Friday, 29 August 2014

real ballet, real dance

Endless photos of dancers in leg mounts/splits/backbends have saturated ballet-related hashtags on Instagram. I'm not just tired of it, I'm concerned. The power and influence of social media is undeniable, especially amongst the younger generation. Plaguing social media with misrepresentation of the art form is not just doing a disservice - it skews and even cheapens the public's perception of what ballet and dance really is, and engenders a warped set of values for young dance students. Ballet is ballet, just as contemporary dance is an entity unto itself (albeit in countless forms), for example, and both these art forms are a world away from gymnastics and other sports. But if you were to peruse one of these hashtags, you would see that there is confusion. 

There are of course some Instagram accounts that I follow with beautiful performance and studio shots (try @nikolairusser and @balletandphotos for a start) but I wish these types of accounts weren't so scarce. There seems to be zillions of accounts which are focussed on more 'likes' and 'follows'. This is part of a broader concern of mine that in an effort to gain a sense of worth - and increasingly so in this fast-moving age of the internet and social media, through the dangerous trap of seeking out more likes - art is being quantified. Quantity, not quality. Quantifying art is of course impossible (the idea of scoring a performance out of ten baffles and enrages me - more about that in an upcoming blog): art is subjective and every one responds differently to its endless manifestations. That is the greatest thing about art - it is a true reflection of the diversity of humankind. 

I love that so many people are enthusiastic about ballet and dance; wonderful. But I would love to communicate to them what it's really about - not immediate results, more 'likes', winning competitions, boniest bodies, higher legs, bendy backs. Let's turn that enthusiasm into something healthier, and more fulfilling in inspiration.

So, I have an idea to address the imbalance, with photos of 'real' ballet. Photos highlighting the art, the emotion, the depth, the drama, the beauty, the humanness, the rawness, the joy ... DANCING, not posing. I plan on making this a regular feature on my Instagram, and I will also feature the photo here. Follow the hashtags #realballet and #realdance. 

I will kick things off with a photo of my inspiration to become a dancer: Italian ballerina Alessandra Ferri. This is her as Juliet. I had this photo on my bedroom wall as a young student - my imagination and dreams captivated by the truth of her joy and effervescence. Until I saw her dance, when she guested with The Australian Ballet in Onegin, I had no idea that ballet could have such dramatic and expressive possibility. That is when the tune within me changed.

Alessandra Ferri as Juliet, photographer unknown

I had a video of an American Ballet Theatre gala in which she and Julio Bocca danced the famous balcony pas de deux from MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet. It was a very, very well-worn tape. Some ballet experts would criticise her classical technique in this photo - that her supporting leg is turned in, that her attitude leg is also turned in. I don't give a damn. To me, she is perfect. 

Please use the hashtags #realballet and #realdance on Instagram, or you can send me your favourite photos of real ballet or real dance either via Instagram message or even Twitter (both @julietburnett) or by leaving a link to the image in the contact form at left. Let's show the world the richness and integrity of the art of dancing! 

Oh, and if you follow any Instagram accounts that fit the bill, please share your suggestions in the comments below.

Thanking you all in advance!

Sunday, 24 August 2014


ballerina Nora Kaye by Gjon Mili, 1947

I’ve always hated numbers.
Time is a wicked friend.
Not enough…too much.
Tempus fugit. Hurry, hurry! Get it while you can! Limited time only!

Time dictates life. Its miserly measure tempers our freedom. Our frustrations, dilemmas and destructors are borne of a lack of time, ill-timing, or poor time management. How can we find happiness when we are unfairly allocated such scant time in which to achieve success and find fulfilment?

I am constantly asked “what is the lifespan of a dancer?” Lifespan. As though life stops when I will stop dancing (one less eloquent person enquired “what is your expiry date?”). It’s true that in the context of our lives, the lifespan of a dancer is short, and that knowledge perennially taunts us in the periphery of our consciousness. Dancers are prisoners of time not just in the broad sense. We can work our guts out towards a role and yet there never seems to be enough time to rehearse - “we only have enough rehearsal time to put three casts on” – the opportunity passes. Maybe next time?... We want all this rehearsal time, and we also want to use some of our spare time in between for body conditioning such as Pilates, but that imposes on our rest and recovery time, so we risk exhaustion and muscle fatigue. In the rare instances where we feel as if we have too much time to prepare for performance, we easily become agitated by the lack of fresh stimulation or seemingly soulless repetition. We dance within the framework of the music. We must keep with the beat. Our movement prescribed by the time signature. Plié on 3, jeté on 4, land on 5. Keep in time. Stay with the music, or you’re screwed, we are told. Finding freedom of expression within parameters. Daring to push or even nudge boundaries. Can we challenge time?

