Karen Kain

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Karen Kain
Born (1951-03-28) March 28, 1951 (age 72)
EducationNational Ballet School of Canada
Occupation(s)Ballet dancer, administrator
(m. 1983)

Karen Alexandria Kain CC OOnt (born March 28, 1951) is a Canadian former ballet dancer and was the Artistic Director of the National Ballet of Canada from 2005 to 2021.

Early training and childhood[edit]

Kain's mother enrolled her daughter in ballet training because she believed it would improve her postural alignment, poise, and discipline. The family moved from Ancaster to Erindale Woodlands, Toronto Township when Kain was in grade 6 (age 11, 1962) so she could begin training at the National Ballet School of Canada.[1] (The majority of Toronto Township, including Erindale Woodlands, is now Mississauga.) Upon graduating in 1969, she was invited to join the National Ballet of Canada.[2] She also participated in Girl Guides of Canada programs as a member.[3]


Kain became a principal dancer in 1971, performing central roles in a wide array of ballets, eventually becoming well known in Canada, with the help of legendary dancer Rudolf Nureyev. She worked as a guest artist with Roland Petit's Ballet National de Marseilles, the Bolshoi Ballet, the London Festival Ballet, the Paris Opera Ballet, the Hamburg Ballet, the Vienna State Opera Ballet, and the Eliot Feld Ballet. Kain is a subject of The Portraits of Andy Warhol, c. 1980.

During her career, she performed in many ballets from classical and modern repertoire including among others Swan Lake (Erik Bruhn) Coppélia, The Sleeping Beauty (Rudolph Nureyev), Giselle, Romeo and Juliet (John Cranko), La fille mal gardée, Onegin (John Cranko), The Taming of the Shrew (John Cranko), Pastorale (James Kudelka), Carmen (Roland Petit), Concerto Barocco (Balanchine), A Month in the Country (Frederick Ashton) and Nutcracker in which she was often paired with dancer Frank Augustyn.[4] The talent of Kain and Augustyn came to the attention of the public and peers as soon as 1973 when they won prizes at the 1973 Moscow International Ballet Competition.[5]

In 1977, Kain stopped dancing, but started again in 1981 with the National Ballet of Canada, where she performed for 15 more years. In 1996, Kain reunited with Frank Augustyn to appear in her husband Ross Petty's panto production of Robin Hood at Toronto's Elgin Theatre. Kain retired as a professional dancer in 1997.

In 1998, she returned to the National Ballet of Canada as part of the senior management team, in the role of artistic associate. She supported artistic director James Kudelka against principal dancer Kimberley Glasco in a wrongful-dismissal suit. In 2005, she succeeded Kudelka as artistic director. She stepped down from that role in 2021.[6]

Kain was the founding board president of Canada's Dancer Transition Resource Centre.[7] Kain's autobiography, Movement Never Lies, was published in 1994 by McClelland and Stewart.[8]


In 1973, she won silver in the women's competition and the first prize[9] for best pas de deux (with Frank Augustyn) at the second International Ballet Competition in Moscow dancing the Bluebird pas de deux from Sleeping Beauty.[10]

Karen Kain's star on Canada's Walk of Fame.

In 1976, she became an Officer of the Order of Canada and was made a Companion of the Order of Canada in 1991. She was made a member of the Order of Ontario in 1990. She holds honorary degrees from the University of Toronto, York University, McMaster University, Trent University, and the University of British Columbia. In May 1998, the French Government named her an Officer of the Order of Arts and Letters. Among Kain's other honours are the National Arts Centre Award, a companion award of the Governor General's Performing Arts Awards (1997) and the Governor General's Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement (2002).[11] In 1996, she became the first Canadian to receive the Cartier Lifetime Achievement Award. The choreographer Marguerite Derricks cited Kain as one of her heroes.[12] in 1989 the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation made a documentary about her, Karen Kain, Prima Ballerina.[13] Kain had an arts based public middle school in Etobicoke named after her (Karen Kain School of the Arts) in 2008. In 2012, Kain received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal.[14] In 1998, she was inducted into Canada's Walk of Fame.

