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National Ballet of Canada names Toronto-born dancer Hope Muir as artistic director

Toronto-born Hope Muir will step into her role as artistic director of the National Ballet of Canada on Jan. 1, 2022. Her predecessor, Karen Kain, stepped down last month after 16 years in the role.

Muir will lead the 70-year-old institution beginning Jan. 1, 2022

Hope Muir has been appointed artistic director of the National Ballet of Canada and will begin the role on Jan. 1, 2022. (Todd Rosenberg)

Hope Muir is the new artistic director of the National Ballet of Canada.

The Toronto-born ballet dancer, teacher and director will succeed Karen Kain, who held the position for 16 years before stepping down last month.

"I'm really excited to continue the tradition that I'm inheriting," Muir told CBC News. "And also just to explore many different ways that we can continue to collaborate and push the boundaries of dance to new storytelling."

In a statement, the National Ballet announced that Muir will begin her appointment on Jan. 1, 2022, as the next chapter in a 33-year career.

After 20 years on stage, Muir retired from performing, and her expertise in both classical and contemporary technique made her a highly regarded guest teacher and rehearsal director, the statement said. 

She was named assistant artistic director of the Scottish Ballet in 2015. In 2017, she became the artistic director of the Charlotte Ballet in North Carolina, a position she has held since. 

In her executive role with the Charlotte Ballet, Muir commissioned 12 world premieres and presented six U.S. premieres. She has had a number of stints with the National Ballet of Canada in the last 15 years, including a role as a guest teacher in 2011.

Muir is seen in rehearsal with the dancers of the Charlotte Ballet in North Carolina, where she has been the artistic director since 2017. (Jeff Cravotta)

Canadian roots

Muir was born in Toronto and spent her childhood there. It was there that she began dance training and took in her first performance by a large ballet company: the National Ballet of Canada's staging of The Nutcracker. 

She said she started very young at a local school and "loved it," citing a natural affinity for dance.

"[I] never really had a moment after that first introduction where I didn't have dance in my life in some way."

As a student of ballet, tap and jazz, Muir performed in competitions in and around Toronto, Ontario and the U.S. 

Now, as she is set to return home and see her family for the first time in over a year, Muir said she is thrilled and overwhelmed by the prospect of leading the National Ballet.

"The National Ballet and the legacy that Karen has built there is just extraordinary," Muir said of her predecessor.

"The high level of classical ballet partnered with this really innovative, exciting contemporary repertoire is ... it's just extraordinary."

The company's 2021-2022 season includes performances of classical ballets, like Swan Lake and The Nutcracker, as well as contemporary shows A Streetcar Named Desire and Angels' Atlas from Canadian choreographer Crystal Pite.

Muir, centre, leads studio rehearsals for the Charlotte Ballet in 2017. (Jeff Cravotta)

Mental health, diversity are priorities

Recent conversations about mental and physical health among dancers have led to increased awareness about the challenges of the ballet discipline, Muir said.

She expressed a commitment to supporting the well-being of the dancers.

"In the early part of my career that was definitely something that could have been improved upon," she said. "[It's] something that I think I would have appreciated at certain moments when I was younger."

In 2020, the company announced its commitment to diversity and equity after one of the dancers posted a video criticizing the National Ballet for not commenting on the anti-racism protests that occurred after George Floyd's murder in the U.S.

In a statement posted on its website, the organization acknowledged "historic inequities of our artform" and said it sought "continued partnership with our community and peer institutions around the world to remove real and perceived barriers to accessibility and inclusion that exist, while preserving the integrity of the artform and maintaining the highest artistic standards."

During her time as artistic director, Muir says she would like to continue creating a supportive environment that promotes equity, tour internationally with the company in support of Canadian creativity and nurture young talents along the way. 

"I hope to mentor some new, exciting voices choreographically, either from within the company or Canada at large," she said.

"I think also to just look for some new and interesting stories that we can adapt into the world of ballet that resonate and connect more closely to our audiences and community."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jenna Benchetrit is a senior writer for CBC News entertainment and education. She can be reached at jenna.benchetrit@cbc.ca.

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