Karen Kain to Retire as Artistic Director of The National Ballet of Canada in January 2021
The Board of Directors of The National Ballet of Canada today announced that Karen Kain will retire as Artistic Director in January 2021 and will be named Artistic Director Emeritus.
"Karen Kain is an extraordinary artist and an extraordinary leader," said Cornell C.V. Wright, Board Chair of The National Ballet of Canada. "This great organization has been so fortunate to benefit from her brilliance for the past 50 years. When Karen agreed to take on the role of Artistic Director, she identified three distinct goals: to return the company to the international stage, to attract the world's greatest choreographers and dancers and to cultivate Canadian talent. To say she achieved these goals is an understatement. Karen surpassed expectations of all three. The National Ballet is now in demand around the world, receiving accolades from audiences and critics in Moscow, New York and Paris to name just a few. The world's greatest choreographers including Crystal Pite, Christopher Wheeldon, Wayne McGregor and Alexei Ratmansky have created or set work on the company. Canadian choreographic talent has been fostered through exciting programmes she initiated. Karen continues to inspire excellence in all who have the privilege to work with her. While her visionary leadership will be greatly missed by all of us when she steps down as Artistic Director in January 2021, I am so pleased and grateful she has agreed to continue her connection with the company as Artistic Director Emeritus."
Ms. Kain is one of Canada's most renowned and committed arts leaders. She is the longest serving Artistic Director of the National Ballet since Founder Celia Franca and has led the organization with great success. She has had an invaluable impact, as both an artist and a leader, on the National Ballet as well as the arts in Canada and around the globe. One of the greatest classical dancers of her generation, she joined The National Ballet of Canada in 1969 and went on to a distinguished career that included international guest performances with such companies as Paris Opéra Ballet, Roland Petit's Le Ballet de Marseille, The Bolshoi Ballet, London Festival Ballet and The Hamburg Ballet. During her career she developed a close creative partnership with Rudolf Nureyev and often performed with him. Ms. Kain retired from dancing following a cross-Canada farewell tour in 1997 and took up the position of Artist-in-Residence, a role later expanded to Artistic Associate. She was appointed Artistic Director in 2005. Under her tenure, the National Ballet embarked on 23 international tours, commissioned, co-commissioned and co-produced 24 new works from international and Canadian choreographers, received worldwide acclaim for the calibre of dancing and achieved financial success with 10 years of operating surpluses and the completion of the $104 million Soaring Campaign, the largest fundraising campaign in the history of the National Ballet. Ms. Kain also launched CreativAction, a new initiative to support Canadian choreographers and the dance community and appointed three Choreographic Associates. Ms. Kain's commitment to education and community engagement saw over 5.9 million children and their families enjoy free programming during her time as Artistic Director.
"I am so proud of The National Ballet of Canada and feel so fortunate to have had this wonderful company as my artistic home for 50 years. The role of Artistic Director is the most challenging, and the most rewarding, of my career," said Ms. Kain. "The goals I set when I assumed this position required a huge commitment from our dancers, staff, board and donor community. The unwavering support I received allowed my dreams to become a reality and I am so grateful. A new generation of National Ballet dancers have taken international stages by storm and thrilled even the most discerning ballet audiences. The world's most in demand choreographers have come to our studios to work with our artists and shared exciting new work with our audiences. We have fostered Canadian talent through CreativAction, the appointment of Choreographic Associates and Innovation, our all-Canadian programmes. I look forward to celebrating my 50th anniversary during the 2019/20 season and unveiling programming for 2020/21 in February. Being Artistic Director of this organization has been the greatest honour of my life. When I step down in January 2021, I know I leave a financially stable company with the very best dancers in the world, one of the most diverse and coveted repertoires and an international reputation for the highest level of excellence."
Executive Director Barry Hughson has partnered with Ms. Kain in achieving her vision since joining the company in 2014. "Karen Kain has been an extraordinary partner, collaborator and has become a dear friend. She has impeccable taste, a keen eye for talent and a deep and abiding passion for this country, company and artform. As a Canadian cultural icon, she is also remarkably humble, kind, and generous. When she steps down in January of 2021, we will have worked together for seven years and they have been some of the most exciting, satisfying and meaningful in my career because of her. It should also be noted that, while her tenure as Artistic Director has established The National Ballet of Canada as one of the world's best ballet companies, her legacy will also include leaving the company in the strongest financial condition in its history. This has been driven by her vision, understanding of the financial implications of every artistic decision and the trust she has engendered among the generous donors who have fuelled her dreams. I look forward to sharing many more highlights with Karen throughout 2020 and I'm thrilled that she will be named Artistic Director Emeritus, staying close to the company that she has led as a world-class ballerina and Artistic Director over half a century," said Mr. Hughson.
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 with 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. In 2019, Ms. Kain was the first Canadian to be honoured with the prestigious Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Award, the highest honour given by the Royal Academy of Dance.
Ms. Kain commissioned and acquired an astonishing total of 65 works for the company, including such memorable full-length productions as Romeo and Juliet by Alexei Ratmansky, Nijinsky, The Seagull and A Streetcar Named Desire by John Neumeier, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and The Winter's Tale by Christopher Wheeldon, Frame by Frame by Robert Lepage and Guillaume Côté, Le Petit Prince also by Mr. Côté, Hamlet by Kevin O'Day, Pinocchio by Will Tuckett and she will be directing and staging a new Swan Lake in June 2020.
The one-act ballets that Ms. Kain commissioned or acquired for the company include Emergence by Crystal Pite, Chroma and Genus by Wayne McGregor, Petite Mort by Jiří Kylián, The Man in Black by James Kudelka, The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude and Approximate Sonata 2016 by William Forsythe, Watch her by Aszure Barton and The Dreamers Ever Leave You by Robert Binet.
Ms. Kain has led the National Ballet on 23 international tours and 29 Canadian tours. She most recently took the company on the first-ever tour to Moscow and St. Petersburg where the National Ballet was embraced by audiences and critics alike. She also toured the company to Paris for their first appearance in 45 years as well as such dance centres as London, Hamburg, New York City, San Francisco, Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles. Under Ms. Kain, the company also returned to Québec City after a 20-year absence and Montréal after a 7-year absence. The National Ballet also made annual appearances at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa as well as embarked on 4 tours to Western Canada with performances in Saskatoon, Calgary, Edmonton, Victoria, Nanaimo and Vancouver.
Photo by Karolina Kuras