Juliet Burnett and Christopher Hill are set to wow Jakarta audiences at the Ciputra Artpreneur Theater on August 22. (Photo courtesy of Australian Ballet)

Ballerina Leads Leap Forward for Dance in Indonesia Visit

AUGUST 19, 2015

Jakarta. Former Australian Ballet senior artist Juliet Burnett put her heart and soul into her turn as Giselle, in Maina Gielgud’s take on the 1841 romantic ballet in Sydney, Australia earlier this year.

A range of emotions, tensions and feelings are belied by the fluid grace that she displayed on stage, as befitting a role revered by ballet dancers around the world as a culmination of classical ballet — both in its training and technique.

“Giselle is an interesting character, as she underwent human experiences ranging from love, loss and betrayal. Her story and the themes that they cover is as relevant now as they were [when it was first staged in 1841],” says Burnett of her signature role as Giselle, which won her critical acclaim along with other performances like Odette in “Swan Lake” choreographed by Graeme Murphy and Juliet in his 2011 ballet “Romeo and Juliet.”

“Its sharp criticism of social classes also resonate today, while the twists, turns and multiple layers make for an interesting story instead of a stuffy old tale.”

A sort of homecoming

Burnett is set to take her brand of ballet to Jakarta, where she will reprise her role as Giselle alongside her compatriot Christopher Hill of the Western Australia Ballet Company at the stage of the Ciputra Artpreneur Theater on August 22. The two are among the 18 dancers from Australia, the Czech Republic and South Korea who will be featured in the First Indonesian Ballet Gala, which is organized by the Ballet.id Yayasan Bina Ballet Indonesia (The Indonesian Ballet Development Foundation), the South Korean embassy in Jakarta and the Korean Cultural Center, the Australian Embassy and the Embassy of the Czech Republic.

Held to mark the 70th anniversary celebrations of Indonesia’s Independence Day on August 17th, the foreign dancers will share the stage with 30 of their Indonesian counterparts from the Ballet Sumber Cipta, Marlupi Dance Academy and Namarina Youth Dance schools. The former will perform iconic numbers like “Swan Lake,” “Don Quixote” and the Korean folktale “Prince Hodong,” while the local dancers will stage “TOK,” “The Journey” and “7 Veils.”

For Burnett, her upcoming performance in the Indonesian Ballet Gala marks the first time that she will hit the stage in Indonesia.

“I have long wanted to perform in Indonesia. However, the momentum to do so was simply not there in previous years, and neither was an organization to make it happen” says the Sydney native, who trained under eminent ballet dancers Valerie Jenkins, Christine Keith and the late Valrene Tweedie. “I’m grateful for Ballet.id for facilitating the ballet performance, and I hope that my turn at the stage will be the first of many ballet galas and stimulate interest in the genre.”

While the Indonesian Ballet Gala will mark the first time that Burnett will perform in Indonesia, she is by no means unfamiliar with the country.

“I come by Indonesia as often as I can, as my mother’s side of the family is from there. Aside from looking forward to the food and my relatives there, I also went to Solo to study classic Javanese dances” says Burnett, who is the niece of renowned late Indonesian poet and playwright W.S. Rendra.

“I felt familiar with the moves, as they have many similarities with ballet and affirmed my choice to dance and my purpose in it. It also reminds me how both genres, like other forms of dance, are universal.”

“I also learned a lot from Rendra during our family gatherings, namely about Javanese cultural precepts that he in turn learned from his mother. Among the things that he taught me is how to harness the energy that runs through one’s body before a dance through meditation, yoga and other spiritual techniques, as well as the notion of balance, particularly between the professional and personal lives; this is particularly useful during my tenure with the Australian Ballet, where I can do up to 200 shows a year” says Burnett, who retired from the Australian Ballet Company after joining its ranks in 2003.

“He also taught me that an artist should be a representative of the people that can communicate their plight through dance and other arts. The public and politicians tend to overlook darker realities like poverty, hardship and climate change, so artists are good catalysts of change by influencing people’s hearts and minds.”

For Burnett, the stage is more than just a forum for artistic self expression.

“When one is onstage we can be ourselves without inhibition as well as discover ourselves, since the stage has no limits. We can also do things there that we otherwise won’t do in daily life such as the famed ‘mad scene’ in Giselle at the end of Act One, where she tore her hair out as she loses her mind” says the Australian Ballet School alumnus.

“We can also bare our souls, selves and emotions, as we show our audiences the raw truth of the human psyche.”

Sharing the wonders of ballet with underprivileged children

During her visit to Indonesia, Burnett and other dancers will share their ballet expertise with a group of children between the ages of seven and 16 who live on the shores of Jakarta’s Ciliwung river as well as orphanages as part of Ballet.id’s “Ballet Goes to Ciliwung” outreach initiative.

The program, which will see them grant two scholarships to a student who shows talent in ballet and a teacher skilled in teaching the art, fulfils one of her long term goals.

“I have long wanted to do intensive outreach work with underprivileged children in Australia and Indonesia, such as those done by [the Australian Ballet] in small Australian towns, but I couldn’t devote enough time for it then because of my busy schedule. But I did see firsthand the positive impact that ballet and other arts can have for young people, when I performed for children at a cancer ward in Adelaide,” she says, pointing out that she will teach them the old fashioned way, namely what ballet is and how it can connect with their lives.

“I saw how ballet can uplift them and make them forget their conditions and surroundings, as it uplifts them into a fantasy world. It also makes them happy and helped in their healing process, showing once again how dance is a universal language that can transform lives for the better.”

“The program will be done on a voluntary basis, as its made to stimulate their interest in ballet by showing how its done, so there’s no compulsion or dictating in it,” she says.

“I noted that many of the children are naturally talented and autodidactic, as they learned the dance steps from YouTube, among other sources. As such, I will show them some dance videos and teach them the steps” adds Burnett, who also noted that her experience as a judge for talent shows will come in handy.

“I want to show the Indonesian public that there’s more to ballet than meets the eye, as they aren’t known to be discerning with the dance. Sharing ballet with the public is also a challenge because of ballet’s image as an elitist craft, due to its standing as a classic form of art; but just as perceptions of it changed in Australia, I’m certain that the same can be done in Indonesia.”

The Peak

Indonesian Ballet Gala

August 22

Ciputra Artpreneur Theater at 1 pm and 7 pm

Tickets Rp 400,000 ($28) to Rp 1 million, sold on the www.kiostix.com website

Website: www.ballet.id/gala