A Dance King, Secure in His Domain
Author: GIA KOURLAS
Date: February 12, 2010
Publisher: The New York Times
NOT to take anything away from the other kings, as the dancers in the touring show “Kings of the Dance” are known, but the Brazilian Marcelo Gomes is the complete package of dancer, actor and partner. Ballet is an art, after all, but waiting to see what Mr. Gomes, a principal dancer at American Ballet Theater, will do next in a performance almost borders on sport.
Marcelo Gomes as Prince Desire in American Ballet Theater’s 2007 production of “Sleeping Beauty” at the Met. Photo by Andrea Mohin/The New York Times
“It’s very hard to have those three things aligned in a role, and it doesn’t happen to me every time I go out there, believe me,” he said recently over coffee at a cafe in Chelsea, as a crooked smile flashed across his chiseled features. “I am not, like, Superman. I have things that I have to work on every day. The minute that doesn’t happen anymore, I’ll probably retire.”
Beginning Friday, Mr. Gomes, 30, will appear at City Center as one of the stars of the three-act program celebrating the art of male dancing. In “Kings of the Dance,” presented by Ardani Artists, Mr. Gomes will perform in several works, including “Small Steps,” a solo created for him by Adam Hougland; a pas de deux from Roland Petit’s 1974 ballet “Les Intermittences du Coeur”; and “Remanso,” a 1997 dance by Nacho Duato.
For “Small Steps,” a seven-minute dance set to music by Michael Nyman, Mr. Gomes was able to spend a week in the studio with Mr. Hougland. “We wanted to create something that was very personal,” Mr. Gomes said. “There was no sense that we needed to finish at a certain point in the day. We ate whenever we wanted to eat, and we started whenever we wanted to start.”
That, obviously, is the opposite of how a new production evolves at a company like Ballet Theater, where he has been a principal dancer since 2002. In the solo Mr. Gomes moves slowly, as jolts of energy pulsate through his body like tremors.
“They could be about the small, little things that I have conquered in my life,” he explained. “There are times where he has me look over the edge” — Mr. Gomes, stretching his arms to either side, leaned over an imaginary cliff and peered down — “which is not exactly to the audience, but almost overlooking a lifetime and effort of work. The life of a dancer is very tough, and those tilts are the challenges.”
Mr. Gomes began dancing in Brazil, where, at 5, he performed jazz dance routines to Madonna hits. Ballet training began a couple of years later; by the time he was 13, he left his family in Rio de Janeiro to attend the Harid Conservatory in Boca Raton, Fla., and, at 16, spent a year at the Paris Opera Ballet School. In 1997 Mr. Gomes joined Ballet Theater as a member of the corps.
His biggest setback with the company occurred when he injured his knee in 2007. Clinton Luckett, then a new ballet master, recalled attending a staff meeting in which the subject was Mr. Gomes’s availability for the company’s arduous season at the Metropolitan Opera House. “Marcelo is so completely necessary,” Mr. Luckett said. “He can handle any woman in the company, and he’s so quick — he can change partners, he can change ballets, he can change roles. I thought there’s no way we can do the Met season without Marcelo.”
Mr. Luckett approached Mr. Gomes with a plan that they work privately to see if he could help with rehabilitation. Even though Mr. Gomes eventually opted for surgery to repair a tear on his tendon, he made it through the season without a single cancellation. Ever since, Mr. Luckett has served as his main coach.
“He knows me so well,” Mr. Gomes said. “This is the main thing that he’s taught me: to be so in control of the situation and the body that I don’t have to think. It’s still me dancing out there, but I feel like I have to bow my head to him.”
As Mr. Luckett knows, an injury doesn’t always allow a dancer to reach another artistic dimension. “Some dancers get to that moment, and it freaks them out,” he said. “They built their career, and an injury sets them into panic mode. Marcelo used it as a moment to take the engine out of the car, spread the parts over the garage floor, clean them, put them back together — and hope that the engine’s running better. It takes a lot of courage for a dancer to do that, especially after having built up a career.”
For Mr. Gomes the period was a low point, but “things come and go, just like flu,” he said cheerfully. “You’re the sickest person in bed, and a week later, when you feel good, you’re drinking.”
When Ballet Theater presents its spring season at the Metropolitan Opera House, Mr. Gomes will perform lead parts in nearly a dozen ballets; it is Ballet Theater that he regards as home. Unlike guest dancers that appear with the company, Mr. Gomes worked his way up.
“It really makes a difference,” he said. “I know how hard these guys work in the corps. I can relate to them.”
Mr. Gomes hesitated for a moment. “Because of that, when I come out at the top of the stairs in ‘Swan Lake,’ I can see the whole picture,” he continued. “I was a peasant. I was an aristocrat. I was Benno. And I was somebody standing in the wings. I went through all of the steps. For me the whole picture matters. It builds a company from the ground up.”
“I love seeing our wonderful guest artists,” he continued, “but my heart beats differently when I watch dancers that come from the company. I’m all for homegrown.”