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National Ballet's artistic director Karen Kain is seen in Toronto, in an Oct. 4, 2018, file photo.

Chris Young/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The National Ballet of Canada has been forced to cancel the remainder of its season – and a highly-anticipated production that was part of an extended farewell to artistic director Karen Kain – as concerns about the spread of the coronavirus have impacted arts organizations and forced the closure of many public spaces.

The company made its announcement on Thursday, saying it was following the guidance of government and public health officials.

The season’s intended highlight was slated for June 5, with the debut of a new production of Swan Lake directed by Ms. Kain, who is planning to retire in January, 2021, after 15 years as artistic director – and more than 50 years after she first joined the company as a young dancer in 1969.

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"These last few weeks have been very difficult for everyone and it is heartbreaking to have to cancel work that so much effort has gone into,” Ms. Kain wrote in a statement on Thursday.

The Swan Lake performances have been rescheduled for June 11 to 27, 2021. A gala celebrating Ms. Kain’s 50th anniversary with the company, which was scheduled for June 9, will now occur in November. The company has also postponed a number of other performances, including an appearance at the Royal Opera House in London and the world premiere of a new ballet by Wayne McGregor, based on Margaret Atwood’s novel MaddAddam, which was originally scheduled for November. The North American premiere of Victoria, set for June 2021, has been pushed back by a year to make way for the rescheduled Swan Lake.

"These are challenging times for all of us, but with the support of our patrons, staff and artists, the National Ballet will weather this storm and return to the stage stronger than ever, when it is safe to do so,” executive director Barry Hughson said in the statement.

As with any full-length ballet, Ms. Kain’s Swan Lake is a major investment for the company, and a symbolic one as well. Ms. Kain has said her production is intended as an homage to the one created for the National Ballet by Erik Bruhn – whom Ms. Kain has called “one of the greatest dancers of the [20th] century” and who would go on to be the company’s artistic director in the 1980s. His Swan Lake premiered in 1967. Just a few years later, at the age of 19, Ms. Kain was called on by then-artistic director Celia Franca to dance the role of Odette/Odile in that same production after principal dancer Veronica Tennant injured her back. It was Ms. Kain’s first leading role. At the time, she was still a member of the corps de ballet. The Swan Queen, one of the most demanding roles in a ballerina’s repertoire, became one of Ms. Kain’s favourites.

It was also a role that marked other important milestones in her career. She danced an excerpt from the ballet at her graduation performance from the National Ballet School in May 1969. In 1972, it was the first of many roles she danced with the legendary Rudolf Nureyev, “the dancer and coach who had influenced me more deeply than anyone else,” as Ms. Kain wrote in her 1994 autobiography. A 1994 gala performance celebrating Ms. Kain’s 25 years with the National Ballet was her last time dancing the role.

During her time as artistic director, Ms. Kain has commissioned, co-commissioned and co-produced 24 new works and has helped to attract prestigious choreographers such as Wayne McGregor, Crystal Pite, ​Alexei Ratmansky and Christopher Wheeldon to work with the company. But her last time staging a ballet for the company was The Sleeping Beauty in 2006 – the first production the National Ballet performed at the newly opened Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto.

Ms. Kain’s new production of Swan Lake was first announced in February 2019.

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“I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge the outpouring of support the company has received during this time," Ms. Kain said in a statement on Thursday, “and to thank our patrons and subscribers, many of whom are choosing to donate or exchange their tickets rather than ask for a refund; our donor community for their unwavering commitment; our staff, who have been working tirelessly during this crisis; and our wonderful dancers and musicians, who are staying strong and helping us connect to our audiences online.”

Find out what’s new on Canadian stages from Globe theatre critic J. Kelly Nestruck in the weekly Nestruck on Theatre newsletter. Sign up today.

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