Honouring Canadian ballet legends

April 29, 2021
3 minute read

Karen Kain and the late Fernand Nault have each left a unique mark on the ballet world. Their influential careers spanned decades, during which they captivated audiences and inspired new generations of dancers. Their extraordinary achievements have earned them countless awards.

Canada Post is honoured to celebrate these ballet legends with two new commemorative stamps.

Karen Kain

She is one of Canada’s most gifted dancers, ever.

After training at Canada’s National Ballet School in Toronto, Kain was accepted into The National Ballet of Canada’s Corps de Ballet in 1969. Just two years later, she was promoted to Principal Dancer after a spectacular debut as the Swan Queen in Swan Lake.

Getting noticed

Her potential for greatness became evident when in 1973 she won the women’s silver medal, and the prize for best pas de deux with Frank Augustyn at the Moscow International Ballet competition. Over the years, she and Augustyn would form a beloved dance partnership in Canada.

Throughout her dance career, she premiered new and important works and received rave reviews for performances in many of ballet’s greatest roles, including Sleeping Beauty, Giselle and Romeo and Juliet.

International acclaim

Kain’s star power exploded beyond borders. She was sought by famous choreographers worldwide, and performed with prestigious international companies including the Paris Opera Ballet, the Bolshoi Ballet and the Vienna State Opera Ballet. She also developed a creative partnership with Soviet-born Rudolf Nureyev; the pair frequently appeared together in guest engagements around the world.

But Canada always remained her home. After some 30 years of dancing, she embarked on a cross-country farewell tour. Though her career in the dance world was far from over.

A new beginning

Kain took on a new role as the National Ballet’s Artist-in-Residence and Artistic Associate, before her promotion to Artistic Director in 2005. In 2008, a public school in Toronto was named Karen Kain School for the Arts in her honour.

Today, Kain remains a prominent leader in the arts in Canada, and she has received multiple awards at home and abroad in honour of her extraordinary achievements.

In 2011, the International Society for the Performing Arts honoured her with the Distinguished Artist Award, and in 2019 she became the first Canadian to receive the prestigious Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Award, which is the highest honour given by the Royal Academy of Dance.

Karen Kain is also a Companion of the Order of Canada, an Officier of France’s Ordre des Arts et des Lettres and a recipient of the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement.

Fernand Nault

Born in Montréal in 1920, Fernand Nault was a prominent Canadian dancer and choreographer, whose unforgettable ballets helped raise les Grands Ballets Canadiens (now Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal) to international status.

From Montreal to New York to Montreal

Fernand Nault first studied dance with Maurice Morenoff and then with renowned masters in New York, London and Paris. From 1944 to 1965, he was a dancer, then ballet master at the American Ballet Theatre. From 1960 to 1964, he was also director of the company’s school in New York. In 1965, Nault returned to his Montreal home when he joined les Grands Ballets Canadiens as resident choreographer and co-artistic director.

While at les Grands Ballets he unleashed the genius of his choreography as he introduced a variety of works, ranging from classical to neoclassical and contemporary. He became known for his artistic innovation and daring choreography that made lasting impressions with both audiences and dancers.

Rave reviews

Carmina Burana, which premiered in 1966, was one of his biggest hits. Audiences loved it, and critics hailed his bold choreography. He also reimagined The Nutcracker. Having infused the classic with vibrant colour and whimsy, it too became an instant success and an annual production that the company still performs today. Nault also introduced Tommy, the first rock opera ballet ever. With music from The Who, it wooed a new generation of dance fans and smashed the company’s box office record.

For more than 25 years, Nault added an incredibly diverse range of works to the company’s rich repertoire. He also lent his talents to many North American dance companies, as well as to the École supérieure de ballet du Québec.

Paying tribute

Fernand Nault accumulated a wealth of awards over his illustrious career, including the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement (2000) and Quebec’s Prix Denise-Pelletier (1984) for contributions to the performing arts. He is an Officer of the Order of Canada (1978) and a Chevalier of the Ordre national du Québec (1990).

In 1990, he was named Choreographer Emeritus for Les Grands Ballets, a position he held until his passing on December 26, 2006. In 2003, he founded the Fonds chorégraphique Fernand Nault, a trust with mission to ensure the continuity of his choreographic heritage, making him the first Canadian choreographer to ensure his artistic succession during his lifetime.

Stamps honour two legends of Canadian ballet

Available now