Hamilton’s or at least, Ancaster’s Karen Kain is 70 today. Karen Alexandria Kain was born March 28, 1951 in Ancaster. Her father Charles Kain was an executive at Westinghouse in Hamilton. At eight years old Karen was taken to a ballet performance and was hooked.
Kain’s mother enrolled her daughter in ballet training because she believed it would improve her postural alignment, poise, and discipline. The family moved from Ancaster to Mississauga Kain was in grade 6 so she could begin training at the National Ballet School of Canada. Iin 1969, she was invited to join the National Ballet of Canada
Kain became a principal dancer in 1971, performing central roles in a wide array of ballets, eventually becoming well known in Canada, with the help of legendary dancer Rudolf Nureyev. She worked as a guest artist with Roland Petit’s Ballet National de Marseilles, the Bolshoi Ballet, the London Festival Ballet, the Paris Opera Ballet, the Hamburg Ballet, the Vienna State Opera Ballet, and the Eliot Feld Ballet. Kain is a subject of The Portraits of Andy Warhol, c. 1980.
During her career, she performed in many ballets from classical and modern repertoire including among others Swan Lake, the Sleeping Beauty paired with Rudolph Nureyev, Giselle, and many others. In the Nutcracker she was often paired with dancer Frank Augustyn. The talent of Kain and Augustyn came to the attention of the public and peers as soon as 1973 when they won prizes at the 1973 Moscow International Ballet Competition.
In 1977, Kain stopped dancing, but started again in 1981 with the National Ballet of Canada, where she performed for 15 more years. In 1996, Kain reunited with Frank Augustyn to appear in her husband Ross Petty’s panto production of Robin Hood at Toronto’s Elgin Theatre. Kain retired as a professional dancer in 1997.
In 1998, she returned to the National Ballet of Canada as part of the senior management team, in the role of artistic associate. She eventually succeeded James Kudelka as artistic director. As head of the National Ballet of Canada she is credited with restoring the company to financial success and artistic acclaim.
In 1976, she became an Officer of the Order of Canada and was made a Companion of the Order of Canada in 1991. She was made a member of the Order of Ontario in 1990. She holds honorary degrees from the University of Toronto, York University, McMaster University, Trent University, and the University of British Columbia. In 2012, Kain received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal and in 1998, she was inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame.
Throughout her career Kain worked in a voluntary capacity for a variety of charitable organizations and public institutions, among them the Kidney Foundation, the Toronto Humane Society, and Foster Parents Plan Canada. Notably she was founding president of the Dancer Transition Resource Centre, created to assist dancers in planning for and accomplishing a smooth transition from stage performance to a new career. Kain acted as chair of the board of the Canada Council for the Arts from 2004 to 2008. The Karen Kain School of the Arts, so named by Toronto elementary school children to honour her career-long contributions to the arts, opened in 2008.