NBS’ Global Alumni Symposium

Ken McCarter Award for Distinguished NBS Alumni

Announcing the Recipients of the 2022 Ken McCarter Award!

Canada’s National Ballet School (NBS) is thrilled to announce the recipients of the 2022 Ken McCarter Award for Distinguished NBS Alumni.


The Ken McCarter Award is presented annually to NBS Alumni who have demonstrated excellence in a chosen field of endeavour, have shown courage in following a particular path, serve as a source of inspiration for current NBS students, and have moved the world forward in a meaningful way. Nominations for this award are submitted by fellow NBS Alumni to recognize their peers for their commitment and contribution to the betterment of their communities through professional activities.


This year, award-winning choreographer Aszure Barton and celebrated photographer Johan Persson are being honoured for their stellar contributions to the arts across the globe.

“This year’s recipients of our cherished award demonstrate the reach and lasting relevance of an NBS education. Through their varied and outstanding accomplishments, they send an inspiring message to current NBS students—and alumni everywhere—that training in ballet offers a breadth of opportunity that can lead one to heights in a wide variety of careers.”
- Mavis Staines, Artistic Director and CEO

Aszure Barton (class of 1993)

“My education at NBS taught me about resilience and the power of community,” says Barton. As a favourite memory from her time at NBS, Barton shares, “What comes to mind immediately is an image of my friends and I living our best lives in flamenco class with Jannie Berggren. The classes took place in the big studio with the massive doors opened up wide on to Maitland Street. The rhythms and the entire vibe felt empowering and so freeing!”


Aszure Barton is an award-winning choreographer who, for over 25 years, has created work that explores themes of human connection and physical form in surprising, touching, irreverent, and joyful ways. Her work is formed by the deep bonds she makes with dancers and a laser-like attention to detail that reveals the inherent wisdom of the body.

Born in Edmonton, Alberta, Aszure started tap dancing as a young child and moved to Toronto at 14 to attend Canada’s National Ballet School (NBS). Together with her classmates, she helped kickstart the Stephen Godfrey choreographic workshop, which is still ongoing today. 

After graduating she apprenticed with the National Ballet of Canada and then traveled throughout Europe where she was exposed to various choreographic languages. She then lived in Montreal before moving to New York City, working supplemental jobs like waitressing, producing her own work, and freelancing with other independent choreographers before founding her own company, Aszure Barton & Artists. Her company made its official premiere at the Montreal Fringe Festival followed by an inaugural season at NY’s Joyce Soho.

Soon after she became the first artist-in-residence at the Baryshnikov Arts Center in Manhattan. The next few years would find Aszure touring the globe with her own company and with Hell’s Kitchen Dance. It was around this time she choreographed the Broadway production of The Threepenny Opera starring Cyndi Lauper and Alan Cumming.

She has created works for many notable companies to date including Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, American Ballet Theatre, Nederlands Dans Theater, Martha Graham Dance Company, Teatro alla Scala, The National Ballet of Canada, among many others. She was proclaimed official Ambassador of Contemporary Choreography in Alberta, she is a Bessie Award Honoree, and she has received distinctions including the prestigious Arts & Letters Award, joining the likes of Margaret Atwood, Oscar Peterson, and Karen Kain. As an educator, Aszure is regularly invited to collaborate with art institutions around the globe.

Photo credit: George Lange, 2022; Graeme Mitchel; Daile Carrazana 

Johan Persson (class of 1989)

“What wasn’t as obvious during my time at NBS was the effect my schooling would have on my second career. This career transition happened abruptly for me when a knee injury and the subsequent surgeries meant the certain end to my hopes of continuing to dance. There are obvious skills that are transferable from an education in dance to the role of photographer, including an eye for line, shape, timing and movement. But others which are useful in whatever you pursue: persistence, discipline, hard work and professionalism. There was a realisation when I re-trained that these attributes were the most valuable life skills I learned in my schooling at NBS.”


Born in Kristianstad Sweden, Johan Persson began his dance training at the Royal Swedish Ballet School before attending Canada’s National Ballet School in 1983 where he trained until 1990. It was at NBS that he was first introduced to photography in academic courses offered at the School. Following his graduation, Johan went on to a professional dance career, first at The National Ballet of Canada where he was awarded the Erik Bruhn Prize in 1995 and became a principal dancer the following year. He then moved to London, England, in 2001 to join The Royal Ballet as a principal dancer.

Throughout his time as a dancer, Johan maintained his passion for photography by capturing images of his colleagues on and off stage, so when an injury prevented his continued pursuit of a dance career he naturally turned to his love of photography as both a professional and artistic way forward. After pitching a photography book highlighting the daily life of Royal Ballet dancers, the resulting book, The Royal Ballet 161 Images, provided a glimpse behind the doors of The Royal Opera House and marked the first of several photography books Johan would create. Beginning in 2003, he re-trained in photography at the London College of Communication, further developing the skills necessary for the role, many of which were already second nature as a result of his background in dance. As a photographer, Johan specializes in portraiture, advertising and production photography for film and live theatre. 

Since becoming a photographer, Johan has photographed several of the ballet world’s most prominent stars including Carlos Acosta, Marianela Núñez and Zenaida Yanowsky. He has also photographed actors ranging from Dame Judi Dench to Daniel Kaluuya and Keira Knightley to the recent ABBA Voyage show. Apart from his promotional and production photography, Johan has exhibited at Westminster, The Riverside Gallery (Richmond), the Mikimoto (Japan), as well as in solo exhibitions at The National Theatre, The Royal Opera House (Covent Garden), The Donmar Warehouse and Sheffield Theatres. His books include Pas de Deux: The Royal Ballet in Pictures, Garsington Opera: A Celebration, and A Decade at the Donmar: 2002-2012.

Johan is a member of The Association of Photographers and works out of his own studio based in Hackney, London.

Photo Credit: Ben Delfont

About the Ken Mccarter Award

In 2017, a new award was created to honour distinguished NBS alumni, to be presented annually at the Professional Ballet Academic Grade 12 graduation ceremony.

The Ken McCarter Award is presented annually to NBS alumni who have demonstrated excellence in a chosen field of endeavour, have shown courage in following a particular path, serve as a source of inspiration for current NBS students, and have moved the world forward in a meaningful way. Nominations for this award are submitted by fellow NBS alumni to recognize their peers for their commitment and contribution to the betterment of their communities through professional activities.

The award is named for W. Kenneth McCarter, an NBS board director for 8 years. During that time, he held the positions of Vice-Chair and Chair of Nominating and Board Governance and also served on the Finance & Audit and Human Resources Committees. He was also the board representative at the 2016 Global Alumni Symposium. Sadly, Ken  passed away in April, 2017 - this award has been created to honour his memory and his commitment to NBS.

In what turned out to be his final year, Ken was the guiding force behind an important initiative that will serve the school into the future: the establishment of the position of chancellor, which was announced at the June, 2017 graduation.

The board decided to establish the Ken McCarter Award for Distinguished NBS Alumni to honour Ken and connect his name to his abiding interest in the alumni of the School. 

Ken attended the 2016 Global Alumni Symposium, after which he gave a compelling address to the Board stating that it, “should be proud of the extremely accomplished alumni of the School … Many have accomplished amazing things and they all have potential to play a role as terrific ambassadors for the School.”

With this in mind, the award in Ken’s name is designed to acknowledge the important contributions to public service made by NBS alumni through a broad range of professional activities.

Past Recipents