Patience and impatience are virtues that reference how we deal with time. Finding the balance between the grace of patience and the yearning of impatience is one of life’s ongoing and hardest lessons. Patience: being satisfied, perhaps complete; impatience: dissatisfied and incomplete. Oh how well acquainted and unreconciled we all are with the latter. The human condition is shaped by the pace of the perpetual movement of life in which it exists, so in this age of fast-tracking, technology and immediate results, finding the stillness of patience is immensely difficult. When we are taught to constantly strive for our goals, that hard work will be rewarded, that our success is in our own hands, how can we reconcile within ourselves the notion of just letting go, and waiting in hope for opportunity to impose itself on you?! The unbearable starving in between. Tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock…

Patience has something up its sleeve, though: the reward of delayed gratification. Teasing, tormenting, tediously delayed gratification. The great pay-off for all that waiting, working, waiting. The knowing reminder that the cliché is right (succinct clichés, not wasting time with roundabout ruminations) about the journey being more important than the destination. Because those are the minutes and hours and days and years in which you grow and learn purely for yourself, not in addition to moulding yourself towards an endpoint. Your experience of the essence of living and happiness boils down to how you choose to use that time.

Time can be beautiful. Its fleetingness incites us to hold it close to our heart (beating: measured in beats per minute). The dreaded news that your time with a loved one has been estimated as a matter of days before they depart this world hits like a sickening punch in the gut. But an inexplicable part of our human resilience instinctively kicks in, steering you from a wallowing, dispirited mess towards courage and an open heart. You give all of yourself in the hope of creating beautiful memories of those final precious moments. When unfortunate circumstances arise, we have an increased capacity to optimise our time, and, once the pain has passed and the light is in view, inspire us to take on life with renewed vigour. Are these bittersweet life lessons designed to force us to confront our vulnerability so that we may strive more urgently for solace/gratification? Is the lesson that there actually may be no gratification, no destination, or that those things are as humble as simply living, when the one we love has to die?

Beethoven's Sonata No. 4 (Opus 7) by Jorinde Voigt, 2012

The cold, hard mathematics of time is the means to an end. Art needs the stringency of parameters to channel rampant expression into a clearly articulated art work. All artists need to practice their technique - taking their time - to optimally communicate their ideas. The precision of technique is the means to the end. Dancers need the structure of music to truly express the intention of the dance work, using the rhythm and accents of the music as stimuli for punctuation in the sentence of the movement phrase. Dance with the music, dance in time. Plié on 3, jeté on 4, land on 5. The endless possibilities of expression with that phrase transcends words.

Time: the great organiser of the dizzying cacophony of life.

Life’s too short to fully contemplate this stuff.

Tempus fugit. Carpe diem.

Tick tock tick tock…

Monday, 18 August 2014


I’ve created this blog website to share. I spend a lot of time in the studio at work thinking, then over-thinking. I am perennially curious about the nature of things; I struggle to just do, just let things be as they are (my parents will attest to baby Juliet's habit of touching and handling everything. Inordinate amounts of time were exhausted in tidying up the fascinating debris on my path of destruction. I refer to it as early research).

Why write? Yes, to share my thoughts so they may provide insight, in the hope of eradicating misconceptions about my profession and lifestyle. But also so I can focus my fervently oscillating mind, then, through the cleansing ritual of laying my thoughts bare on the page, be released from them so I can be free to dance uninhibited.

Artists are sharers, by proxy. Onstage in performance we are divulgers of ideas, projectors of beauty, provocateurs of questions. The art form of dance is mute, yet dancers have a voice - speaking manifests in the language of the body. What we can say onstage, however, is framed by the dancer's role to fulfil tasks: the choreographer’s intention, telling the story, interpreting the music. On occasion we have opportunity to lose ourselves in a ballet with which we resonate completely, that affords us that cherished moment of abandon and oneness in dance. As a restless artist, I have a need to explore beyond the framework. Using words, my second medium of expression, I want to share with you my journey into understanding dance, art, life, and their confluence in this turning (ever-changing, wondrous, beautiful, maddening, decaying...) world.

Dear Thoughts, 

Please don’t cloud or trap me. Inform me, define me, but in an 
harmonious dance with awareness and spontaneity: the flux of living.

To be conscious is not to be in time ...

Allow me to temporarily relinquish the temporal.

Help me search for the still points.

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.

Consciously, yieldingly, sincerely,

Poetry excerpts from T.S. Eliot’s Burnt Norton | photo by Thuy Vy | styling by Nadia Barbaro | make-up/hair by Olivia Still