American Ballet Theater
Interviewed by Marcelo Gomes
published in Ballet Alert! (No. 33-34) 2003
copyright © 2003 Marcelo Gomes
Gomes, the 23-year-old Brazilian principal dancer with ABT, combines
an impeccable technique with a gracious stage presence. He is adept
at both comedy (he made is debut in Don Quixote this year)
and tragedy (he is already a notable Albrecht), as well as virtuoso
parts; many of the choreographers of ABT’s recent ballets have
featured him. He spoke with me recently about his training, his career
at ABT and his favorite roles.
How and when did you start studying ballet?
I started studying dance, not ballet, in Rio de Janeiro when I was
five. My sister was taking an aerobics class in a place that had all
sorts of classes, jazz, musical theater, that kind of thing. We went
to pick her up one day, and on the second level there was a musical
theater class going on. I had always loved dancing around the house,
and I loved music. It looked like fun, so I went in. The teacher invited
me back. That was fine with my parents—I was breaking things around
the house, and I think they were glad I could take my energy somewhere
I actually started ballet when I was eight. In one of our little shows,
a ballet teacher, Helena Lobato, who had been a famous ballerina in
Brazil, saw me. She was planning on renting space in the same building
and she asked me to take a class. I had seen some ballet before, and
I really hadn’t liked it very much. So it was not a case of “Oh
my God, I love ballet” from the very beginning. But I started
with her, and I did love the classes. I found it so interesting, how
she worked with me, and all the steps. She would take me to her house
and show me ballet videos, and I started to want to become what I was
seeing. After a year with her, I decided to concentrate on ballet, and
dropped the other classes.
At thirteen, you went to study at the Harid Conservatory in Florida.
Why did you go there?
In Rio, I had moved to another studio, the Dalal, and there was a girl
there who made a video to apply to Harid. I was in the video because
I was her partner. It turned out Harid wasn’t interested in her,
but they wanted to know who I was. I was only twelve, so I had to wait
How did your parents feel about letting you leave home at thirteen?
It wasn’t just my parents, it was a big deal all around. My parents
had to talk to the studio, to tell them I was leaving. In Brazil, they
really don’t support dance that much, but once there is someone
good, they want to keep them there. It’s just like a soccer player,
they don’t want them to go play in Spain. So everybody wanted
me to stay, but I really wanted to go, to open up my horizons. I really
wanted to keep working on my technique, I didn’t want to join
a company at thirteen, which I probably could have, if I stayed in Brazil.
I wanted to study with other boys—I was the only boy in my school.
I thought Harid would be good for me, and so did my parents, though
I didn’t speak any English, and I would be living without them.
So it was difficult. They took me to the school and stayed for a week,
and then they left, and I realized I was by myself.
Harid was established in 1987, so it is very new, and it seems
unusual to have such a strong ballet academy not attached to a company.
There have been some very fine dancers who have trained there. Do you
know anything about its back-ground?
I don’t really know who started it, but I think it’s owned
by millionaires in Boca Raton. There are a lot of wealthy retirees there,
and I guess someone was just really interested in the arts. The facilities
are incredible. I have never been to a school that treats the students
better than they did. It was really a joy to go there. We all took piano,
and music theory, and singing. And dance history and art history. These
came after ballet class, so we were all very tired! But it was very
interesting to me, because I wanted to learn about the ballets. It was
a very strict school. You had to do well in your academics, or you didn’t
get to perform.
I had a wonderful teacher there, Olivier Pardina, who was from the
Paris Opera. I had also had a French teacher in Rio, so it was great
for me to continue with another French-trained teacher. He worked with
me from head to toe, and that’s what I wanted, to break things
down and show me how to be a man on stage.
Did they specialize in any particular technique?
My teacher, of course, was Paris, but they also taught Vaganova, and
we had some Balanchine as well. You could move fast, but still get the
Paris Opera training for the feet. We had character dancing, too, and
there was always a character dance in our performances. When I was there,
there was an amazing range of repertory in our annual performances.
One year, we did Act 3 of Don Quixote, and one year Act 3 of The Sleeping
Beauty, as well as some modern works.
