“Anatomy of a Male Ballet Dancer”

The Athlete as Artist

Amos Lassen

Documentary team David Barba and James Pellerito are with Brazilian ballet star Marcelo Gomes as he crosses the career landmark of his 20th anniversary with American Ballet Theatre. Gomes has been a rare dancer who is a versatile leading man and\  the best partner of his generation. The filmmakers take us on an intimate journey from Gomes’ native Brazil to the stage of the Metropolitan and beyond to show just how much dedication and discipline are necessary for one to reach the top and how much physical stress is imposed on the body in the process.

Through the use of archival footage, rehearsal and privileged backstage footage and dressing room interviews, we see Gomes as a charming personality, a serious artist, and a fun-loving regular guy. The film was made over a period of seven years and it highlights spends as much time highlighting his aptitude for partnering. Several ballerinas including Misty Copeland, Polina Semionova and Diana Vishneva speak of Gomes’ technique, sensitivity and connection that makes him such a generous and Gomes’ dedication to his art is as inspiring as “the breathtaking grace and strength of his dancing.” The filmmakers have traveled the world in order to film him on stages in Athens, Saint Petersburg, Tokyo and Rio de Janeiro.

In 2003 Gomes became the first major ballet dancer to come out on the cover of the LGBT magazine “The Advocate”. When local training in Brazil had taken him as far as he could go, Gomes left home at 13 and came to the United States. Gomes is very attached to his family, especially his mother. Ballet in Brazil back then, was strictly for girls and he grew up as the only male in ballet class. He had to deal with the bullying of other kids at school as a result of his feelings that he was born to dance.

He was encouraged by his gay uncle Paulo and Paulo’s longtime partner, Wolf, who often took him to the ballet. Paulo died of AIDS in 1993 but Gomes has remained close to Wolf and the example of a stable long term relationship made it easier for Gomes to accept his sexuality. After divorcing Gomes’ mother, Gomes’ father started a new family, and despite repeat invitations, he has not been to see his son dance in New York in more than 10 years. This is painful for Gomes. We see the grueling rehearsals that Gomes participates in and they usually end with him slumped on the floor and we also see his triumphant performances. Preparations and body maintenance are every bit as riveting as performances. There are daily rigors in the gym and endless stretching, massages and other treatments required for ankles that often seemed to be deformed from swelling. Ballet is seen as a career path that is taxing on the body. At 37, Gomes has had surgeries for torn ligaments in one ankle and tendonitis in the other. He lives in fear of injury.

Gomes lives with an absence of ego and a sense of gratitude. He is very much in touch with his roots and is deeply respectful of ballet history. He is very much aware of the time limit on his performing years and he understands that he is nearing the end. He has already begun moving into the next phase of his life as a choreographer.

Unfortunately, the fact of the economic impossibility of getting footage from Gomes’ anniversary performance at the American Ballet Theater along with the disappointing absence of his father gives us a film that is missing something. Nonetheless the closing footage of Gomez posing in Central Park is visually stunning.

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