“Anatomy of a Male Ballet Dancer” goes on stage, in the dressing rooms, and on tour with Marcelo Gomes, the out gay, Brazilian-born ballet dancer. Several days after this interview was conducted, Gomes resigned from American Ballet Theatre following an allegation of sexual misconduct that the company said took place eight years ago and “did not occur in relation to his employment duties with the company.” Washington Ballet is going forward with a work Gomes is developing for that company to be presented in March, and Film Forum is screening the film as planned.
“Anatomy,” a fabulous documentary directed by David Barba and James Pellerito, toggles back and forth between Gomes’ performances and scenes from his childhood to present a grounded sense of his life and work. The film certainly celebrates Gomes’ career highs, from choreographing “Kings of the Dance” and performing “La Bayadère” to dancing “Don Quixote” in Brazil and “Giselle” in Russia. “Anatomy” also explores some emotional lows, including physical injuries he’s endured and his effort to motivate his father to come see him perform on the New York stage.
Throughout “Anatomy of a Male Ballet Dancer,” Gomes is charming, whether talking about coming out on the cover of the Advocate in 2003 or sweating as a trainer pushes him to develop his body to lift ballerinas on stage. The dancer chatted via FaceTime with Gay City News about his life, his work, and his “Anatomy.”
GARY M. KRAMER: What prompted you to become the subject of this documentary?
MARCELO GOMES: It was the filmmakers who had the idea. They reached out to me. They had made a documentary on Johnny Weir. They came to a ballet I was performing and liked how I danced and the emotions I portrayed. They reached out to me on Facebook. I was reluctant at first.
GMK: So let’s talk about your anatomy. You have concerns, as every dancer does, about aging and injury, dancing until your body can’t take it. Can you talk about developing your body, your thoughts on your workouts, as well as your injuries and surgeries?
MG: I’ve always been brought up to take ballet class, do rehearsals, and then go home and rest and repeat. In my early 30s, I had ankle and knee surgery and I rehabbed well. I was fine, but I wanted to do more prevention work. I started working with a trainer. I’d never lifted a dumbbell at the gym before. I liked what it did to my body, and I’m dancing today because I got into a cross-training mindset. If I do get injured, I come back quickly because the rest of my body is in shape and can help me recover from my injury.
GMK: Male ballet dancers have a softness but they are also masculine. What are your thoughts about a male dancer’s masculinity and femininity?
MG: I think there’s a big discussion about that right now — whether men can partner with men on stage, or women with women. If a pas de deux is made for a man and a woman why can’t two men do it? A lot of companies and choreographers are making male-male pairing part of their repertoire. There is a masculinity a guy can have with a woman that isn’t portrayed when two guys are together, and two guys have something that you can’t have with a woman. Male dancers have more mass and muscle, but they are in tights. We use our hands and arms and there is a fluidity of movement that you can play with. [Gomes demonstrates.] The lines are strong, but the ends are softer. There’s a vulnerability and strength behind it. I enjoy seeing it, and I enjoy being a part of both of those experiences.
GMK: Can you talk about coming out on the cover of the Advocate in 2003? Why would anyone be surprised a male ballet dancer was gay?
MG: I’m not sure. It was a big deal for the time. My colleagues weren’t publically out, and they saw that I could be a young principal and say I am gay. I didn’t want to give another interview where someone asked me if I had a girlfriend. That’s how it started. I’m glad I did it, and ABT was fully behind me and they had no problem with me taking that step. Hopefully, it inspired other guys to be who they want to be.
GMK: You are not seen having much of a social life in the film as you are constantly working and traveling. You say in the film that you’d like to fall in love, get married, and even have a kid. Can you talk about your personal life? Do you date or is that difficult because of your schedule?
MG: I don’t think I was with anyone when the film was finished. Since that film came out, I have a boyfriend. We have been together for two and a half years now. He’s seen the film, and we chuckle when the “I want to get married” line comes on. Dancers can have a social life. It’s just not very much talked about. But there are people who go out to clubs and bars.
GMK: I think the film shows how charming you are, but do you ever feel you come off as a bit of a drama queen? You are seen to have high standards in the film.
MG: I think that after a while in the dance world, people expect a lot from you. Based on your experiences and what you’ve done, when little things go wrong and not quite the way you imagine there’s a fear you won’t be at your best level when you perform. So dancers throw a little tantrum — the light’s too bright, the floor is slippery, the costumes are too tight. Anxiety takes over.
GMK: You are seen teaching a few classes and choreographing a show. Is this where you think your career will move, in that direction?
MG: I don’t know. I like choreographing and working with dancers. I don’t know if I’ll do that forever. I enjoy being in the studio. I’ve done three productions with Matthew Bourne, and I like working with him. I hope to continue my relationship with him as a dancer.
ANATOMY OF A MALE BALLET DANCER | Directed by David Barba and James Pellerito | Retribution Media/ Cinema Tropical | Opens Jan. 3 | Film Forum, 209 W. Houston St. | filmforum.org