Did you get to see much ballet there?
Yes, we got to see Miami City Ballet a lot, and I remember the Royal
Ballet came once. We would all go to Miami on a bus, and that was fun.
It kept us inspired.
When I was sixteen, Harid took me to compete in the Prix de Lausanne.
I did a solo by Mark Godden, and the male variation from The Nutcracker.
That was an unusual solo to do, because it isn’t technically flashy,
but my teacher thought it would be nice to show some elegance, and just
pure dancing. At Lausanne, you can win money, or a scholarship, or a
medal. I had asked for a scholarship, and had three schools on my list,
the Paris Opera Ballet School, then the Royal Ballet School, and then
Stuttgart. The competition, if you can believe it, is broadcast live
on TV in Europe, which is wonderful. Claude Bessy [the head of the Paris
Opera Ballet School] was one of the TV commentators. She wasn’t
a judge, but since I had asked to go to Paris, she was watching me,
and she gave me a scholarship. I also got asked to go to Victor Ullate’s
school in Spain, where I would have met all those people in ABT now!
I know you had also been offered a contract with ABT.
Yes. After Lausanne I went back to Brazil for a vacation. ABT was there,
and I thought “Well, if I super I can be on stage and watch them
for free.” So I was a super in La Bayadère. I asked if
I could take class, and it was “Well, we’re not sure, we
don’t actually like to have supers take class.” Now that
I am in the company I understand perfectly! I said that I was interested
because I was going to the Paris Opera Ballet School next year, and
it was “Oh, well, why don’t you come take class?”
After the class David Richardson said “I would like Kevin [McKenzie,
the director of ABT] to see you”, and the next day I took Kevin’s
class, and he offered me a contract. For a kid who’s sixteen,
there was nothing greater.
It must have been hard to turn down.
It was terrible. I thought it was the end of the world when ABT left
without me. But my parents kept me on track, they kept my head straight.
They said it was too early, and that I shouldn’t turn down the
chance to study in Paris. They said go there for a year, and then you
can come back. But of course a year later, there might not be a contract
waiting, and I was so upset, I remember bawling. But it was the right
decision. That year in Paris made me so much stronger.
Could you talk about that training?
In the beginning, it was very difficult for me. I would always be performing,
even at the barre. In Paris, they said “You need to come down
a little bit, think a bit more about technique, and what’s happening
from the waist down, because that’s really the base of the performance.”
I worked with Serge Golovin for six months. We also did some Bournonville,
with the footwork, which was great for me.
When I went, I didn’t know French at all, so it was starting
all over again with a new language, and at sixteen, I was dreading it.
They had a dorm, which we couldn’t leave during the week, but
I stayed with a host family during the weekends. So after being in America,
with all that freedom, it was a difficult adjustment. But I learned
French pretty quickly, so I was able to talk to people a bit.
Did the students give any performances?
Yes, the Paris Opera Ballet students have their own performances, the
Demonstration, at the Palais Garnier. Each section prepares a class,
and the parents come. They have a big thing about foreigners in the
School, because no foreigners can join the Paris Opera Ballet. So it
is rare to have foreigners in the School, or to have them perform. But
I got to do the Demonstration, and then at the end of the year, I got
to do the second movement of Western Symphony, and a soloist part in
John Taras’ Dessin pour Six. So I had worked with him before I
came here—ballet is such a small world.
Paris was such a great opportunity, to be on that wonderful stage
and to watch that company. And I loved wondering around Paris on the
weekends, getting lost in museums, or just walking. At sixteen, seventeen,
it was such an amazing thing to be out in the world by myself. So by
the time the year was over, I was so ready to join a company. So I called
ABT and said “Remember me?” And they said “Absolutely”,
and gave me a corps contract.
What was it like to be a member of a company, as opposed to being
It was very different. Basically everyone in ABT was probably the best
person in their school, and probably did a lot of major roles there,
and all of a sudden, when you get to ABT, you have to be in the corps,
you have to be in line, you have to dance with others, respect the older
dancers, let them go in front, that kind of thing. So it is a big change.
