“I told Matthew (Bourne), ‘You probably don’t know how much I’ve waited for this day. I’ve wanted to do this work so much that I’ve almost been chasing you around’ — and now my dream’s suddenly come true, I feel like I’m floating on the clouds.”
Marcelo Gomes was a picture of joy when I spoke to him in Japan in February just after he’d been chosen as one of three dancers who will rotate the lead role this summer in a new, Tokyo-only production of the world- famous ballet “Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake.”
Back then, Gomes was over for a short tour with the American Ballet Theatre, with whom he was delighting audiences as he pulsed with expression in the star role of the noble Prince in “The Nutcracker” and burned passionately with ardor as Le Chevalier des Grieux in “Manon.”
Well-known for being accorded the rare privilege of creating his own choreography, Gomes — who spent a year at the Paris Opera Ballet school before winning a Prix de Lausanne prize in 1996 — joined the New York-based ABT in 1997, rising to the top as a principal dancer by 2002.
Sensitive to new directions across the arts, the 34-year-old Brazilian is the type who will rush to a gallery or to a box office after reading a good review. So it is hardly surprising that, since he first encountered works by Matthew Bourne while still in ABT’s corps de ballet in the ’90s, he has been eager to work with the London-born choreographer whose “Swan Lake” was first staged in 1995.
In the 19th-century classical-ballet version of Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake,” the lead roles of both the white swan, Princess Odette — an ephemeral beauty with whom the hero, Prince Siegfried, falls in love — and Odile, a devilish black swan who tricks him — are played by a single female dancer.
In the Bourne version, however, the two roles become those of the Swan — the object of the prince’s admiration and leader of a strong and ferocious flock, and the Stranger — a sexy man in black leather pants who tries to seduce the prince. And in place of the original ballet’s famed pas de deux between the prince and imprisoned Odette, Bourne has created a unique and unusual duet between the prince, who is in despair and considering suicide, and a wild male swan who embraces him in its wings.
“In particular, I think it’s wonderful how the emotion between the Swan and Prince Siegfried is portrayed,” Gomes said back in February. “To the prince, the Swan is a beautiful living creature like an angel, and he sets free the prince’s closed-up heart and teaches him he needn’t fear love,” he explained.
“When I first saw this work, I felt like Matthew awakened something in my own heart,” he continued. “I am a very emotional person, and I think the choreography suits me well — though I’ve never before moved my shoulder blades like wings, and I’ve only rarely danced barefoot, so I will need to do some special training.”
Following that conversation, I was able to reconnect with Gomes recently via email as he was rehearsing with Bourne in London for the ballet’s upcoming Tokyo season.
Asked how his preparations were going, he said, “I’ve enjoyed discovering new kinds of movement, and I am learning that my body needs to think completely differently; not so classically.
“Of course my arms and neck were very sore for the first couple of days, but I can tell you that every ballerina I’ve spoken to regarding the role of Odette/Odile has told me this is normal!”
Now, the only place in the world to see this ABT star dancing the lead in “Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake” will be Tokyo from this Saturday for a fortnight. And what a great joy that is indeed.
“Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake” runs Sept. 6-21 at Tokyu Theatre Orb in Shibuya, Tokyo. For details, visit theatre-orb.com. This story was written in Japanese and translated by Claire Tanaka.