One of the top international ballet companies, The National Ballet of Canada was founded in 1951 by Celia Franca. A company of 70 dancers with its own orchestra, the National Ballet has been led by Artistic Director Karen Kain, one of the greatest ballerinas of her generation, since 2005.
Renowned for its diverse repertoire, the company performs traditional full-length classics, embraces contemporary work and encourages the creation of new ballets as well as the development of Canadian choreographers. The company’s repertoire includes works by Frederick Ashton, George Balanchine, John Cranko, Rudolf Nureyev, John Neumeier, William Forsythe, James Kudelka, Wayne McGregor, Alexei Ratmansky, Crystal Pite, Christopher Wheeldon, Aszure Barton, Guillaume Côté and Robert Binet.
Canada's premier dance company performs annual Fall, Winter and Summer seasons plus The Nutcracker. The National Ballet has toured in Canada, the US and internationally with appearances in London, Paris, Hamburg, Moscow, St. Petersburg, New York City, Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles.
The National Ballet is committed to outreach and education for families and youth who may not otherwise have the opportunity to experience the joys of ballet. The company has a wide range of age appropriate programmes designed to engage with schools and children in the Greater Toronto Area and communities across Canada. YOU dance, the National Ballet’s signature programme, is designed to introduce students in grades four, five and six to the world of dance through free workshops and performances.
The National Ballet employs 120 artists, dancers and musicians, as well as production and administrative staff. All of the costumes and sets are built at The Gretchen Ross Production Centre. As a pre-eminent builder of full productions for ballet in North America, the National Ballet regularly rents out sets and costumes to ballet companies around the world.
Enjoy this selection of images from the National Ballet Archives representing every season in the company’s history. To learn more about the history of The National Ballet of Canada visit our Virtual Museum.
"Under the enlightened and demanding direction of Karen Kain, former great international ballet star, the company has earned its place at the highest level, enriching its repertory considerably by collaborating with the greatest choreographers of our time."
Danses Avec La Plume
“Stamina, guts and passion are what define this company right now”
– National Post
“The National Ballet dancers carry off this sophisticated style magnificently.”
– The Washington Post on The Winter’s Tale
“A Shakespeare ballet commands top-notch dramatic actors. As it turned out, the National Ballet of Canada has them in spades.”
– DanceTabs.com on The Winter’s Tale
“a company that can perform classical and contemporary ballet with equal aplomb.”
– The Globe and Mail
“The National Ballet of Canada move with bright footwork and easy upper bodies: this is a lively, confident company.”
– The Independent, London, England
“A triumph for Kain and company… one of those moments that defined the company's history”
– The Montreal Gazette on Romeo and Juliet
“The National Ballet of Canada is a splendid enterprise: such rare adventurousness is the only way to ensure a future for a national company… New work. Life blood. Thought for the future. Cheers and more cheers for Karen Kain and her company.”
– Financial Times, London, England
1951: The National Ballet of Canada is founded by English dancer Celia Franca.
The company has its first performance on November 12 at the Eaton Auditorium in Toronto. The programme includes Les Sylphides and Polovetsian Dances from Prince Igor. Principal Dancers are Celia Franca, Irene Apiné, Lois Smith, David Adams and Jury Gotshalks.
1954: The company makes its CBC television debut. Norman Campbell directs a televised version of Gala Performance and the pas de trois from Swan Lake.
1958: The National Ballet of Canada tours to Mexico City to perform 25 sold-out shows at the end of the 1957/58 season.
1964: April 21 marks the company’s first performance at the O’Keefe Centre. The company performs John Cranko’s Romeo and Juliet with Galina Samtsova as Juliet and Earl Kraul as Romeo.
Erik Bruhn begins his long association with The National Ballet of Canada, staging his production of La Sylphide.
1967: Erik Bruhn creates his production of Swan Lake on the company.
1970: The National Ballet of Canada is the only classical ballet company to be invited to perform at Expo ‘70 in Osaka, Japan.
1972: The company undertakes its first European tour to Britain, France, Belgium, Monaco, Switzerland and Germany.
Rudolf Nureyev stages his spectacular production of The Sleeping Beauty on the company.
1973: The company undertakes an extensive tour of Rudolf Nureyev’s The Sleeping Beauty across North America, culminating in a triumphant debut at New York City’s Metropolitan Opera House.
1976: Alexander Grant, former Principal Dancer with The Royal Ballet and Artistic Director of Ballet for All, becomes Artistic Director. Under his leadership, The National Ballet of Canada adds many works by Sir Frederick Ashton to its repertoire.
1979: The National Ballet of Canada is the first Canadian company to perform at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, UK.
Robert Johnston is appointed Executive Director.
