Juliet Burnett taught ballet dancing to underprivileged kids in Ciliwung. (Photo courtesy of Juliet Burnett)

Juliet Burnett Brings Ballet to the Kampung

AUGUST 28, 2018

Jakarta. Juliet Burnett made her name with the Australian Ballet, where she danced for 12 years before moving on to Ballet Vlaanderen in Belgium.

The 34-year-old grew up in Sydney with her mother, Widyas Burnett, who enrolled Juliet at the local ballet school – just five minutes down the road from where she used to live – when she was only five.

"I didn't know I would enjoy ballet so much, or that I would make a career out of it, but I have always known art runs through my blood and that’s what keeps me going," Burnett said.

Although she calls Sydney home, Burnett said Indonesia has always had a special place in her heart.

She grew up in a multicultural family with an Australian father and an Indonesian mother, and art runs in the family through Burnett's connection with her uncle, one of Indonesia's all-time great poets, W.S. Rendra.

"Art is the voice of the people," her uncle once said. Burnett has been carrying that value everywhere she goes and she's now working to realize her lifelong dream – bringing ballet to remote, often poor, areas across Indonesia.

Working with Ballet.id and the Australian Embassy, Juliet has been teaching free ballet classes and workshops for underprivileged kids since last year.

She has so far taught and performed in the Indonesian Ballet Gala, Ballet Goes to Ciliwung, Ballet Goes to Banten and Ballet Goes to Kampung.

"It has always been my dream to give back what I know to people who otherwise would not have access to learning the ballet," Burnett said.

During an interview with the Jakarta Globe on Aug. 12, Burnett said interest in dance, including ballet, has been steadily increasing in Indonesia over the past decade.

However, ballet so far remains a privilege of the rich living in big cities in Indonesia.

"It’s a huge shame that these people with the talents and the abilities to actually make a career in dance can’t even afford the training," Burnett said.

"Indonesia has strong art traditions. Let’s not waste them," she said.

Juliet Burnett teaches ballet dancing to underprivileged kids in Ciliwung. (Photo courtesy of Juliet Burnett)

Following the success of her first workshop in a kampung on the banks of Ciliwung River last year, Burnett returned to Indonesia in August for two community workshop programs called "Ballet Goes to Banten" and "Ballet Goes to Kampung."

Working with Kolektif Literasi, Ballet.id and the South Tangerang administration, Burnett introduced the basics of ballet dancing to underprivileged kids in Kampung Guji in Tanjung Duren, West Jakarta.

More workshops were held at Taman Perdamaian in BSD City in Banten and at the Wild Mild Dance Studio in West Jakarta.

The workshops also involved local professional dancers and ballet students who shared their experiences in ballet dancing.

The events are not just a one-off. Last year, two promising young students from Ballet Goes to Ciliwung were given scholarships to further their ballet training.

"Art can build bridges and is for everyone," Burnett said.

"I believe art has great relevance in society. It's a unifying experience that defies borders such as language, culture, socioeconomic status, politics and religion," she said.

Reconnecting With Her Roots

Burnett said she's always had a keen interest in learning Javanese traditional dancing since she was young.

Her grandmother from her mother’s side, Raden Ayu Imadillah Chatarina, was a respected court dancer at Kasunanan Surakarta in Solo, one of the two major ancient courts in Central Java.

Although she never met her grandmother, Burnett said her uncle Rendra passed down the knowledge of Javanese traditional dance to her.

"Rendra played a huge role in my life. He was also very much influenced by my grandmother. She taught him Javanese dance and also Javanese art philosophy and meditation," Burnett said.

At the age of 14, Burnett choreographed a repertoire that combined ballet with Javanese dance and gamelan music for a class performance, but it was not until 2012 that she finally learned Javanese classical dance from Rusini, a dance maestro from Solo.

For Burnett, learning Javanese classical dance has allowed her to reconnect with her Indonesian roots.

It has also made her realize that Javanese dance bears many resemblances to classical ballet.

She said both dances have their origins in the royal court and share similar aesthetic principles.

"The movements [in Javanese dance and ballet] are characterized by grace, elegance and simplicity. They are also the departure points for variations in dynamics and storytelling," Burnett said.

When Burnett first started learning Javanese dance, she was surprised to find herself doing it quite naturally.

"I sensed my body settling into the movements as though I was becoming one with them. I felt an instant and incredible connection to my Indonesian heritage," she said.

After learning Javanese dance, Burnett said it made even more sense to her why she became a dancer.

"It was in my blood. This cultural epiphany was the missing link in my dancing life, and it transformed me," she said.

"I used to question myself why I felt the need to learn Javanese dance, but now I've realized it gives me this new purpose to discover my true identity as a dancer," Burnett said.