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Artistic Director, National Ballet of Canada
"When I grow up I am going to be a ballerina. I could go out every night and dance. I will be in Giselle. It will be so much fun being a ballerina."
Karen Kain — Age 8
From school exercise, "A Story about Me"
Karen Kain was born in Hamilton, Ontario in 1951, the oldest of 4 children. Her mother enrolled her in ballet classes when she was six, believing ballet would improve her daughter's poise and posture and give her good discipline. Kain decided at the age of eight, after seeing a production of Giselle with Celia Franca, that she wanted to become a ballerina. Even though Kain was a naturally talented ballerina, it was an uphill battle at the beginning of her training. Her adult height of 5'7 was much taller than the average ballerina at that time and she began a lifelong struggle to sustain the expected low body weight. Although the life of a ballerina is filled with exhaustion, pain, injuries, dieting and continuous touring and practicing schedules, Kain admits that she would never have had it any other way.
In 1962, at the age of 11, Kain started her seven years of training at the National Ballet School in Toronto, run by Betty Oliphant. Oliphant had an immense impact on Kain and became one of the many important influences upon her dancing. The tuition and other school fees were expensive for Kain's middle-class parents, but Oliphant assured them that Karen was very talented and, with sincere dedication and extensive training, had the potential for a successful ballet career. Even though Kain found it difficult to be away from her home and family, she recognized the importance of this training to her academic and dance career. At Oliphant's suggestion, Karen joined the National Ballet of Canada in 1969, under founder and then-director Celia Franca. As a new member of the National Ballet of Canada, Kain had to appear in every play, performing up to eight times a week, as part of the corps de ballet.
In 1971 Karen Kain first danced with Frank Augustyn (another graduate of the National Ballet School) in Intermezzo, by New York choreographer Eliot Feld. This ballet was the start of a wonderful relationship. Kain and Augustyn danced together in such memorable ballets such as Coppélia, Le Corsaire, Romeo and Juliet, Giselle, La Fille mal gardée, The Nutcracker and Swan Lake. In 1973 they won the first prize for best pas de deux at the Moscow International Ballet Competition. Kain and Augustyn were dubbed the "Gold-Dust Twins" by critic John Turner due to their magnificent performance at the Moscow competition.
Kain's career has also included being partnered by Rudolf Nureyev, the Russian ballet superstar who defected to Paris in 1961 and started working with the National Ballet of Canada in 1972. She toured internationally with him from 1973 to 1984, in such ballets as The Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake. Nureyev had a large impact on Kain's international career by obtaining invitations for her in many different companies in Vienna, London and Australia.
During this time Karen Kain had become a household name in Canada. Aside from constantly touring Canada and abroad, she made a television version of the famous ballet Giselle in 1976 and La Fille mal gardée in 1979 with Augustyn. She has also been the topic of three documentaries in 1979, 1989 and 1994, all produced by Pat Ferns. In 1980 a Toronto lawyer commissioned Andy Warhol to paint her portrait.
Karen Kain's national and international reputation has garnered her many prestigious awards, including the Order of Canada in 1976 — the second dancer from the National Ballet of Canada to have received such an honour. She has received honorary degrees from the University of Toronto, McMaster University, Trent University and York University. The National Ballet of Canada, to celebrate her 20th anniversary with the company, organized a gala performance for Karen Kain in 1988. She invited her favorite dancers to perform works with her in a program she chose herself.
Karen Kain is known in the world of ballet as being extremely dedicated to the art — a workaholic and perfectionist. During her career she frequently overbooked herself because she always wanted to satisfy everyone. She once simultaneously toured Canada with the Ballet de Marseille from east to west and from west to east with the National Ballet of Canada. Kain is motivated by her desire to carry the message of the ballet to all the people of her country, from all backgrounds and all walks of life.
After 26 years as a principal dancer, Kain toured Canada one last time in 1997 with the National Ballet of Canada. She is now the Artistic Associate at the National Ballet of Canada and the "President for Life" of the Dancer Transition Centre. This centre "has a mandate to provide dancers who have become members during their careers with the financial, legal, personal and career-counseling assistance they need when the moment comes to withdraw from the stage." (Kain, p. 269) Karen Kain will always be one of the most exciting classical ballerinas Canada has ever produced, and she will live in the hearts of Canadians for generations to come.
On September 16, 2004, Karen Kain was appointed as chair of the Canada Council for the Arts. This position marks another achievement in her already extremely accomplished career. It also suits Kain perfectly, thanks to her years of dedication to promoting the Canadian artistic scene.
Less than a year later, on July 1, 2005, Karen Kain became artistic director of the National Ballet of Canada where she had spent her career as a dancer. Having already served seven years as the company's artistic associate, she looks forward to the challenges of this new position.
The increasing demands of her position at the National Ballet of Canada led to her stepping down as Chair of the Canada Council, effective March 31, 2008.
Crabb, Michael. — "Karen & me". — Dance connection. — September/October 1994. — P. 14-17
Darling, Christopher. — Kain & Augustyn : a photographic study. — Toronto : Studio Vista, 1977. — 160 p.
Kain, Karen. — Karen Kain : movement never lies : an autobiography. — Toronto : McLelland & Stewart Inc., 1994. — 280 p.
McCabe, Nora. — "Karen Kain : trembling on the brink". — Dance in Canada. — Fall 1976. — P. 9-11
The National Ballet of Canada. — Karen Kain, artistic associate [online]. — [Cited August 8, 2003]. — Access : www.national.ballet.ca/InsideTheCompany/showBio.php?id=karen_kain
Shipton, Rosemary. — Great Canadian visual and performing artists. — Calgary : Weigl Educational Publishers Limited, 2000. — P. 18-24
Street, David. — Karen Kain : lady of dance. — Toronto : McGraw-Hill Ryerson Limited, 1978. — 128 p.