Ken McCarter 2021 laureates

Announcing the Recipients of the 2022 Ken McCarter Award for Distinguished NBS Alumni!

Canada’s National Ballet School (NBS) is thrilled to announce the recipients of the 2022 Ken McCarter Award for Distinguished NBS Alumni. 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. Through choreography and photography, Aszure and Johan both share enriching and meaningful stories of humanity in their own unique ways.” - Mavis Staines, Artistic Director and CEO

​Aszure Barton and Johan Persson

Ken McCarter winners 2022

Reflecting on their time at NBS

​Aszure Barton

“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!” 

Above photo by George Lange, 2022
Left Photo by Graeme Mitchel

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 by Daile Carrazana                              Photo by Bettina Stoess

Johan Persson

“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 by Ben Delfont

Past Recipents

Miriam Weinstein Adams, CM 

Miriam Weinstein Adams is a hugely influential figure in Canadian dance history, creating ground-breaking projects and partnerships that shape the way we view, practice, and document the art form. As co-founder of Dance Collection Danse—Canada’s national dance archives and publishing house—Adams has stewarded a legacy and history of dance in Canada for the benefit of many generations.
Reflecting on her time at NBS:
“My most poignant memories [at NBS] are of my fellow dancers with whom I could share the joys and frustrations of preparing for a career in dance (and we remain friends to this day!)” says Adams. “To the students attending NBS today: you have chosen an education that can lead to a variety of opportunities in dance and in other art forms—beyond performance, as well as in a multitude of other sectors—proven by the achievements of many NBS graduates over 60 years.”

Photo by Liliana Reyes, 2018

Jason Beechey 

Jason Beechey is a global leader in creating opportunities for young dancers-in-training and a powerful advocate for the broad social relevance of dance-training institutions. As Rector of the Palucca Hochschule für Tanz Dresden, Beechey offered singular leadership during COVID-19, developing some of the first protocols that positioned dance-training institutions around the world to successfully reopen after initial lockdowns.

Reflecting on his time at NBS:
“My time at NBS still continues, but if I had to pick a favourite memory from my student days, it would be all the time spent with classmates and teachers who have become my extended family. The bonds keep growing tighter and tighter as the years go by. It has been a challenging year to say the least, but it has been great to see how the dance world has grown even closer together and given new value and meaning to being part of a close-knit and supportive community. We are all human, we are all in this together, and the more we can learn from each other and share our experiences, the richer and stronger we all are.”  

Photo by Ida Zenna

Molnar-2.jpegEmily Molnar, CM: Artistic director, leader, dance artist and choreographer

Emily Molnar, CM is an internationally respected and critically acclaimed dance artist, choreographer, mentor, arts advocate and leader. She has served as Artistic Director for Ballet BC since 2009, and will soon transition to her new role as Artistic Director of the Nederlands Dans Theater.

After graduating from Canada’s National Ballet School in 1989, Molnar pursued a performance career as a member of the National Ballet of Canada, a soloist with the Ballett Frankfurt, and a principal dancer with Ballet BC. As a dance artist and choreographer, she has worked and toured extensively throughout Europe, Asia, Mexico, Canada and the U.S., where she created works for Ballet BC, Alberta Ballet, Ballet Mannheim, Ballet Augsburg, Cedar Lake Dance, ProArteDanza and Morphoses/The Wheeldon Company and New York City Ballet’s Choreographic Institute, among others. As a leader and advocate for dance, she has served as Artistic Director of Dance at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, and for six years sat on the Board of Directors at the BC Arts Council.

Her contributions have been recognized with awards and distinctions including being named the Globe and Mail’s 2013 Dance Artist of the Year; receiving the Vancouver Mayor’s Arts Award, BC Community Achievement Award and the YWCA Women of Distinction Award in Art, Culture & Design; being inducted into the BC Hall of Fame for contributions to the province’s entertainment industry and cultural landscape; and being appointed to the Order of Canada for her artistic leadership of Ballet BC and creative contribution to advancing dance in Canada.

Reflecting on her time at NBS:

“So much about what I do today leads back to my time at NBS,” says Molnar. “The School embraced the responsibility of training not only dancers, but thought leaders—thoughtful citizens of the world who are going to lead conversations and pursue a meaningful purpose in life. One of the most significant contemplations the School inspires is how dance articulates living and informs the way we see the world, how it helps us unpack complicated questions and feel things on another level. The inspiring trajectory of so many NBS alumni shows us just how many different ways that can be, whether or not we’re walking on a stage.”

Barrett.jpg​Dr. Kali Barrett—MD, MSc, FRCPC: Critical care physician, health services researcher & COVID-19 scientist 

Dr. Kali Barrett, MD, MSc, FRCPC, is a critical care physician at Toronto Western Hospital, at the University Health Network, and her research is focused on value-based delivery of critical care programs, and evidence-based policy development.

After attending Canada’s National Ballet School, Dr. Barrett pursued a Bachelor of Arts (Hons.) in Art History with a minor in Health Studies from Queen’s University. She went on to receive her medical degree from the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Western Ontario, and a Master’s of Science in Health Policy, Planning & Financing from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and the London School of Economics. For her dissertation and course work, Dr. Barrett received the Brian Abel Smith Award.