1983: Erik Bruhn, considered one of the greatest classical male dancers of the 20th century, takes over the position of Artistic Director. Mr. Bruhn, with his 20-year association with The National Ballet of Canada and Canada’s National Ballet School, is ideally suited to lead the company. Some of the ballets Mr. Bruhn adds to the repertoire include The Merry Widow, Onegin and new works such as Robert Desrosiers’ Blue Snake and Glen Tetley’s Alice.
1984: Reid Anderson stages John Cranko’s Onegin on the company. The ballet premieres at the Toronto International Festival of Music and Dance with Mr. Anderson dancing the title role.
1986: Following the sudden death of Erik Bruhn, his associates Valerie Wilder and Lynn Wallis are named Associate Directors.
1987: Valerie Wilder and Lynn Wallis become Co-Artistic Directors. The company celebrates its 35th anniversary season with a gala evening featuring special Guest Artist Rudolf Nureyev.
Choreographer Glen Tetley joins the company as Artistic Associate. Mr. Tetley’s original works for the company include Alice, La Ronde and Oracle.
1988: The First International Competition for The Erik Bruhn Prize is held.
1989: Reid Anderson becomes Artistic Director and Valerie Wilder is appointed Associate Director. Mr. Anderson acquires many new ballets for the company including John Cranko’s The Taming of the Shrew, Sir Frederick Ashton’s A Month in the Country and Jiří Kylián’s Soldiers’ Mass. He commissions many new works, notably William Forsythe’s the second detail, John Neumeier’s Now and Then, John Alleyne’s Interrogating Slam and James Kudelka’s The Actress, Spring Awakening and The Nutcracker.
Stephan Legate of The National Ballet of Canada wins The Second International Competition for The Erik Bruhn Prize.
1992: The company performs in Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.
Choreographer James Kudelka is appointed Artist-in-Residence.
1993: The company tours Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and for the first time, Israel.
1994: Karen Kain celebrates her 25th anniversary with The National Ballet of Canada in a gala performance of Swan Lake at the O’Keefe Centre, where she dances the role of the Swan Queen/Black Swan for the final time.
1995: Jaimie Tapper and Johan Persson, members of The National Ballet of Canada, both win The Fourth International Competition for The Erik Bruhn Prize.
The National Ballet of Canada presents the world premiere of James Kudelka’s highly acclaimed production of The Nutcracker.
Reid Anderson resigns as Artistic Director.
1996: James Kudelka is appointed the company’s new Artistic Director.
The company moves into The Walter Carsen Centre for The National Ballet of Canada.
1997: Karen Kain retires as Principal Dancer with The National Ballet of Canada after 28 years with the company. She embarks on a farewell tour across the country performing James Kudelka’s The Actress.
James Kudelka creates The Four Seasons.
1998: Karen Kain returns to the company as Artist-in-Residence. Her new duties include teaching class, coaching dancers and working as an artistic advisor to Mr. Kudelka. (Ms. Kain’s role is expanded to Artistic Associate in 1999).
The company tours to New York City to critical acclaim presenting a programme of all Canadian choreography featuring works by James Kudelka, Dominique Dumais and John Alleyne.
1999: The National Ballet of Canada’s Jhe Russell shares the award for best male dancer for The Fifth International Competition for The Erik Bruhn Prize with Gennadi Nedvigin from San Francisco Ballet.
The National Ballet of Canada premieres James Kudelka’s Swan Lake on May 5 to critical acclaim and box office success.
2000: The National Ballet premieres James Kudelka’s The Firebird, a co-production with Houston Ballet. The Firebird and The Four Seasons breaks box office records for a mixed programme.
A film adaptation of James Kudelka’s The Four Seasons is produced by Rhombus Media and Veronica Tennant Productions, directed by Barbara Willis Sweete and starring Rex Harrington.
2001: The company celebrates its 50th anniversary with a season of landmark ballets from its history, tributes to its Alumni and Volunteers and the Past Present Future Conference – the first conference of artistic directors from the world’s largest ballet companies.
2002: The National Ballet of Canada premieres James Kudelka’s The Contract (The Pied Piper) on May 4, 2002, with an original score by Michael Torke and set and costume designs by Michael Levine.
Kevin Garland is appointed Executive Director.
2004: Rex Harrington celebrates his 20th anniversary with The National Ballet of Canada and retires as Principal Dancer at the end of the season.
The National Ballet of Canada premieres James Kudelka’s highly acclaimed Cinderella.
2005: The National Ballet of Canada premieres James Kudelka’s An Italian Straw Hat.
James Kudelka steps down as Artistic Director and is named Resident Choreographer.
Karen Kain named Artistic Director.
