By Joe Alexander
When American Ballet Theatre opens its spring season at the Metropolitan Opera House on May 12th, Marcelo Gomes will once again capture the attention and imagination of sophisticated balletomanes from around the world. Born in Manaus, Brazil, and trained in Rio de Janeiro, Paris and Boca Raton, Gomes is a Principal Dancer with ABT. He has performed all over the globe with the world’s most prestigious ballet companies and prima ballerinas. “I started dancing at 5 years old to Madonna’s music. That is not a joke,” he laughs. “By the time I was 8 I knew that dancing was what I was going to do for the rest of my life.” In 1997 Gomes joined ABT as a member of the corps de ballet, and became a Principal in 2002. “I was 18 years old when I came into the company, and with that, we were off! Since then, I have worked with such wonderful ballerinas and have had the honor of dancing truly incredible roles.” Those roles have included Romeo in Romeo and Juliet and Prince Siegfried in Swan Lake as well as leading parts in the works of virtually every major choreographer from Mikhail Fokine and Marius Petipa to George Balanchine, Sir Kenneth MacMillan and Alexei Ratmansky.
At the age of 23, Marcelo was the first major male ballet dancer to come out as being gay on the cover of The Advocate. “It just seemed like the right thing to do at the right time,” Gomes confesses. “When I would do interviews, people always asked me how my love life was going, and I couldn’t really talk about it because I felt no one really wanted to hear if I had a partner or a boyfriend or not. But I also felt like I needed to put an end to this. I can’t be somebody that I’m not.” For the record Marcelo is currently single.
A progressive thinker, Gomes understands that the career of a dancer is relatively brief, so he began to transition into being a choreographer in 2009, while remaining at the peak of his life on the stage. “I’ve always been inspired by music and movement. There was one point five years ago when I was really itching to choreograph something, so I just did,” Marcelo remembers. “It was an absolutely amazing experience. I’ve had a handful of marvelous opportunities to continue choreographing, and I’ve seized each one. I’m so lucky with all the talented dancers I’ve had the privilege to work with from the Paris Opera Ballet, La Scala, and of course ABT.”
Marcelo has had a long relationship with Youth America Grand Prix, the preeminent ballet competition that awards scholarships to the world’s most talented young dancers. YAGP founder Larissa Saveliev presented him with one of his first choreographic commissions with the composer Karen LeFrak. “I heard Karen’s music and immediately imagined a male dancer being at the barre. I titled it “Tous les Jours,” which means ‘every day’,” he explains. “It’s about every dancer’s struggle, the daily sacrifice that we have to make, working though the aches and pains, both physical and emotional. We all have a love/hate relationship with doing class, but we have to do it every day.” New York City Ballet’s Chase Finlay performed “Tous les Jours” at last year’s YAGP gala at Lincoln Center.
“I love working with dancers on the other side of the studio, facing away from the mirrors, observing the dancers. It’s quite an experience when you tell someone to feel a kind of movement or do something a certain way and they ‘get it’,” he says. “I’m passing along my knowledge and it’s incredibly rewarding. Choreographing and directing are something that I would definitely love to do more of.” However his primary passion remains dance, at least for the time being. “I’m not thinking of that transition as quitting one thing and moving on to the other. I believe that time will just tell and my body will also tell me when it’s had enough. Of course in order to become a choreographer you need an abundance of time,” he remarks. “It’s a bit difficult if you’re attempting to do the two of these things together, being both a dancer and creating dance.”
In his free time, Gomes says he likes to relax by cooking. “If it doesn’t work out as a director or a choreographer, I could go to cooking school and become a chef,” he chuckles. “My best dish is my roast chicken. I’m a big foodie and I love indulging sometimes, but I do try to eat healthy most of the time. For the most part, I succeed,” he says with a wink.
Marcelo will be dancing with ABT throughout the season, which runs through July 5th. “It continues to be a wonderful ride for me, especially now with this additional aspect to my career,” he says. “I feel so privileged that I’ve been able to do what I love to do for as long as I have, and hope to continue for as long as I’m able.” Bravo!