Dr. Barrett currently serves on the Ontario Health Technology Advisory Committee, which reviews the economic and clinical evidence for health technologies and makes funding recommendations to the Ontario Ministry of Health. Recently, she has also worked on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, working in the intensive care unit caring for COVID-19 patients. She is also a member of the COVID-19 Modelling Collaborative--a group of clinicians and scientists using health system modelling to identify potential pandemic-associated capacity restraints in healthcare resources. Their work has informed Ontario health-policy development during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Reflecting on her time at NBS:

“The education I received at NBS is fundamental to who I am today, both in its content and its quality,” shares Dr. Barrett. “I distinctly remember the teachers who sparked my love of science and art history, and who conveyed how important it was that we took our academic education seriously. The path I took after graduation didn’t include a career in dance, and it wasn’t a straight line to medicine, but it was full of opportunities that I attribute to my NBS education, and it has been enriched by many extraordinary life-long friendships that started at NBS. I was able to build on the many transferable skills that I gained at the School, and have ultimately landed in a career that is meaningful to me, and incredibly rewarding.”

Michael GreyeyesMichael Greyeyes – Dancer, choreographer, director, film and television actor
Michael Greyeyes is a Canadian actor, director, choreographer and educator. He is an Associate Professor in the Department of Theatre at York University and a member of the Muskeg Lake First Nation in Saskatchewan, Canada. Michael’s dance journey began when he was six when he joined his sister's ballet class. At the age of nine, he was accepted into Canada’s National Ballet School in Toronto, spending the next ten years honing the craft of ballet. He went on to apprentice with The National Ballet of Canada before joining the company as a full Corps de Ballet member in 1987. In 1990, he joined the company of choreographer Eliot Feld in New York City, dancing there until 1993.

As a director and choreographer, Greyeyes has created numerous dance and theatre works, including Triptych (Bravo), Almighty Voice and His Wife (Native Earth Performing Arts), A Soldier’s Tale and Bearing for Signal Theatre, a company he founded in 2010 that has performed at Harbourfront Centre, the National Arts Centre and, most recently, as part of Toronto’s Luminato Festival. Greyeyes also directed Pimooteewin (The Journey), the first opera written in the Cree language. As an actor, he has most recently starred in the film Woman Walks Ahead and in the television-hit series True Detective and Fear the Walking Dead.


Lisbet HansonDr. Lisbet Hanson, MD, FACOG – Obstetrics and Gynecology Specialist and community activist
Dr. Lisbet Hanson has been practicing obstetrics and gynecology in Virginia Beach for more than 30 years. Dr. Hanson graduated from Canada’s National Ballet School in 1973 and pursued a career in professional dance, taught ballet and graduated in 1982 from the University of Vermont/College of Medicine where she obtained her BA and her MD.
Dance continues to be a vital part of her life as she believes dance has the ability to touch people of all ages and all abilities, helping them develop cognitive, social and emotional skill sets while giving them an understanding and appreciation of the world around them and the importance of community. She is a founding member of the Board of Todd Rosenlieb Dance, a local professional dance company and started a liturgical dance ministry in her church. Dr. Hanson is the recipient of numerous awards, served as the first Medical Director of Women’s Health at Sentara Virginia Beach General Hospital, started their surgical robotics program and is the Chair of Outreach and also Ambassador to the Caribbean and North America for the International Society of Ultrasound In OBGYN. Dr. Hanson has led more than a dozen medical teams to Haiti and Africa over the past 17 years to teach and provide care.
David Nixon has had a long and distinguished career as a dancer, choreographer and artistic director. He is currently the Artistic Director of the Northern Ballet Theatre, a position he has held since 2001. Under his leadership, the company has flourished as a result of his deep commitment to his dancers; his efforts to expand the repertoire through his own critically acclaimed choreography and the commissioning of new work by other choreographers; and an extensive touring program that has successfully expanded the audience for dance in the United Kingdom. Through the expansion of Northern Ballet’s classical training programs, he has also worked tirelessly to ensure the formation of the next generation of dancers. He is the recipient of many awards for both his choreography and his artistic direction, and in 2010 was awarded an OBE for his services to dance.
James Kudelka is an internationally recognized choreographer who needs no introduction to anyone interested in dance in Canada. In selecting Kudelka, what the Committee took into consideration besides his distinguished and internationally recognized career as a choreographer of both ballet and contemporary dance, is the fact that he received his ballet training at NBS and began exploring his interests in choreography at the School at a very young age. In addition, the Committee noted that James had a successful career as a dancer before devoting himself to choreography, was the artistic director of the National Ballet of Canada for many years, and has recently applied his fertile creative imagination to theatre direction. Since 2015, he has been regularly guest teaching at NBS so his success not only reflects well on NBS but he has also been contributing directly to the future success of current NBS students.
Dr. Kalia is a graduate of NBS and had a brief career as a dancer. On retiring from dance, she pursued her interests in movement through serious academic study. She is currently a clinician scientist and assistant professor in the Division of Neurology, University of Toronto with appointments at the Krembil Research Institute, Tanz Centre for Research in Neurodegenerative Diseases, and Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology. She is also a movement disorders neurologist at the Toronto Western Hospital, University Health Network. Her clinical work and research program focus on improving the understanding and treatment of Parkinson’s disease and other movement disorders. In selecting Kalia, the Committee was particularly moved by the fact that her interests have come full circle as she now has a major interest in exploring the benefits of dance for people with Parkinson’s.

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_McCarter_2.jpgKen 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.

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