National Ballet of Canada

The National Ballet of Canada is a Canadian ballet company that was founded in 1951 in Toronto, Ontario, with Celia Franca as the first artistic director. A company of 70 dancers with its own orchestra, the National Ballet has been led since 2005 by artistic director Karen Kain, one of the greatest ballerinas of her generation. Renowned for its diverse repertoire, the company performs traditional full-length classics, embraces contemporary work and encourages the creation of new ballets as well as the development of Canadian choreographers.

National Ballet of Canada
General information
NameNational Ballet of Canada
Year founded1951
First artistic directorCelia Franca
Principal venueFour Seasons Centre
Toronto, Ontario
Senior staff
Executive DirectorBarry Hughson
Artistic staff
Artistic DirectorKaren Kain
Music DirectorDavid Briskin
Associated schoolsThe National Ballet School of Canada
  • Principal Dancer
  • Principal Character Artist
  • First Soloist
  • Second Soloist
  • Corps de Ballet
  • Apprentice

The company's repertoire includes works by Sir Frederick Ashton, George Balanchine, John Cranko, Rudolf Nureyev, John Neumeier, William Forsythe, James Kudelka, Wayne McGregor, Alexei Ratmansky, Crystal Pite, Christopher Wheeldon, Aszure Barton, Guillaume Côté and Robert Binet. The National Ballet tours in Canada, the United States and internationally, with appearances in London, Paris, Hamburg, Moscow, St. Petersburg, New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Creation of the National Ballet of Canada

In 1951, the two major ballet companies in Canada were the Royal Winnipeg Ballet headed by Gweneth Lloyd, and the Volkoff Canadian Ballet founded by Boris Volkoff, which was based in Toronto. With the aim of creating a more widely based Canadian ballet troupe, following the example set by the Sadler's Wells Royal Ballet, a group of Canadian ballet enthusiasts set out to create the National Ballet of Canada.[1] Both Lloyd and Volkoff were interested in being the first artistic director of the company, but the organizers agreed that the only way to ensure an unbiased selection of dancers for the new ballet company was to hire an outsider. They chose British dancer and choreographer Celia Franca, who had many connections within the dance community and had been to Canada only twice at that point, as artistic director.[2]

Franca at first showed little interest in heading this new company; she had refused similar invitations in Australia and South Africa and liked living in the United Kingdom. Nevertheless, when she came to Canada in 1951 to attend a festival, the founders again asked her to consider the position.[3] Franca accepted the job and became the first artistic director, while Volkoff was appointed as Resident Choreographer.[2] Conductor George Crum acted as Musical Director.

In August 1951, what was then The National Ballet Guild of Canada launched its first cross-country audition tour.[4] By the end of the month, the ballet had chosen 29 dancers for the troupe and was rehearsing for their first performance in the St. Lawrence Hall.[5]

For The National Ballet Guild of Canada's early performances, Franca chose classic ballets, as she believed this would allow the dancers to be properly judged by the international dance community.[1] The first performance was in the Eaton Auditorium on November 12, 1951.[4] The program included Les Sylphides and Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor.


The company toured Canada extensively, with Franca, Lois Smith and David Adams as its stars.[6] In 1964, the National Ballet adopted the 3200-seat O'Keefe Centre (now known as Meridian Hall) in Toronto as its home venue. The company moved in 2006 to new facilities at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts.

In 1976, Alexander Grant, former Principal Dancer with London's Royal Ballet and Artistic Director of Ballet for All, became the Artistic Director of the National Ballet. Under his leadership, the company added a number of works by Frederick Ashton to its repertoire. The National Ballet of Canada became the first Canadian company to perform at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London in 1979.

In 1989, Reid Anderson became the artistic director. He led the company though a difficult economic recession[1] by choreographing traditional ballet pieces while also commissioning Canadian and international choreographers to create contemporary pieces.[7] In 1995, he left the company citing a frustration of the continued funding cuts from the government,[1][8] and the directorship was taken up in 1996 by choreographer James Kudelka.[3]

In 2005, Karen Kain, former Principal Dancer, became Artistic Director of the company. In 2009, she introduced Innovation, a mixed programme featuring three world premieres by Canadian choreographers Crystal Pite, Sabrina Matthews and Peter Quanz.[6]

In 2011, the company premiered a new version of Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet by Alexei Ratmansky. The National Ballet of Canada remains Canada's largest and most influential dance company.

The National Ballet School of Canada

The National Ballet School was founded in 1959 by Celia Franca and Julia Bondy and was directed for many years by co-founder Betty Oliphant.[9] The primary goal of the school is to train dancers for the National Ballet of Canada and also for companies across Canada and around the world. Graduates of the School include Frank Augustyn, Neve Campbell, Anne Ditchburn, Rex Harrington, Karen Kain (current Artistic Director of the Company),[10] James Kudelka (former Artistic Director of the Company), Veronica Tennant, Martine Lamy, John Alleyne, Emmanuel Sandhu, and Mavis Staines (Artistic Director and Co-CEO of the School).

International recognition

Rudolf Nureyev danced with the company in 1965 and returned in 1972 to stage his version of The Sleeping Beauty. His work is credited to raising the standards of the company.[1] He was responsible for bringing the Company to Lincoln Center's Metropolitan Opera House in New York City where he showcased the company. The Ballet met with rave reviews and this was a pivotal point in receiving recognition internationally.[11] Karen Kain and Frank Augustyn, two members of NBC, received the prize for best pas de deux at the International Ballet Competition in Moscow in 1973.[12] The following year, in 1974, while on a tour in Canada, Mikhail Baryshnikov defected and requested political asylum in Toronto and joined the Royal Winnipeg Ballet.[13] His first televised performance after coming out of temporary seclusion in Canada was with the National Ballet of Canada in a version of La Sylphide.[14]


Principal Dancers

Principal Character Artists

Prominent National Ballet dancers


  1. Crabb, Michael; Cornell, Katherine (2015-03-04). "National Ballet of Canada". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Historica Canada. Retrieved 2015-05-23.
  2. James Neufeld (1996). Power to Rise: The Story of National Ballet of Canada. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: University of Toronto Press. ISBN 0-8020-4109-4.
  3. "National Ballet founder dies at 85". Globe and Mail, Sandra Martin, February 19, 2007
  4. Sandra Gwyn (1971). Women in the Arts in Canada. Information Canada. pp. 55–57.
  5. "Celia Franca". Telegraph. 2007-02-21. Retrieved 2007-07-20.
  6. "The National Ballet of Canada". Retrieved 2018-09-20.
  7. Crabb, Michael; Cornell, Katherine (2015-03-04). "Reid Bryce Anderson". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Historica Canada. Retrieved 2015-05-23.
  8. Citron, Paula (2013-10-10). "Keeping a legacy alive is a labour of love for Reid Anderson". The Globe and Mail. Philip Crawley. Retrieved 2015-05-20.
  9. Crabb, Michael. "The National Ballet School of Canada". Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2007-07-20.
  10. Doob, Penelope Reed; Crabb, Michael. "Kain, Karen". Retrieved 2007-07-20.
  11. "National Ballet's 'Sleeping Beauty' to awaken in new home". 2006-02-06. Retrieved 2007-07-20.
  12. Doob, Penelope Reed; Bowring, Amy. "Augustyn, Frank". Retrieved 2007-07-20.
  13. "Mikhail Baryshnikov archive". New York Public Library. Retrieved 2015-10-13.
  14. Natalia Makarova, A Dance Autobiography (Knopf 1979), p. 152.
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