I was very lucky, because I got a major part after just six months with
the company. John Gardner was injured and I got to do the Tchaikovsky
Pas de Deux in Buenos Aires with Yan Chen. You can imagine, some people
who had been in the company for a long time thinking “This boy,
who just joined, why is he doing this?” But it went well, and
after that, I got to do some small parts here and there. So I was very
lucky. Three years in the corps went so fast, because everything was
coming so quickly. Everything happens for a reason, I feel, so I wanted
to do as much as I could with everything that was given to me. My third
year, I was promoted to soloist, and then last year to principal.
Could you talk about some of the roles you particularly enjoy?
Albrecht is a wonderful role, by far my favorite. There are so many
angles to it, and it seems to fit my technique and my personality. I
knew the music and the choreography from school, and Kevin coached me,
and I worked a lot on it with Guillaume Graffin. Since he is from Paris,
we understand each other. I really like having him in the room to look
at things, and I think we have a certain trust for each other that’s
really wonderful. Kevin is tall, so he sees a lot of things that don’t
work for me, so it is great to work with him, especially on partnering.
He sees two people, so clearly, at the same time. He is wonderful at
seeing the whole picture.
I also love the rumba sailor in Fancy Free. Victor Barbee coached us
a lot, and John Pierre Frolich from NYCB also worked with us. There
is so much acting, and all that musical theater stuff I did when I was
five really helps.
And I love Romeo, he is such a romantic, and the story is so tragic.
I like being involved in big stories like that. I’ve always liked
acting, and I feel really comfortable in roles where I have to act or
to feel something. I like portraying someone to the audience, to make
them feel something. It’s very challenging, and I think it’s
a beautiful thing to reach another soul out there with what I’m
feeling, but without saying anything, just by movement.
I know you recently danced Oberon in Ashton’s The Dream.
Who taught you the role?
Kevin taught me—he had danced it with the Joffrey. And last year
I was one of the lovers, but Ashley Tuttle and I were the alternate
cast for Oberon and Titania, so I got to be in the room when Anthony
Dowell was teaching Oberon. He did give us some personal coaching and
corrections. I was so moved that he could see us, even way in the back.
I remember everything he did was so natural. He didn’t waste any
energy. If he [as Oberon] were saying “no”, it was “NO!”,
nothing half-hearted. It was great to watch him. Then this year Kevin
asked me to do it, and I was thrilled. I love the role. Even last year,
as one of the lovers, I kept an eye of Oberon! I can’t wait to
do it again. I just like being someone else, and Oberon is kind of like
an animal, there is something so intriguing about him.
One of the things that is so noticeable about your dancing is your
partnering. Could you talk about that aspect?
I actually started partnering very early, in Brazil, when I could barely
lift, so I have been trying to put girls on their feet for a very long
time! We also had a lot of partnering work at Harid. Surprisingly, partnering
wasn’t that important in Paris. They waited until the last year
in the school to give partnering class, so I was really much more advanced
than the other boys. When I got to ABT, I really developed a joy in
presenting the ballerina. When you come on stage, she is the first thing
you see, or if you do see her partner, he should match her perfectly.
It is just such a beautiful thing to see. I try to make it work—there
is nothing worse than an angry ballerina! I really like to look into
someone’s eyes and feel like you are making a connection. That’s
really much more exciting to me than seven thousand pirouettes.
Who were the dancers that most inspired you?
I grew up watching Julio Bocca. Argentina is so close to Brazil, so
Julio was the biggest star for me. To be dancing with him is so incredible.
Everybody in the company gives me something different. It’s really
a healthy atmosphere here, there isn’t a lot of competition. Everybody
dances differently, and there is no way I could do the same thing Angel
[Corella] does, we are such different dancers. But I admire him so much.
Are there any roles you particularly want to dance?
I haven’t done Solor, and I hope I get a chance sometime. But
I do have time. This year I got to do Basil [in Don Quixote] and Oberon,
and that was enough.
I have just been so lucky to have everything so quickly. I guess I
have just been in the right place at the right time.