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Karen Kain becomes artistic director at National Ballet

When a journalist addressed Karen Kain as "prima ballerina" in 1974 the dancer quickly corrected him: "I wouldn't go that far." Kain didn't know at the time that she would one day become Canada's most popular dancer. The ballerina from Hamilton went on to draw ovations from international audiences, with performances of "Swan Lake" to the more risqué "Carmen." By the time she retired in 1997 after 27 years as a dancer with the National Ballet, Kain had more than earned the title prima ballerina.

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At age 54, when she could take a well-deserved break, Karen Kain takes on one of the most challenging cultural jobs in the country. She's been named artistic director of the National Ballet of Canada. It's a role she never imagined for herself back when she was an 11-year-old dancer just starting with the company, says Kain in this interview.

Over the decades, she's had different responsibilities in the National Ballet - principal dancer, artist-in-residence and artistic associate. But her latest may be her most challenging. The ballet company has been struggling financially with a deficit of around $1.2 million. 
• After Kain hung up her ballet shoes in 1997, she remained with the National Ballet as the artist-in-residence and then, in 1999, as the artistic associate. Before her appointment as the ballet's artistic director, Kain had been an integral part of the top managerial team.

• Kain succeeded James Kudelka, whose surprise resignation took effect June 30, 2005. Kudelka said he wanted to spend more time choreographing and less time dealing with the administrative headaches associated with the job.

• In 2004, Kain was appointed chair of the Canada Council for the Arts, a federal funding organization. Kain decided to hold on to the volunteer position even though the National Ballet relies heavily on contributions from the Canada Council. Kain, who said she will fulfil her four-year term, reportedly leaves the boardroom when decisions are being made regarding National Ballet business.

• In 2001, the French government named Kain an officer of the Order of Arts and Letters. In 2002, she received the Governor General's Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Achievement.
• In June 2006, she oversaw the debut of the National Ballet of Canada as principal tenant in Toronto's Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts.

• Kain's autobiography Movement Never Lies was published by McClelland and Stewart in 1996.
Medium: Radio
Program: Sounds Like Canada
Broadcast Date: June 23, 2005
Guest(s): Karen Kain
Host: Shelagh Rogers
Duration: 10:18

Last updated: October 19, 2012

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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