Artist. Leader. Icon.

Artist. Leader. Icon.

Karen Kain: An Extraordinary Career in Dance

When Karen Kain steps down from her role as Artistic Director on June 30, 2021, she will do so as one of the most accomplished and recognizable dance professionals in recent history. Here are highlights from Karen’s celebrated career with The National Ballet of Canada as a dancer, creative collaborator, arts advocate and leader.

Career Timeline

 
1969
Graduates from Canada’s National Ballet School and joins the Corps de Ballet.
 
1971
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.
 
1973
Debuts in the role of Princess Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty with Rudolf Nureyev and they begin a celebrated partnership.
 
1973
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.
 
Augustine
With Frank Augustyn in Afternoon of a Faun (1977). Elite Syncopations (1978).
 
1980
Photographed by Andy Warhol for commissioned silk screen portrait.
 
Onegin
With Reid Anderson in Onegin (1984). Echo (1988).
 
Merry Widow
The Merry Widow (1986). La Ronde (1987).
 
1989
CBC TV airs Karen Kain: Prima Ballerina directed by Norman Campbell.
 
1991
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). 
 
1994
Performs her final Swan Lake on November 25.
 
A Month in the Country
A Month in the Country (1995).
 
1997
Embarks on a cross Canada Farewell Tour performing James Kudelka’s The Actress.
With Rex Harrington.
 
2005
Appointed Artistic Director of The National Ballet of Canada.
 
2006
Restages The Sleeping Beauty as the National Ballet’s opening production in the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts.
 
Choreographers
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.
 
2013
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.
 
2015
Awarded a 2015 Dance Magazine Award, presented by Mikhail Baryshnikov in New York City.
 
2017
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.)
 
2018
Tours the company to San Francisco, Hamburg, Germany and Moscow and St. Petersburg in Russia.
 
2019
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.
 
2020
Commissions MADDADDAM, an original work by Wayne McGregor based on the novels of Margaret Atwood.
 
2021
Honoured by Canada Post in a commemorative stamp featuring an image of Karen in Swan Lake.

Karen will step down as Artistic Director on June 30, 2021 after she announces the 2021/22 season on June 22, the last she will programme. The Board of Directors will confer 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.