Karen Kain, C.C., LL.D., D.Litt., O.Ont.

Artistic Director

Karen Kain. Photo by Aleksandar Antonijevic.

Karen Kain. Photo by Karolina Kuras.


Long recognized as one of the most gifted classical dancers of her era, noted for her compelling characterizations and versatility as a performer, Artistic Director Karen Kain is one of Canada’s most renowned and committed arts leaders. Born in Hamilton, Ontario, Ms. Kain received her training at Canada’s National Ballet School in Toronto, joining the Corps de Ballet of The National Ballet of Canada in 1969. She was quickly promoted to Principal Dancer in 1971 after her sensational debut as the Swan Queen in Swan Lake.

"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

In 1973, Ms. Kain was awarded the Silver Medal in the Women’s Category at the prestigious International Ballet Competition in Moscow and, along with her frequent partner at the time, Frank Augustyn, received a special prize for Best Pas de Deux. Subsequently, she embarked on a remarkable international career during which she performed many of ballet’s greatest roles with such companies as Paris Opéra Ballet, Roland Petit’s Le Ballet de Marseille, the Bolshoi Ballet, London Festival Ballet and Vienna State Opera Ballet. Throughout her career she also developed a close creative partnership with Rudolf Nureyev and often performed with him. A favourite of some of the world’s most prominent choreographers, she premiered many new and important works during her time as a dancer.

Ms. Kain retired from dancing following a farewell tour in 1997 and took up the position of Artist-in-Residence with the National Ballet, a role that was expanded in 1999 to that of Artistic Associate. In 2005, Ms. Kain was appointed Artistic Director of the National Ballet. The following year, she restaged Rudolf Nureyev’s landmark version of The Sleeping Beauty in celebration of the National Ballet’s inaugural season at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto. 

Ms. Kain has received many Canadian and international awards throughout her career, testifying to her accomplishments both as an artist and an advocate for the arts. She is a Companion of the Order of Canada, was awarded the Order of Ontario, was the first Canadian recipient of the Cartier Lifetime Achievement Award and named an Officer of the Order of Arts and Letters by the Government of France. In 1997, Ms. Kain was honoured with a Governor General’s National Arts Centre Award and received a Governor General’s Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement in 2002. From 2004 to 2008, she was Chair of the Canada Council for the Arts and was presented the Barbara Hamilton Memorial Award in 2007 for demonstrating excellence and professionalism in the performing arts. The Karen Kain School for the Arts officially opened in 2008, a tribute to Ms. Kain’s ongoing contributions to the cultural life in Canada. In 2011, Ms. Kain was honoured by the International Society for the Performing Arts with the Distinguished Artist Award. Ms, Kain is the first Canadian to be honoured with the prestigious Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Award, the highest honor given by the Royal Academy of Dance. 

The 2019/20 season marked Ms. Kain’s 50th anniversary with the National Ballet. In June 2021, Ms. Kain steps down as Artistic Director and will be named Artistic Director Emerita.

Karen Kain's Career Timeline

Full List of Repertoire and Touring Under Karen Kain


"Under the reign of Karen Kain, The National Ballet of Canada has flowered into one of the most thrilling companies in the world."
— Toronto Life

"New work. Life blood. Thought for the future. Cheers and more cheers. Floreat Karen Kain and her company."
Financial Times (London, UK)

"Kain has reinvigorated the company by hiring some superb dancers and courting the world's top choreographers. She is also assembling one of the most diverse repertoires in the company's history."
Maclean’s Magazine

"The company, directed by Canadian Karen Kain who was one of the greatest interprets of Roland Petit, is of the highest standard comprising numerous stars of strong individuality who glide seamlessly into multiple roles."
Concert Classic on Nijinsky in Paris