Dancer Ross Philip – affectionately known as Rosco – may not wear ballet shoes himself these days (at least not on his feet) but he spends a lot of time working with them, creating striking, sculptural artworks out of pointe shoes previously worn on stage by leading Australian ballerinas, hundreds of which have subsequently been donated to him.
Ross ‘Rosco’ Philip. All photographs supplied
That said, he was a pretty eye-catching figure at the opening night of the Sydney Dance Company’s recent 50th anniversary production Bonachela/Obarzanek, appearing in the audience wearing a headpiece created from ballet shoes – though he did remove it when he took to the stage as one of the chosen audience members for that night in Gideon Obarzanek’s piece Us 50.
Philip was a dancer with Sydney Dance Company for 15 years under former Artistic Director Graeme Murphy, during which time he regularly partnered Janet Vernon. Since 1997, he has been a member of Australian Dance Artists with whom he regularly performs. Over the years, he has also appeared as a guest artist with One Extra Dance Company and The Australian Ballet.
In 2018, he won the Wallarobba Outstanding Local Artist prize for a work called Sweet Success, featuring pointe shoes and acupuncture needles. He now has a free exhibition called Dancer’s Landscape running at Wallarobba Arts and Cultural Centre, November 19 – 24, as part of Hornsby’s Festival of the Arts 2019. Philip answered a few questions for Limelight about his work.
Sweet Success by Ross Philip
How long ago did you start making artworks using ballet shoes?
I started collecting pointe shoes in the late 1970s and making artwork from them in the early 1980s.
What is it about the ballet shoes that inspires you as a visual artist? The fact that you are a former dancer is clearly part of that, but what else?
The pointe shoe is a striking, sexy object attached to beauty and perfection. It is then discarded, becoming potential landfill. For me, it is a material like wood, stone, glass, paper, or metal. There is [an element of] decay, destruction and breakdown in the discarded shoe, which is juxtaposed with the ballerina striving for perfection and artistry. So, the work is like a rebirth of the pointe shoe, with that narrative surrounding the artwork. The resulting work inspires a deep appreciation for the beauty and wonder of the physical performer, as it encapsulates the imperfection of the once ‘perfect’ artform. There is a synergy of movement in many of the sculptures, as something that was once used as a tool for performance is now a form of display. Thus the artworks contain the history of the dancer’s narrative, and become part of a dancer’s pilgrimage.
Ice Point by Ross Philip
How many pieces are there in this exhibition?
37 pieces – though they are not all made from pointe shoes.
How many of the ballet shoes came from The Australian Ballet? And how did that relationship begin?
All of the pointe shoes are from The Australian Ballet, though there may be one or two from Sydney Dance Company perhaps. The relationship started with Dame Margaret Scott, fondly known as Maggie, who sadly died earlier this year. The original collection I was given came from the Australian Ballet School and most of them are very decayed. But I have had relationships with several ballerinas over the years who have given me shoes including David McAllister.
Tea for Two by Ross Philip
Can you tell us about Tea for Two, inspired by Laurel Martyn and Dame Margaret Scott, which is one of the works featured in the show?
Tea for Two is a homage, a tribute, to Laurel Martyn and Maggie Scott, both once ballerinas then great dance educators in Australia. Laurel was the Director of Ballet Victoria and the Ballet Victoria school, where I started out in my very early days of dance. The piece is whimsical and romantic. Two plates sit under a cloth at each end of the table (with a knife and fork under the cloth also). On each plate is a pair of pointe shoes that have been rolled in chocolate then dipped in coconut – making a “pavington” (Pavlova/Lamington).
Dancer’s Landscape is at the Wallarobba Arts and Cultural Centre, Hornsby, Sydney, November 19 – 24