2006: The National Ballet of Canada moves to the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts and a new era begins. For the first performance in the company’s new home, Artistic Director Karen Kain restages Rudolf Nureyev’s The Sleeping Beauty.
2007: The National Ballet of Canada’s Tina Pereira wins The Seventh International Competition for The Erik Bruhn Prize.
Suzanne Farrell stages the company premiere of Balanchine’s Don Quixote.
The National Ballet of Canada presents a tribute to Jerome Robbins, commemorating the 10th anniversary of his death. The company becomes the first outside of New York City Ballet to perform Mr. Robbins’ West Side Story Suite.
The National Ballet of Canada launches the YOU dance outreach programme to introduce students in grades four to six to the world of dance through free workshops and performances.
2008: John Neuemier’s The Seagull makes its North American premiere.
2009: The National Ballet of Canada introduces Innovation – a mixed programme featuring three world premieres by Canadian choreographers Crystal Pite, Sabrina Matthews and Peter Quanz. Ms. Pite’s Emergence goes on to win four Dora Mavor Moore Awards.
Elena Lobsanova of The National Ballet of Canada wins The Eighth International Competition for The Erik Bruhn Prize and Matjash Mrozewski wins the inaugural Choreographic Prize for his new piece, Dénouement.
2010: The National Ballet of Canada presents a newly designed Onegin, featuring new sets and costumes by Santo Loquasto.
The company becomes the first company outside of The Royal Ballet to perform Wayne McGregor’s Chroma.
2011: The National Ballet of Canada presents a brand new full-length production of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Christopher Wheeldon, a co-production with The Royal Ballet (UK).
To mark the company’s 60th anniversary, Alexei Ratmansky creates a new full-length production of Romeo and Juliet.
2012: The National Ballet of Canada returns to the international stage touring to Los Angeles for the first time in 35 years with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland at The Music Center.
2013: Romeo and Juliet tours to Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London, England marking the first time the company performs in London in 26 years and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
The company becomes the first company outside of Hamburg Ballet to perform John Neumeier’s Nijinsky.
2014: Barry Hughson is appointed Executive Director.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland tours to New York City’s Lincoln Center, David H. Koch Theater and Romeo and Juliet is performed at The Music Center in Los Angeles.
The National Ballet of Canada participates in the first-ever World Ballet Day with The Australian Ballet, Bolshoi Ballet, The Royal Ballet and San Francisco Ballet, livestreaming 20 hours of ballet.
2015: The company presents the North American premiere of The Winter’s Tale by Christopher Wheeldon, a co-production between The Royal Ballet and The National Ballet of Canada.
Hannah Fischer, representing The National Ballet of Canada, wins The Eleventh International Competition for The Erik Bruhn Prize.
The Nutcracker by James Kudelka celebrates its 20th anniversary.
2016: The National Ballet of Canada celebrates its 65th anniversary season.
The National Ballet of Canada presents the world premiere of Le Petit Prince by Choreographic Associate Guillaume Côté, with a commissioned score by Kevin Lau and sets and costumes by Michael Levine.
The Winter’s Tale tours to the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. and the Lincoln Center Festival in New York City, The National Ballet of Canada makes its first festival appearance.
The National Ballet of Canada, in partnership with the Art Gallery of Ontario, presents the world premiere of The Dreamers Ever Leave You by Choreographic Associate Robert Binet, an immersive ballet inspired by the work of Group of Seven artist Lawren Harris.
The Walter Carsen Centre for The National Ballet of Canada celebrates its 20th anniversary.
YOU dance, the company’s signature education and outreach programme, celebrates 10th anniversary.
2017: Pinocchio by Will Tuckett makes its world premiere.
The National Ballet of Canada celebrates Canada’s 150th anniversary with two projects: 150 Pointes of Canada and Dance Mosaic: Canada 150.
The National Ballet of Canada tours to Paris for the first time in 45 years to perform John Neumeier’s Nijinsky at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées.
2018: The National Ballet of Canada tours to San Francisco for the first time in 10 years with John Neumeier’s Nijinsky at the War Memorial Opera House.
Frame by Frame by Robert Lepage and Choreographic Associate and Principal Dancer Guillaume Côté, makes its world premiere, marking the first collaboration between The National Ballet of Canada, Ex Machina and the National Film Board of Canada.
The National Ballet of Canada named Best Company of the Year by France’s l'Association Professionnelle de la Critique de Théâtre, de Musique et de Danse for the company’s October 2017 Paris tour of Nijinsky.
The National Ballet of Canada tours to Hamburg, Germany for the first time since 1994 with The Dreamers Ever Leave You by Choreographic Associate Robert Binet, James Kudelka’s The Man in Black and Emergence by Crystal Pite, as part of the 44th Hamburg Ballet Days at Großes Haus.