around until I got my strength back.”

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“Subsequently, I got the chance to build on my performance – it was one of my favourite roles. The dancing was extraordinary, but it was also the duality of the Black Swan and the White Swan, the love story at the center of the ballet and the music that also supports everything you want to feel.”

Ms. Kain recalls that Bruhn’s Swan Lake was controversial for its time, in that the Danish dancer/choreographer was the first to bring the ballet down to four scenes in two acts. He made the evil Rothbart a role for a female and, most significantly for Ms. Kain, Bruhn put the Prince on an equal footing with the Swan Queen.

“It was a first in the dance world,” she says of Bruhn’s challenge to male dancers. “I think he drove the creation of this equality for the male dancer with the ballerina.” 

This fresh and vibrant staging will feature new sets and costumes by the renowned designer Gabriela Týlešová.


Swan Lake makes its world premiere in the Summer Season, running from June 5 – 21, 2020.

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