Marcelo Gomes: World-Class Dancer – and Choreographer – and Class Act

Marcelo Gomes’ name is known to any follower of ballet. After joining American Ballet Theatre in 1997, Gomes was promoted to Soloist in 2000 and to Principal in 2002. In the course of his illustrious career, he’s danced about every major role in the canon, and has created new roles as choreographers have been inspired by his artistic and technical mastery. Always determined to challenge himself and expand his boundaries, Gomes has been adding the role of choreographer to his staggering CV. The World Dances first spoke with him in 2013, early on in his choreographic career, about his collaborative and musical approach.  We recently caught up with this consummate artist following the California debut of his work Tristesse as part of the Tour de Force Segerstrom Center for the Arts celebration. Gomes spoke with us about his evolution as an artist, his view of ballet’s future, his advice for aspiring dancers, and more.

Your career has reached a level attained by so few artists. What does it mean to you to be one of the best?  And how do you think you have been able to achieve such a stellar career?

Thank you so much for the compliment. I seriously don’t think of myself as the best in any way. I try to improve my dancing and artistry every year that goes by, and hopefully this comes out when I step onstage. It’s very important for any artist not to be too comfortable and to not perform the same way in every ballet. The process starts in the studio, and continues even during performance.

How do you think you have matured or changed as a choreographer since you started choreographing?

I think of it less as changing than evolving. The more experience I attain as a choreographer, the more I want to explore... and do… and say. As both a dancer and as a choreographer, you’re met with new challenges every day, therefore one must always stay true to who you are. 

What do you think about the future of ballet when you watch up-and-coming artists?

It’s an incredibly bright future! Dancers these days are super talented; stronger and faster than ever before. One thing I would remind them is to not forget the artistic element of the performance, and to know the meaning and motivation behind each step when telling a story.

What are you most proud of in your career?

There are so many moments I’m proud of and thankful for. The first is being a member of American Ballet Theatre, the company that has given me so many opportunities, not just to dance, but to grow as an artist and as a man.  Becoming a principal dancer with ABT holds real significance and weight for me; it’s something I don’t take for granted. So many great male dancers—Mikhail Baryshnikov, Julio Bocca, Fernando Bujones, Jose Manuel Carreno, Angel Corella, Ethan Steifel, so many others—have been where I am now. I try to honor that heritage. I am also incredibly proud to be an example to future generations, like these great dancers were for me.

Also, I recently created my first ballet for ABT, AfterEffect. It was a real “coming full circle” moment, because when I joined the company at 17 years old, I certainly never thought I would be making a ballet for the company. 

What has been the most challenging time for you as an artist and how did you get through it?

I suppose one of the most difficult aspects of my career has been learning how to cope with what your body needs to stay healthy and in shape. How do you get back on the horse after an injury? I do try to work out when I’m not rehearsing or performing to prevent injuries as much as I can, however you never know when something might happen. it’s just part of our lives.

What advice would you offer young dancers who hope to follow in your footsteps?

Well, first off, excellent training at a good school is very important before becoming a professional dancer. I attended the HARID Conservatory and the Paris Opera Ballet School; both gave me something very different as far as ballet technique. I had wonderful teachers that guided me through those years, which is of course instrumental for a young dancer in whatever school they choose. Also, as serious as this profession is, with all the dedication and passion it demands, a young dancer should never forget to keep a great sense of humor. Otherwise dance with all your heart and soul.