As a young ballet dancer growing up in South Africa, Robyn Hendricks lived a life totally unlike what we experience here in Australia. "I lived in a home protected by high walls and security systems. I always knew where the panic buttons were in the house, was taught to lock doors behind me and was never allowed to walk alone down the street, get on certain public transport or just jump in a cab," she recalls. A dancer since age eight, it was Hendricks' talent and passion for dance that took her far from home - on the other side of the world working for The Australian Ballet.
"I naturally miss my family, who have supported and cheered me on from afar," admits Hendricks, who joined the Australian Ballet in 2005 and was promoted to soloist in 2011. "This is my fourth nomination for The Telstra Ballet Dancer Award (previously nominated 2007, 2009 and 2011), and I feel humbled and incredibly fortunate to have been nominated time and time again. I give it everything every day in the studio and out on stage and it's wonderful to be recognised for all my hard work, my small successes and my potential."
This year's Ballet Dancer Award marks a celebration between the artist and dancer, with Robyn's finalist video presented in collaboration with a specially created artwork and installation by Brisbane-based artist Zoe Porter. "My inspiration came from chatting to Robyn about her experience as a dancer and her connection to both Australia and South Africa," explains Porter. "She came across as a very strong and passionate person - and was actually injured on the day of our shoot, but managed to dance incredibly well and her strength and ability shone through."
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Porter's stunning artwork and dramatic use of string was designed to mimic the sometimes restrictive nature of ballet. "I focused on the movement, rhythm and strength of Robyn's dancing and the amazing physicality and emotive aspects she conveyed. I aimed to capture a sense of her movement through the use of line and shape, almost painting in time to her movements as she danced across the space."
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The fantastical web of string that features in the installation also makes Porter's work ever more striking. "It became almost web-like and captured the binding or wrapping of a ballet dancer's feet and the shoes they perform in," says Porter. "It also represented a sense of being both constricted and free at the same time - or even a reflection of the physical and psychological elements of being a ballet dancer."
While Hendricks is the first to agree that ballet is a tough gig, she wouldn't trade it for anything. "There is a lot that you give up to pursue this dream and it can be tedious, very frustrating at times and can make you feel restricted, taking you out of your comfort zone continuously," she says. "But with the hours we put into perfecting the movement and the hours of repetition, everything comes together and your body begins to understand the shapes and form. It becomes fluid, slowly more natural and the body no longer feels restricted and bound. This is the point I enjoy the most."
Robyn Hendricks will next be seen performing in 20:21 at the Arts Centre Melbourne, followed by an appearance in the world premiere of The Sleeping Beauty in September. Zoe Porter is working towards a solo exhibition in 2016 and will be working on a collaboration for the Drawing International Brisbane Symposium in October.
Don't forget to view and cast your vote for the Telstra Ballet Dancer Award finalists - visit telstra.com/ballet.