‘MARCELO GOMES: Anatomy of a Male Ballet Dancer’—this one’s for the boys…

17 Jul

I have a problem. So there’s this Kickstarter campaign to fund the filming of a documentary, ‘MARCELO GOMES: Anatomy of a Male Ballet Dancer’—fantastic, right?! So, fun fact, there are almost one hundred and eighty backers that have pledged well over two-thirds of the $30,000 needed for the project, which is great! And kind of odd…had thirty thousand people donated one dollar, this would be a done deal, and the same goes for six thousand donating five dollars, or three thousand having donated ten. So why is it that a mere one hundred and eighty comprise the backbone thus far? Is the reach of ballet really so small? Are balletomanes apathetic? Poor? Does my math suck? Of the millions of ballet lovers worldwide, is this the best we can do? My mind is racing with questions as to why something that should be relatively simple didn’t happen instantaneously—although, I suppose patience is a virtue (unfortunately, it has a tendency to not be one of mine).

Sociological inquiry into the ethos of crowd-funding aside (whew!), there’s something larger at hand here. Forget for a moment who the documentary is about and consider what the topic is—the male ballet dancer. It’s not that danseurs are elusive, but they are massively underrepresented in society’s understanding of ballet. It’s even written into the culture and choreography of ballet itself; when a man partners a woman, he is to “frame the picture” so to speak. However, something I find interesting is that while ideals for women have changed over time to see a proliferation of higher extensions, the danseur has almost quite literally, disappeared. Of course in partnering, he is going to be obstructed from view on occasion, either by the ballerina or a face full of tulle, but the rise of the six o’clock arabesque penchée (no pun intended) for example, means that we see less of him when the ballerina’s leg moves in front of his face, or even block much of his torso, reducing the effect of his épaulement. These days, perhaps the photo has been rendered inappropriate for the frame—after all, if the danseur isn’t a part of the picture, then the craft of partnering has moved into the realm of puppetry. While young girls are green with envy when they see a ballerina hit that line, plotting schemes to achieve that same look for themselves, and audiences delight in an iconic pose that is immediately impressive, the erosion of the image of the ballerina’s partner goes unnoticed. It’s also easy to forget that the modern penchée is a late twentieth century construct in an art form that dates back to hundreds of years before, and that in changing the aesthetic of the step, the ballet now has changed its meaning too. In other words, for the majority of ballet’s existence, such “unbalanced” pictures in a pas de deux would never have occurred. Whaaat?!

This…wouldn’t have happened in most of ballet’s lifetime! Photo ©Gene Schiavone

Perhaps in the U.S., the issue is encouraged—or exacerbated—by the prominence of Balanchine who so famously said: “ballet is woman.” As sexist as that sounds, I actually think we can’t have a problem with it because he choreographed his ballets on women that inspired him, and to demand that he create more roles for men would have been far worse a crime than a mere sexist opinion, because it would have forced a hand upon his identity as an artist. It was never Balanchine’s responsibility to eliminate sexism in society—it’s the audience’s responsibility to approach the ballet without it, and enjoy his glorification of women as simply that, sexist or not (let’s not forget that women dancers have their own host of challenges like nurturing individuality, competition amongst the ranks, etc.). Still, Balanchine’s views have obviously had a profound influence in ballet in the U.S. and far from combat it, there is just a need to put forth different ones, and in doing so, highlight the male dancer. Is it too much to ask of ballet to change the current aesthetic or perhaps Balanchinian approach? Yes. I’m of the opinion that you can’t change people’s minds about anything and that you can only educate them with the hope that information will inspire a new perspective. Is it too much to ask for a few dollars to support a paradigm of something that could inspire a new perspective? It better not be! This is why documentaries are often made, isn’t it? To illuminate upon things that often go unappreciated? Like plankton or photosynthesis…