Honorary postage stamp[edit]

In April 2021, Kain was recognized by Canada Post as a "legend of ballet" for her lifetime of artistic achievements with a permanent domestic stamp displaying a ballet leap.[15][16]

Personal life[edit]

Kain has been married since 1983 to Ross Petty, a stage and film actor, and producer of theatrical pantomime productions in Canada for over 20 years. Kain's brother, Kevin Kain, is a noted tropical medicine expert based in Toronto, Ontario; she has three younger siblings and two nephews - Dylan and Taylor Kain.


In 1976, Kain appeared in a televised version of the ballet Giselle in the highly coveted title role, alongside Nadia Potts, Frank Augustyn, and Anne Ditchburn. The production was first shown in 1986. In 1985, Kain starred in an episode of the popular Canadian TV series Seeing Things. Kain was also alluded to in the 2003 movie directed by Denys Arcand, The Barbarian Invasions, when Rémy Girard reminisced about his past love affairs. Kain did a TV commercial for The Art Shoppe, a furniture store in Toronto during the 1970s

Kain's direction of Swan Lake as her final project for the National Ballet of Canada before her retirement is profiled in Chelsea McMullan's 2023 documentary film Swan Song.[17]


  1. ^ "Karen Kain, Budding Ballerina: Local ballerina ends third year". The Weekly. Port Credit, Ontario. 29 July 1965. Archived from the original on 16 October 2015. Retrieved 21 September 2015.
  2. ^ "Karen Kain, Artistic Director, National Ballet of Canada". Archived from the original on October 22, 2008. Retrieved December 10, 2008.
  3. ^ "GGC Fun Facts" (PDF). Girl Guides of Canada.
  4. ^ Encyclopedia of Theatre Dance in Canada/Encyclopédie de la danse théâtrale au Canada. Susan Macpherson, editor. Arts Inter-Media Canada/Dance Collection Danse, 2000. pp. 414-316. Christopher Darling and John Fraser, Kain & Augustyn. A Jonathan-James Book, Macmillan of Canada, 1977. 159 p.
  5. ^ James Neufel. Passion to Dance. The National Ballet of Canada. Toronto, Dunburn, 2011. p. 185.
  6. ^ "Karen Kain hopes she left National Ballet a more welcoming and supportive place". CBC News. Canadian Broadcast Corporation. July 1, 2021. Retrieved July 2, 2021.
  7. ^ Doob, Penelope Reed (4 March 2015). "Karen Kain". The Canadian Encyclopedia (online ed.). Historica Canada. Retrieved 21 September 2015.
  8. ^ Kain, Karen (1995). Karen Kain: Movement Never Lies : an Autobiography. McClelland & Stewart. ISBN 978-0-7710-4575-2.
  9. ^ The prize may differ from one author to another. In Encyclopedia of Theatre Dance in Canada/Encyclopédie de la dance au Canada. Dance Collection Danse, 2000. p. 315, the author wrote that they received the gold medal, while in Passion to Dance. The National Ballet of Canada, p. 185, the author James Neufeld mentioned that they won a special prize for the best pas de deux. A quotation by Kain in the book Kain & Augustyn by Christopher Darling and John Fraser, Macmillan of Canada, p. 10, refers as the first prize.
  10. ^ James Neufel. Passion to Dance. The National Ballet of Canada.Toronto, Dundurn, 2011. pp. 184-186.
  11. ^ "Karen Kain biography". Governor General's Performing Arts Awards Foundation. Retrieved 3 February 2015.
  12. ^ Thompson, Bob (July 5, 1999). "A woman on the Go Go: Catchy Gap ad, Austin Powers' movies make choreographer a hot commodity". Kingston Whig-Standard. Kingston, Ontario. p. 27.
  13. ^ "Karen Kain, Prima Ballerina". CBC News. Canadian Broadcast Corporation. Retrieved 21 September 2015.
  14. ^ "Diamond Jubilee Gala toasts exceptional Canadians". CBC News. Canadian Broadcast Corporation. 18 June 2012. Retrieved 19 June 2012.
  15. ^ "Karen Kain Postage Stamp". Canada Post. 29 April 2021. Retrieved 30 April 2021.
  16. ^ "New postal stamps honour Canadian ballet legends". Radio Canada International. 29 April 2021. Retrieved 30 April 2021.
  17. ^ Manori Ravindran, "Neve Campbell Boards TIFF-Bound Ballet Documentary ‘Swan Song’ as Executive Producer". Variety, July 25, 2023.

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