On June 30, 2021, Karen Kain stepped down as Artistic Director after a brilliant career with The National Ballet of Canada that began in 1969, when she first joined the company as a member of the Corps de Ballet. She was promoted to Principal Dancer in 1971 following a sensational debut as Odette/Odile in Swan Lake and quickly achieved international fame as one of the great classical dancers of her era. Karen is the longest-serving Artistic Director since Founder Celia Franca and a Canadian dance icon of global influence.
Karen Kain was born in Hamilton, Ontario and trained at Canada’s National Ballet School. After joining the National Ballet, she quickly distinguished herself as an artist of extraordinary depth and versatility, and she formed an historic dance partnership with colleague Frank Augustyn. In 1973, the pair competed at the prestigious International Ballet Competition in Moscow, with Karen winning the Silver Medal in the Women’s Category and both dancers receiving a special prize for Best Pas de Deux.
Karen performed in many of the great classical and contemporary works of her time, collaborated with international choreographers on new roles and appeared as a guest artist with such companies as Paris Opéra Ballet, Roland Petit’s Le Ballet de Marseille, Bolshoi Ballet, London Festival Ballet and Vienna State Opera Ballet. She also developed a close creative partnership with Rudolf Nureyev and performed with him often.
Karen Kain in Swan Lake. Photo by Andrew Oxenham.
In 1998, Karen became Artist-in-Residence with the National Ballet following her retirement from dancing in 1997 and the role was expanded to Artistic Associate in 1999. She was appointed Artistic Director of the National Ballet in 2005. The following year, she restaged Rudolf Nureyev’s The Sleeping Beauty for the company’s inaugural season at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto.
Karen identified three high level goals for herself as Artistic Director: to resume international touring, attract the world’s leading choreographers and to nurture Canadian talent.
Karen Kain in Romeo and Juliet. Photo by Andrew Oxenham.
She achieved them all. During her tenure, the National Ballet embarked on 23 international tours and 29 Canadian tours, commissioned or acquired 71 works for the repertoire and received worldwide acclaim for the calibre of its dancing. These successes include the company’s first-ever Russian tour, landmark appearances in London, England and Paris, France, the co-commission of Christopher Wheeldon’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and The Winter’s Tale with The Royal Ballet, the North American premiere of John Neumeier’s Nijinsky and the launch of the $104 million Soaring Campaign, the largest fundraising campaign in the company’s history. Karen also appointed three Choreographic Associates, established CreativAction to support Canadian choreographers and expanded the company’s education and community engagement initiatives, reaching over 100,000 students and community members each year.
Karen has received many awards and honours for her accomplishments. She is Companion of the Order of Canada, holds the Order of Ontario, was the first Canadian recipient of the Cartier Lifetime Achievement Award and was named an Officer of the Order of Arts and Letters by the Government of France. Karen received a Governor General’s National Arts Centre Award in 1997, a Governor General’s Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement in 2002 and the Barbara Hamilton Memorial Award in 2007.
Karen Kain. Photo by Karolina Kuras.
From 2004 to 2008, Karen was Chair of the Canada Council for the Arts and in 2007, the Karen Kain School for Arts opened in her honour. In 2011, she received the Distinguished Artist Award from the International Society for the Performing Arts and in 2019, Karen became the first Canadian to be honoured with the Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Award, the highest honour conferred by the Royal Academy of Dance.
On July 1, the Board of Directors named Karen Artistic Director Emerita of The National Ballet of Canada.