Marcelo Gomes (left) in rehearsal with dancers Jessica Saund and Thomas Forster, preparing Gomes’s new ballet, Endlos, which receives its premiere on January 28 in New York, at Dance from the Heart, an event presented by Dancers Responding AIDS. (Photo by Charles Evans, Jr.)
A PRINCIPAL DANCER of American Ballet Theatre since 2002, Marcelo Gomes has become one of the company’s biggest stars—packing houses with ballet enthusiasts who come to see his energized and poetic (and sexy!) interpretation of roles both new and classic. And though the work schedule is extremely demanding for a ballet star of Gomes’s stature, he somehow finds the time to choreograph, too. In recent years Gomes has created Ami, a piece for two men, set to music of Chopin (premiered at the 2011 gala for Youth American Grand Prix); Tryptich, for three principal ABT women (commissioned by the company for Kevin McKenzie’s 20th anniversary); a dynamic solo entitled Paganini that the dancer performs around the world; and most recently a duet called Toccare, to original music by composer Ian Ng.
Next week Gomes premieres another new piece, Endlos, a pas de deux set to Arvo Pärt’s Mozart-Adagio. The title, which Gomes explains is German for “perpetual, ceaseless, unending… literally, endless,” could refer to life, love, and/or sorrow-- whatever the individual viewer takes from that meaning. The premiere is part of Dance from the Heart, a benefit event in New York presented by Dancers Responding to AIDS, a program of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS (details below). The program features an exciting line-up of dance companies and emerging choreographers, and includes performances by Nora Chipaumire, Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, and the Paul Taylor Dance Company.
Many of us who have seen the dances Gomes has created have noted the spirit and sense of energy that imbues them, similar to the qualities that make his work as a performer so much more than the sum of all his prodigious technical skills. So we were eager to speak with Gomes about Endlos as well as about his participation in Dance from the Heart.
CLASSICAL TV: We’re very excited to see your new ballet, Endlos, at the upcoming Dance from the Heart performances. Can you tell us what inspired the piece—how it came about?
MARCELO GOMES: I have always been inspired by the music first. Whenever I hear a piece of music that’s really quite gorgeous, most of the time I can close my eyes and think of a pas de deux or a group of people dancing, or a solo, and then we get more into thinking about a specific kind of dancer, a specific kind of project. For me, most important is the music. That’s where I get all my inspiration from, for sure.
CTV: So you already knew the music—the Pärt Mozart-Adagio?
MG: Yes, I’ve been listening to it for a couple of months, maybe even a year, and I thought, “My God, this is so beautiful and so simple, and there is something so gentle about it. I would love to use it for a couple.” And I always thought about it as a pas de deux. I never thought about it any other way. So when DRA contacted me I thought it was a perfect opportunity to use that piece of music.
Dancer and choreographer Marcelo Gomes (photo by Jade Young)
CTV: Why was it so important and/or exciting for you to support DRA and take part in a program like Dance from the Heart?
MG: Well, I’ve been involved with DRA ever since I joined ABT. I don’t even know how it happened! [Laughs] It was major love at first sight, I think. Even before I knew Denise [Roberts Hurlin, DRA Founding Director] and Christopher [F. Davis, Producer], I was always doing shows for DRA—for instance, at the World Trade Center site and a number of other, very meaningful performances. And personally, I feel a major connection because I lost my uncle to AIDS-- my mom’s brother—a while back, when I lived in Brazil. So part of my involvement with DRA is very personal, very touching to me, and it makes me want to be in every place that they are! Even with my schedule, I will definitely try to make it to performances and do anything for them.
CTV: Speaking of your schedule, can you tell me how a principal dancer for a major company, at the height of his powers, finds the time to choreograph?
CTV: Really. And why choose this moment in your career to start choreographing? What are the special pleasures and challenges for you of creating a work, as distinct from performing in a work?
MG: That’s an interesting question. I’ve always kind of played around—I don't want to use the word “goofed” around—with music and movement, always improvising in the studio, for my friends or for myself, for whomever. And after a while I started taping myself doing some of these movements that were coming to my body without precalculation—without another person telling me what to do, just from my own moment. And when I watched it, some of it struck me as very interesting. I showed it to my manager Scott [Schlexer] and some other people—and you can understand what happened next. You try your first ballet.
It’s funny: in one way it’s the same as dancing. Once you’ve done all the work in rehearsals, months and months of preparation, then you do a Swan Lake and the audience is clapping, and you think, “Wow, this is my reward.” But in a totally different way, you give these steps to dancers and they do it, and that’s the reward, instead of the applause.
Gomes works with dancers Jessica Saund and Thomas Forster
CTV: But does it feel the same to you—applause for your performance and applause for a work you created? When you’re in Swan Lake, you’re interpreting a role and dancing steps that someone else made. When it’s your work and your expression onstage, is it different?
MG: Yeah, it’s much harder. [Laughs] Much harder to watch choreography that you have made. Because it’s out of your hands. There’s nothing you can do. In Swan Lake and Romeo and Juliet, I make my own decisions. I’m going to do what I have been trained to do, use my technique. But one you have given those steps [to other dancers], it’s their child to explore.
But going back to your question about pleasures and challenges, it’s very difficult to be a choreographer who catches the eye, because there are so many amazing choreographers out there. Everyone’s trying to have their own vocabulary, everyone’s trying to make something really special, and there are so many influences to compare—like [Jiri] Kylian and Nacho [Duato], and Martha Graham, and Merce [Cunningham]…. It’s difficult to say this is your own vocabulary when you’ve been inspired by all these other choreographers. There’s no other way… I wouldn’t be able to do anything without some kind of inspiration from choreographers I’ve worked with. But I do truly believer that there’s room for everyone. There’s room for play, and I’ve been lucky: people have enjoyed what I have to give. That’s all I can ask for.
Marcelo Gomes performs his solo Paganini, with violinist Charles Yang (photo by Matthew Murphy)
DANCE FROM THE HEART
Dance from the Heart is produced by and benefits Dancers Responding to AIDS, which was founded in 1991 by former Paul Taylor Dance Company members Denise Roberts Hurlin and Hernando Cortez. DRA relies on the extraordinary compassion and efforts of the performing arts community to fund a safety net of social services for those in need. As a program of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, DRA helps support more than 450 AIDS and family service organizations nationwide as well as the essential programs of The Actors Fund.
Says Hurlin, “Supporting Dance from the Heart provides medicine, a warm place to stay, counseling, and financial assistance for so many in need, not just within the performing arts community but at AIDS service organizations nationwide. So the work that happens at Dance from the Heart really resonates all across the county.”