Karen Kain, dancer-turned-artistic director, to retire from National Ballet

Ballet superstar Karen Kain will retire as artistic director of the National Ballet of Canada in January 2021 but will remain with the company as artistic director emeritus.

Kain's 50-year tenure with the company has earned international honours and accolades

Karen Kain, the National Ballet's former prima ballerina-turned-artistic director, has announced her plan to step down in 2021. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

Ballet superstar Karen Kain will retire as artistic director of the National Ballet of Canada in January 2021.

The ballet's board of directors said Friday Kain will step down from the post but remain with the company as artistic director emeritus. The announcement comes nearly 15 years after Kain assumed the creative reins in 2005, and 50 years after she joined the company as a dancer in 1969.

She says serving as artistic director has been "the greatest honour" of her life.

The ballet's board chair Cornell Wright lauded Kain for inspiring "excellence in all who have the privilege to work with her."

Kain commissioned and acquired 65 works for the company, and is set to direct and stage a new Swan Lake in June 2020.

"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," Kain said Friday in a news release.

"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."

Kain, seen here in 2002, called her time as artistic director 'the most challenging, and the most rewarding' of her career. (Aaron Harris/The Canadian Press)

The move follows other recent exits from the National Ballet. Earlier this month director of production James Thornley also stepped down from his position after 30 years with the company, but he will continue on as production consultant on Kain's Swan Lake.

In September, Kain announced that principal dancer Greta Hodgkinson would retire in 2020 after a career spanning 30 years. Hodgkinson's final roles will include upcoming performances in Giselle and The Nutcracker.

Under Kain's tenure, the National Ballet embarked on 29 Canadian tours and 23 international tours, including a first-ever tour to Moscow and St. Petersburg, where it was embraced by audiences and critics, and a visit to Paris for its first appearance in 45 years.

Kain also commissioned, co-commissioned and co-produced 24 new works from international and Canadian choreographers, received worldwide acclaim for the calibre of dancing, and achieved 10 years of operating surpluses and a $104-million fundraising campaign.

"Karen Kain is an extraordinary artist and an extraordinary leader," Wright said.

"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."

Kain's distinguished dance career included a close creative partnership with Rudolf Nureyev and international guest performances with Paris Opera Ballet, Roland Petit's Le Ballet de Marseille, the Bolshoi Ballet, London Festival Ballet and the Hamburg Ballet.

Earlier this year, 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.


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