Saturday, 15 August 2015


photo by Jo Duck

After years of dreaming, and months of real preparation, I am finally in Jakarta, Indonesia, for the inaugural Indonesian Ballet Gala, to be held at Ciputra Atrpreneur Theatre on August 22nd. In addition to the Gala performances of Maina Gielgud's Giselle Act 2 pas de deux, I will be teaching a community outreach workshop to underprivileged children in Ciliwung, on the outskirts of Jakarta, as well as a series of masterclasses to a group of ten promising young ballet students. The culmination of the masterclasses will be a short performance for the children of Ciliwung, which will not only be a means of introducing the art of ballet to them, but will also enhance the young ballet students' social awareness. On Friday August 14th, there was a press conference at the beautiful Tugu Kunstkring Paleis in Jakarta (which hosted Anna Pavlova on her tour of Indonesia in the 1920s), to promote the Gala and these initiatives. I was asked to make a speech to illustrate my connection with Indonesia, and I want to share it with you as an insight into the journey that has brought me to this hugely personal and significant moment.

I am very proud to be standing here right now. It has been a long held dream to dance in my second home, my mother’s country, Indonesia, and after visiting our family here for most years of my life, it feels surreal to finally be dancing here.

Perhaps even more than my wish to dance in Indonesia, I have wanted to share the art of classical ballet dancing with Indonesian people, in particular those who are marginalised in society. I have always believed that dance is a universal language – it has the unique ability to transcend cultural division, and to communicate the very essence of human nature. No one should be excluded from that experience. We can all connect through the dialogue of movement, no matter what form of dance it may be. In 2012, I travelled to Solo to study my grandmother’s art of Javanese classical dance. She was the Sultan of Jogjakarta’s star dancer in his court. When learning Tari Jawa, I sensed my body settling in to the movements as though they were already familiar to me. It incited this incredible connection to my Indonesian heritage, but it also made me realise just how similar the art of classical ballet is to Javanese dance. Both have their origins in the royal court, and as such there is a particular regal carriage of the body. There are other shared details, too, in the technique of both dance styles – the feet are rotated outwards, because this is the most attractive part of the foot to show to the Royal audience. The movements are characterised by grace, elegance and simplicity, and they are the departure point for variations in dynamics and storytelling. After having danced professionally for 10 years at the time of these Tari Jawa lessons, it finally made sense to me why I had become a ballet dancer – it was in my blood. With this cultural epiphany, I had found the missing link in my dancing, and it transformed me. It gave me renewed purpose – that is, the true realisation of the perennial discovery through dance of identity, and the confluence of that with the people and the world in which we live.

My uncle, W.S. Rendra, taught me so much. He took great pride in my being a ballet dancer, and was forever pulling me aside at family gatherings to have in-depth discussions about Javanese art principles, as his mother, my grandmother, had taught him. I only met my grandmother as an infant, and so Oom Willy, as we kids called him, took it upon himself to be my earthly connection with her. One of these teachings was the Tari Jawa principle of energies running through the body, which I then applied to be the very foundation of my dancing. Meditation before performance, use of the eyes, movement response to sensation … these are all principles I apply to my dancing. I only wish that Oom Willy had been around longer to teach me more, and of course to see me dance in Indonesia. Of all his great wisdom, there was one prevailing lesson that has become a life mantra: that the role of the artist is to be the voice for the people.

a conversation begins: teaching the art of ballet to ten promising young students in Jakarta. photo by Kyle Burnett

And it is with this in mind, that I have for a long time wanted to bring my experience of dance to the less fortunate in Indonesia, in particular the children of the poor communities. As a society we have a terrible habit of conditioning ourselves to bypass the darker realities of life. There is a vast difference between having a rose-tinted outlook and putting on blinkers. In the news every day, I am continually saddened by the wilful ignorance of political leaders about major issues, from climate change to poverty to human rights. The role of the public is to call them to account, and the artists, as the most effective communicators of the true human psyche, are integral in this communication and provocation, to galvanise change and action. I hope that in sharing the magic of classical ballet with the children of the marginalised community at Ciliwung, I can brighten their lives, and also draw attention to the problem of poverty and the massive socioeconomic divide in Indonesia, and indeed demonstrate a way in which we can action change at a grassroots level. During talks about the Gala, I presented the idea of a workshop with such a community to the team at, and I am so pleased that they too shared this vision of dance as a medium of connection and inspiration. This will not be a token visit, either – children that show a potential for dance will be selected to have their dance tuition aided by This is an incredible initiative that deserves the attention of the dance world at large, because this is what is at the very heart of the art form of dance – communication and connection. Touching hearts, and moving minds. In addition to this workshop in Ciliwung, I will take a series of master classes for a select group of ballet students in Jakarta, in order to pass on my knowledge and experience in the hugely demanding profession of dancing.

I want to thank for making these initiatives possible, and also for inviting me to dance at the inaugural Indonesian Ballet Gala – an honour I will truly cherish forever. This is the first time my vast family in Indonesia will have the opportunity to see me dance – well, apart from one time that Mum and Dad made my younger sister and I perform our dance competition solos for our family, on the tiled floor of a bedroom at Oom Willy’s house at Cipayung. I remember being so reluctant and kicking up a fuss because I didn’t have my ballet shoes, costume or music! Well, this time I will be on the grand Ciputra Theatre stage, dancing one of my favourite roles, Giselle, with Christopher Hill, dancer from the West Australian Ballet. And I will definitely have my shoes, costume AND music! Thank you also to the Australian Embassy in Indonesia for sponsoring Christopher’s and my visit, and for their support of this important cultural connection between our nations.

reconnecting: rehearsing Giselle with Christopher Hill at WAB. We haven't danced together for 11 years.

I would also like to publicly acknowledge Maina Gielgud for allowing Christopher and I to dance her staging of the Giselle Act 2 pas de deux. I danced the full ballet at the Sydney Opera House earlier this year, and it was to be my final performance after 12 and a half years at The Australian Ballet. Giselle will always be a ballet close to my heart and I am so grateful that I could close that chapter of my dancing in such a magical way, before I set out to discover new horizons as I continue my career overseas. I also want to thank Darren Spowart for coaching me so meticulously for this Gala performance, and Aurelien Scanella of West Australian Ballet for allowing me to rehearse at the beautiful studios in Perth with Christopher. Also thank you to Michael Williams at The Australian Ballet’s production department for organising our costumes.

Last but absolutely not least, I want to thank my husband, Nick, not only for organising the music recording but also for unending love and support, which also comes from my sister, Jasmine and her husband Andy, and of course my parents, who are here today. Nick and Jasmine will be here in time to see the Gala. They know that a dream is about to become a reality, and they wouldn’t miss it for the world! My parents are also responsible for keeping the connection with Indonesia strong in both Jasmine’s and my lives, through our annual family visits, Dad’s bedtime reading of the Mahabarata, and of course Mum’s delicious traditional masakan Indonesia. All our childhood friends wanted to come to our house for dinner, and they still do!

I hope you will join in my excitement about the possibilities that the sharing of the art form of classical ballet can do to further enrich the already bounteous culture of Indonesia, and the lives of Indonesian people.

For more about this journey, please read my blog piece about my heritage.