"Tacaca" on Stage: The World Premiere of Marcelo Gomes' Choreography
Sergey Gordeev for The Brazilians, a newspaper published in New York, in May 2008
On April 21, 2008, the New York audience was presented with a rare treat: the World Premiere of a piece by Marcelo Gomes, one of the most well known Brazilian male dancers performing today. The piece was performed at the prestigious Youth America Grand Prix Gala, “Stars of Today Meet the Stars of Tomorrow” on the program that also featured such international ballet superstars as La Scala Ballet’s Roberto Bolle, Berlin State Opera Ballet’s Polina Semionova, and Bolshoi Ballet’s Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev. The Gala was sold-out six weeks in advance, and those lucky enough to get seats were rewarded with what New York and international critics have called “the best ballet Gala of the season.”
Just back from the famed Benois de la Danse Awards in Moscow, where he was selected as the Best Male Dancer of the year from 14 nominees representing leading ballet companies worldwide, Gomes is thrilled with the success of the piece he created for his fellow ABT dancers, Blaine Hoven and Sarawanee Tanatanit. “The name of the piece is “Tacacá,” and it is inspired by the traditional Brazilian dish by the same name. The dish comes from the north of the country; it is a fish stew with shrimp and lots of other ingredients. There is something so raw in it, and it is such a comforting experience to eat it. It makes you feel warm inside, because it is an expression of the people.”
As in Tacacá – the dish, “Tacacá” – the ballet uses many ingredients to achieve a complex, sophisticated flavor. Opting to blend all the ingredients together, rather than compose clearly identifiable sections of Brazilian, classical, or contemporary dance, Gomes created a swirling and vibrant ballet that suggests Brazilian dances and influences instead of directly quoting them. In some instances, the dancers seem to exude purely Brazilian jingado and samba rhythms, while in others one can clearly see the influences on Gomes of such well-known contemporary choreographers as Jiri Kylian and William Forsythe. This mix of styles, set to a powerful batucada beat, represents both Gomes’ Brazilian heritage and his experience as a Principal Dancer with America’s national ballet company – the American Ballet Theatre. “This is not necessarily a Brazilian piece,” says Gomes on the cultural significance of the piece, “But it is also inseparable from me being a Brazilian. There is always a bit of the Brazil in me, and it translates to the audience through my piece. That is why the stew metaphor is so appropriate – it puts so many things together.”
“Tacacá” is not Gomes’ first foray into the art of choreography: he had already choreographed on fellow students at the Harid Conservatory by the age of 16, and in 2006 he created a piece for Gillian Murphy and David Hallberg, both also Principal Dancers at the American Ballet Theatre, for a performance at “Ethan Stiefel and students” summer program in Martha’s Vineyard. However, this piece for the Youth America Grand Prix Gala is Gomes’ first choreographic statement on such prominent level with professional guest artists.
“It really is a premiere in many, many ways,” says Gomes, for whom it is especially significant that the premiere took place at YAGP. “YAGP is a great organization, because it gives scholarships for talented young dance students worldwide to study at some of the best schools around the world. And the YAGP Gala is a place where seasoned artists can inspire the younger generation by sharing the stage with them,” says Gomes, who himself performed at the YAGP Galas since the inception of the organization. “I was first invited to perform in the YAGP Gala by Gennadi [Saveliev, the Co-Founder of YAGP and a soloist with American Ballet Theatre] in 2000, which was the competition’s first year. I was attracted to the idea of the Gala – to inspire the young generation of future artists – and it actually turned out to be very inspiring for me, too, so I have been dancing in the YAGP almost every year since then.” This year, however, watching the Gala as a choreographer, rather than performing in it, “was a new and rewarding experience for me,” says Gomes, who plans to continue to develop his choreographic talent in the future.
Born in Manaus and raised in Rio de Janeiro, Gomes began his dance studies at the age of 5 at the Helena Lobato and Dalal Achcar Ballet Schools. He went on to study at The Harid Conservatory in Boca Raton, Florida. In 1996, he participated in a prestigious competition for young dancers in Switzerland – Prix de Lausanne – where he received the Hope Award and was noticed by the Director of the Paris Opera Ballet School, Claude Bessy. This resulted in a year of studies at the renowned school of Paris Opera Ballet. In 1997, Gomes joined the American Ballet Theatre, was promoted to Soloist in 2000, and in 2003, he became the first Brazilian male dancer to rise to the ranks of Principal Dancer in the company. In 2008, he became the first Brazilian dancer to receive the prestigious Benois de la Danse Award instituted by the International Dance Union and UNESCO.
With such an impressive career behind him, it comes as no surprise that Marcelo Gomes was chosen as the theme for the Carnaval celebration in Manaus earlier this year. Two thousand samba school students rehearsed for a year to tell the story of Gomes’ life in the world of ballet. The four floats in the Carnaval parade carried drummers dressed as Montagues and Capulets, actors portraying Romeo and Juliet, and Gomes himself, who performed excerpts from his extensive ballet repertoire. “It was the biggest honor I have ever received in my home town,” says Gomes, adding that it was this experience that inspired him the most when he returned to New York to create “Tacacá.”
“I try to go back as often as I can to support my country and to give to the arts – I have danced in Brazil many times,” says Gomes. “When I miss Brazil, I go to the many fabulous Brazilian restaurants here in New York and hang out with my Brazilian friends. Brazilian culture is very passionate, and, even though I live here, I am constantly in touch with my culture – mostly when I dance, because I put a lot of passion into it.” And keeping this passion at the center of one’s life is the biggest advice that Gomes could give to young dancers just starting out. “I have the same passion for dance now that I had when I was 5,” he says, and adds that if there were a secret for having such a successful career in the arts, this would be it.