By: Phill Scott
On Monday July 27, acclaimed choreographer Ross Coleman watched the 2009 Helpmann Awards, went to bed, and died in his sleep.
Ross was 60. He had been feeling unwell over the preceding weeks but medical tests were inconclusive.
His funeral in Melbourne last Friday saw the cream of Australian music theatre turn out to salute a man who had challenged them, possibly abused them, and almost certainly inspired them.
Ross was responsible for choreographing most of our locally produced musicals over the last few decades. Those shows include The Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Urinetown, Shout!, Cabaret, Dusty, Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. He even took on the task of making penises move in sync with Naked Boys Singing.
As a dancer, Ross’s best-remembered performance was in the original Australian cast of A Chorus Line.
He played the troubled gay boy Paul who gets his break working in a sleazy drag venue. It is a big emotional role, and Ross not only danced it stunningly but regularly moved his audience to tears.
In 1972 he began his choreographic career with Grease, then went on to work in television.
He set up a major professional dance studio in 1986, but financial difficulties forced its closure two years later.
An actor’s choreographer, he was as much concerned with character as with routines. Mitchell Butel, who worked with Ross in Urinetown, Dusty and The Republic of Myopia said, -œHe lived life big and his work always sprang from life too, not other people’s art -” always true to the text, the music, the character, the style.
He never over-prepared but liked to let inspiration guide him in the rehearsal room.
Ross had his demons, the greatest of which was self-doubt. He could be dismissive.
But most prefer to remember him when his wicked sense of humour was engaged, when the creative process excited him and he threw himself into it, reeking of Annick Goutal, bright-eyed and brilliant.