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 advocates for the arts. Born in Hamilton, Ontario, Kain received her training at Canada's National Ballet School in Toronto, joining The National Ballet of Canada in 1969. She was quickly promoted to Principal Dancer with the company after her sensational debut as the Swan Queen in Swan Lake.
In 1971, 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 Marseilles, 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.
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 later expanded to that of Artistic Associate. In 2004, she restaged Rudolf Nureyev's landmark version of The Sleeping Beauty for the company and the following year was named Artistic Director.
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, 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. In 1997, 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. In 2007, she was presented with the Barbara Hamilton Memorial Award for demonstrating excellence and professionalism in the performing arts. In 2008, the Karen Kain School for the Arts officially opened, a tribute to Kain's ongoing contributions to the cultural life of her country, and in 2011, Kain was honoured by the International Society for the Performing Arts with the Distinguished Artist Award.