Meanwhile, documentaries are also made to record something rare or a phenomenon, and that would be Marcelo Gomes. Virtuoso dancer, gracious partner, stage presence…the list of accolades go on and on. You don’t achieve the rank of principal of ABT without a remarkable amount of dedication and talent, and really, any one of the principal dancers could probably be the subject of a fascinating documentary. These are people who lead extraordinary lives, and to document them is also important so that audiences can see them as people. Again, with bodies and technique having changed so much over the past couple of centuries, not to mention training beginning earlier and earlier, dancers lead lives that are practically inconceivable to the general public. Just as ballet has changed so much, the needs of the audience have changed as well and while it may have been chic to be an enigmatic superstar in the past, it’s quite possible that—especially in this age of technology—humanization of our idols is more crucial than ever, and I can’t think of a finer dancer to idolize than Marcelo. At least for me, when I saw him dance in New York, I hadn’t been so inspired by a performance since I saw Tamara Rojo in Manon, back in 2009, which just so happens to be what I still consider to this day, my life changing event. We’re talking on an epic scale, like Sir Frederick Ashton and Anna Pavlova, which if you know me, is just about the highest praise I can give.

So, I don’t like to solicit my readers (thanks to traumatic experiences in high school of going door to door asking for donations for the marching band—one house even had a sign that said “solicitors will be eaten”), but I implore you to take action! Don’t let this film slip through the cracks when its contribution to ballet can do something for the greater good. Set a few dollars aside…skip a meal if you have to—wait, don’t do that—but avoid eating out a night or two and you’ll easily have five, ten bucks to spare in no time. It doesn’t matter if it’s a little or a lot—it’s times like these when I like to remind myself that pyramids are built from the bottom up, one brick at a time. People, let’s be the foundation, shall we?

Visit the Kickstarter page for ‘Marcelo Gomes: Anatomy of a Male Ballet Dancer,’ a documentary film by David Barba and James Pellerito. Pass Go, collect $200 (or $2—whatever!) and donate!

5 Responses to “‘MARCELO GOMES: Anatomy of a Male Ballet Dancer’—this one’s for the boys…”

  1. avesraggiana July 17, 2012 at 10:20 am #

    Regarding the current trend of six o’clock penchées, I remember watching in a video from late 2010, Natalia Makarova coaching Uliana Lopatkina through the finer points of her already much vaunted Odette-Swan Lake Act II pas de deux. The proceedings got off to a prickly start with both divas harbouring very definite ideas about how to interpret Odette. One of Makarvova’s admonishments to Lopatkina was to crank back on her penchée so as not to hide her partner’s face – just like you said in your writeup – to maybe, five minutes to six. She also told her to look at her partner as much as possible, to communicate with him. That would not have been a very difficult suggestion to apply since Danilo Korsuntsev, even in the liberal standards of the ballet world, is a handsome man.

    Makarova passed on many gemstones of interpretation that Lopatkina would have done well to take on. Later, at that evening’s Maryinsky performance of Swan Lake, held in honour of Makarova’s seventieth birthday, Lopatkina applied virtually none of what Makarova had suggested A missed opportunity for the younger artist, and a real shame.

    • youdancefunny July 18, 2012 at 11:25 am #

      Couldn’t agree more! So much of ballet is like an oral tradition…passed on from one generation to the next, but sometimes onto covered ears.

  2. Jeff Tabaco July 18, 2012 at 7:28 am #

    Great post! I totally agree about humanization. Personalizing the world of ballet will continue to make it accessible to more people. In my case, as I’ve gone from casual ballet-goer to ballet geek-in-the-making over the past year, learning more about individual dancers as people (especially through social media) has helped personalize otherwise monolithic dance companies for me. It’s less “oh, I’m going to see this-or-that group,” but more “I’m going to see so-and-so,” not as a “star” but as a hard-working, interesting, three-dimensional person who loves to dance. 🙂 I’m personally invested. That kind of connection (I hope!) helps get people to go watch ballet.

    • youdancefunny July 18, 2012 at 11:28 am #

      Absolutely! It’s a different era for performing artists now. Back in the day you couldn’t Google Anna Pavlova! Now that we can, there has to be some kind of information out there to satisfy people’s curiosity…otherwise, they lose interest. Fast.


  1. Cast thy vote for MARCELO! « You Dance Funny, So Does Me - August 29, 2012

    […] “get” ballet and thus render themselves incapable of understanding a passion for it. When I first requested/demanded/begged for pledges to assist in funding ‘MARCELO’ I had written that documentaries often highlight things that go unseen or are underappreciated, and […]

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