Devotion to the performing arts

Don Burnette [submitted]
Don Burnette [submitted]

Don Burnett devoted most of his life to the development of the performing arts in PEI, achieving success on both sides of the curtain.

In a career spanning five decades he distinguished himself as a dancer, choreographer, actor, producer and teacher, shaping the careers of countless young people seeking their own place in the spotlight.

His untimely death in December 2022 at the age of 68 brought the curtain down on a career that saw him perform on stages across Canada, the United States and England.

Don’s contribution to the performing arts went far beyond his body of work on the stage.

He was a co-founder of PEI’s Montage Dance Theatre and School of Dance and Drama and the Montage Young Company, a vehicle for senior students to help them develop their creative skills. He also co-founded the Nitapk Players, the Island’s first Indigenous performing arts company and Studio Theatre, a versatile community performance space which hosted hundreds of local, regional and national performing artists.

Don’s story began in Charlottetown where he was born in 1954, the son of George and Jean Burnett. In 1959 his family moved to Guelph, Ontario where Don honed his skills as a gymnast, placing at the top for all apparatus in Guelph and third overall for the province. Returning to PEI in 1968 he graduated from high school in 1972, serving as class valedictorian.

As important as sports was to Don, the performing arts soon took centre stage. He trained and gained experience in all aspects of theatre, from choreography, performance, direction and production to lighting, set design and construction, sound and stage management.

He studied ballet and modern dance in London, England, New York, Toronto, Winnipeg and other cities with some of the most prestigious dance companies in the world. Don’s passion for dance took him to the London Dance Centre at Covent Garden, the Martha Graham Studios and Joyce Trisler New Dance Group in New York, the Alberta Contemporary Dance Theatre, Toronto Dance Theatre and Winnipeg Contemporary Dance Theatre.

Here at home Don continued his studies with members of the Charlottetown Festival, the Island Dance Ensemble and Montage Dance Theatre, which he co-founded with two other dancers, Cathy Cahoon Burnett and Julia Lachow Sauve. As artistic director and principal choreographer, he choreographed numerous full length ballets like Witness, Wildflowers, Ghost Stories of the Island, Carmina Burana, Atlantic Suite, and Letting Go.

The business of the theatre is business so Don also devoted himself to learning all he could about that aspect of the theatre, from business management to marketing and fundraising.

Don’s interest in the performing arts and in the people he worked with and the dancers he taught and nurtured never waned and those who saw him on stage and worked with him will never forget his passion and wonderful sense of humour.

A celebration of his life and a private family interment will be held at a later date at the Hillcrest Cemetery family plot in Alberton, PEI.