Sunday Times

Cather­ine Bur­nett: A life most cher­ished

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CATHER­INE Bur­nett was one of South Africa’s prima bal­let dancers.

Af­ter she gave up danc­ing in 1991, she went to live and dance in San Fran­cisco. In 2002 she went to live in Plet­ten­berg Bay with her two daugh­ters, Vic­to­ria and Emma, now 15 and 13, who she called “my girls” and to whom she gave the same ded­i­ca­tion and love she had for her pro­fes­sion.

Bur­nett, 47, looked like a frag­ile wa­ter bird, long limbed, pick­ing her way care­fully through life, with per­fect man­ners and groom­ing. She in­sisted on hav­ing her nails man­i­cured when she had only a few days to live.

In Plet­ten­berg Bay, she was sim­ply known as Ka­te­rina Bal­le­rina. Be­cause of her mod­esty, few peo­ple had any idea that she had been one of South Africa’s prima bal­leri­nas.

She worked in a shop and some­times, pass­ing by at twi­light, one might catch her in the grace­ful arc of an arabesque.

Her mod­esty was not false; it was part of her per­son­al­ity to al­ways en­hance the other per­son, never her­self.

She was our Mar­got Fonteyn and her Dy­ing Swan will never be for­got­ten. Max­ine Denys re­cently wrote in Bal­let Mag­a­zine: “The Dy­ing Swan should re­ally now be shelved un­til an­other artiste can rise to equal the sin­gu­lar 1991 in­ter­pre­ta­tion by Cather­ine Bur­nett.”

Well-known bal­let critic Adri­enne Sichel, now re­tired, wrote: “She was an as­ton­ish­ing artist the world out­side of South Africa never saw be­cause of the cul­tural boy­cott. From the mo­ment I saw her on the State The­atre opera stage in the early 1980s, I knew that she had that X fac­tor.”

Al­though she reached great­ness as one of the great­est dancers this coun­try has pro­duced, she never lost her hu­mil­ity or that rare qual­ity of re­fined artistry, which el­e­vated mere in­ter­pre­ta­tion into in­di­vid­ual ex­pres­sion.

She was best known for her roles as Odette-Odile in the bal­let Swan Lake, and Juliet in Romeo and Juliet.

Bur­nett avoided the well­known bitch­i­ness of the bal­let world. Odette Mill­ner Parfitt, who danced with her at PACT, said: “Apart from be­ing a phe­nom­e­nal dancer, I have yet to meet any­one with so much grace and kind­ness.”

Diane de Beer, arts ed­i­tor of Pre­to­ria News, added: “You know, when she danced the whole of Pre­to­ria came out to see her. When she came onto the stage, she brought an­other el­e­ment to it. I can still see those arms.

She was one of those girls who could just put her leg up be­side her ear.”

De­spite her great tal­ent, Bur­nett will be re­mem­bered mainly in Plet­ten­berg Bay for the spirit of gen­eros­ity and lux­ury she brought to life. Al­though she never had much money, she made ev­ery day a cel­e­bra­tion.

Her daugh­ter, Vic­to­ria, wrote of her: “Our mom be­lieved that if you owned a cape and a tiara, you could save the world. She did the splits for all my friends at school. She dressed up in leop­ard print for chemo ses­sions and then danced naked in the sit­ting room, belt­ing out I Will Sur­vive.

“Our early morn­ing drives to school were al­ways an ad­ven­ture and had us scream­ing with laugh­ter as we cho­rused ‘be­cause we can, we can’. She even swam across the bay af­ter nine months of hor­ri­ble chemo. She made shop­ping at Mr Price feel like vis­its to Paris.”

Bal­leri­nas never die — they live on in the cher­ished mem­o­ries of the the­atre go­ers who they have en­chanted over the years.

As Jonathan Hur­witz, who was se­nior pub­li­cist for PACT bal­let dur­ing her time, said: “She was the real thing but her great­est role was re­ally as a hu­man be­ing. She had a great gift for friend­ship and com­pas­sion, and even in the depth of her ill­ness she was al­ways self­less.”

Bur­nett was buried yes­ter­day. — Lin Samp­son

 ??  ?? SIN­GU­LAR BAL­LE­RINA AND REAL MEN­SCH: Cather­ine Bur­nett was South Africa’s Mar­got Fonteyn
SIN­GU­LAR BAL­LE­RINA AND REAL MEN­SCH: Cather­ine Bur­nett was South Africa’s Mar­got Fonteyn

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