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Karen Kain: An Extraordinary Career in Dance

Following a glorious career of over 50 years with The National Ballet of Canada, Karen Kain was named Artistic Director Emerita on July 1, 2021, in recognition of her unparalleled legacy and ongoing relationship with the company.

Here are highlights from Karen’s celebrated career with the National Ballet as a dancer, creative collaborator, arts advocate and leader.

Career Timeline

Graduates from Canada’s National Ballet School and joins the Corps de Ballet.
Debuts in Swan Lake at the age of 19 while still a member of the Corps de Ballet, replacing an injured Veronica Tennant and is promoted to Principal Dancer.
Debuts in the role of Princess Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty with Rudolf Nureyev and they begin a celebrated partnership.
Awarded the Silver Medal in the Women’s Category at the Second International Ballet Competition in Moscow, also winning first prize for Best Pas de Deux with Frank Augustyn. The duo performed the Bluebird Pas de Deux from The Sleeping Beauty.
With Frank Augustyn in Afternoon of a Faun (1977). Elite Syncopations (1978).
Photographed by Andy Warhol for commissioned silk screen portrait.
With Reid Anderson in Onegin (1984). Echo (1988).
Merry Widow
The Merry Widow (1986). La Ronde (1987).
CBC TV airs Karen Kain: Prima Ballerina directed by Norman Campbell.
Made a Companion of the Order of Canada, the highest honour in the country.
Taming of the Shrew
With Jeremy Ransom in The Taming of the Shrew (1992). With Graeme Mears in Now and Then (1993). 
Performs her final Swan Lake on November 25.
A Month in the Country
A Month in the Country (1995).
Embarks on a cross Canada Farewell Tour performing James Kudelka’s The Actress.
With Rex Harrington.
Appointed Artistic Director of The National Ballet of Canada.
Restages The Sleeping Beauty as the National Ballet’s opening production in the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts.
Launches Innovation, a programme featuring new works by Canadian choreographers, including Crystal Pite's Emergence. Karen continues to invest in new work, inviting Canadian and internationally acclaimed choreographers to work with The National Ballet of Canada in subsequent seasons.
Returns The National Ballet of Canada to the international stage with successful tours to London, United Kingdom and Washington and to Los Angeles and New York City the following year.
Choreographic Associates
Creates the role of Choreographic Associate, appointing Principal Dancer Guillaume Côté and Robert Binet. Alysa Pires is appointed in 2019.
Awarded a 2015 Dance Magazine Award, presented by Mikhail Baryshnikov in New York City.
Tours the company to Paris, France for the first time in 45 years with John Neumeier’s Nijinsky at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. (With Guillaume Côté in Paris.)
Tours the company to San Francisco, Hamburg, Germany and Moscow and St. Petersburg in Russia.
Celebrates 50 glorious years with The National Ballet of Canada.
Coronation Award
Receives the Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Award, The Royal Academy of Dance’s highest honour, for her contributions to ballet, the first Canadian to receive the award.
Commissions MADDADDAM, an original work by Wayne McGregor based on the novels of Margaret Atwood.
Honoured by Canada Post in a commemorative stamp featuring an image of Karen in Swan Lake.

Karen stepped down as Artistic Director on June 30, 2021. The Board of Directors conferred the title of Artistic Director Emerita on Karen in recognition of her legacy and ongoing relationship with the company.

She will unveil her long-awaited new production of Swan Lake in June 2022.

Photos by Aleksandar Antonijevic, Ken Bell, D. Brian Campbell, CBC, Anthony Crickmay, Alex Felipe, Ronnie Fung, Barry Gray, Doug Griffin, Johan Hallberg-Campbell, Karolina Kuras, Andrew Oxenham, Lydia Pawelak, Sian Richards, Victoria Schwarzl, Michael Slobodian, David Street, Cylla von Tiedemann, Bruce Zinger and George Whiteside.

Karen Kain commemorative stamp: Photo by Andrew Oxenham. Design by Stéphane Huot.