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A traditional touch: NBC's Kain returns to her classical roots.

Former National Ballet of Canada star Karen Kain is busier than ever. In her second year as NBC artistic director, she leads the company this month into Toronto's new opera house--the 2,000-seat Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. Her predecessor, James Kudelka, had already programmed the 2005-06 season before resigning unexpectedly in May last year. This new season is the first Kain can truly call her own.

While planning NBC's momentous move to a new venue, Kain has continued her work as volunteer board chair of the country's federal arts funding agency, The Canada Council for the Arts. In the past year she played a key role in successfully lobbying the Canadian government to increase arts funding.

Kain hopes some of that money comes NBC's way because the move, although exciting artistically, presents tough financial challenges. Since the new theater has more than 1,000 fewer seats than its former Hummingbird Centre home, NBC will dance 91 Toronto performances this season, up from 64 last year. The company has gradually been hiring more dancers in anticipation of covering that many shows. In the mid-1990s NBC cut back to 50 dancers; now there are 70. The operating budget has increased gradually, with a significant jump of $2 million to the current figure of $23 million for the coming season.

In 1997 Kain, then 46, retired as NBC's prima ballerina. She returned a year later as artist in residence. Two years later she became Kudelka's artistic associate--coaching dancers, restaging ballets, and using her celebrity to support fundraising. It proved to be a valuable apprenticeship, though Kain says she never assumed she'd become artistic director.

Once appointed, Kain soon showed that she was ready to lead. She contends NBC's classical standards had slipped. While lauding Kudelka's enthusiasm for new work, Kain said she wanted to reaffirm NBC's classical roots. "They were exciting years," she says of Kudelka's nine-year reign, "but perhaps the pendulum swung too far in one direction."

Kain gave a foretaste of her classical expectations in 2004 when she restaged NBC's neglected Rudolf Nureyev production of The Sleeping Beauty. Her revival was splendidly danced and universally hailed by the critics. Some dancers complained that Kain had been too demanding. "I guess they did not realize that I can be ferocious if I need to be," she recalls. "I was devastated by what had happened to Rudolf's production and was determined that it would be done well."

Kain has chosen this same heirloom production--refurbished at a cost of roughly $700,000--to launch NBC into the new opera house. But she has programmed the remainder of 2006-07 with careful attention to variety of choreography, music, visual style, and audience appeal. Says Kain, "It's a question of striking the right balance--the old and the new, the past and the future."

Kain is acquiring Eliot Feld's A Footstep of Air and NBC's first Christopher Wheeldon work, Polyphonia. From NBC's repertoire she is reviving MacMillan's Song of the Earth, Cranko's The Taming off the Shrew, Robbins' Opus 19/The Dreamer, Tetley's Voluntaries, Kudelka's The Four Seasons, and Balanchine's Symphony in C. Next June the company will also give the Canadian premiere of Balanchine's Don Quixote in Suzanne Farrell's 2005 revival, which NBC co-produced. Kudelka retains the title of NBC resident choreographer, but the only new work in the main season is by NBC alumnus Matjash Mrozewski. Kain also invited two emerging Canadian choreographers, Peter Quanz and Sabrina Matthews, to contribute to a recent company workshop with an eye to future commissions on the mainstage.

Kain says she wants her programming choices--together with the glamor and intimacy of the new opera house--to rekindle the kind of popular response she remembers from her early days as a ballerina.
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Title Annotation:DANCE MATTERS; Karen Kain from National Broadcasting Company Inc.
Author:Crabb, Michael
Publication:Dance Magazine
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Nov 1, 2006
Words:622
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