The Sarasota Ballet welcomes Marcelo Gomes as a guest artist, a role that’s sometimes harder than it sounds.
Marcelo Gomes isn’t a member of The Sarasota Ballet. But when he’s onstage with the company, the dancers treat him as one of their own.
“From day one I’ve felt so welcome and really appreciated here,” says Gomes. “I think everybody really feeds off of each other, and it’s very focused work. I have high standards for myself so when I can be in a studio for an hour and a half and feel like we’re gearing up to the same thing, to make peak level, as an artist you can’t wait to do that again.”
Gomes will join The Sarasota Ballet yet again in its first program of 2019, “Transcending Movement.”
His “love affair,” as he calls it, with the company started two-and-a-half years ago when the former American Ballet Theatre principal was invited to perform a solo at The Sarasota Ballet Gala. Director Iain Webb says watching Gomes perform in the Mertz Theatre had an immense impact on him and Assistant Director and Repetiteur Margaret Barbieri.
“It was fate,” Webb says. “Maggie turned to me (at the gala) and said, ‘Wow what an artist,’ and literally before he had even sat down Maggie started talking to him. She didn’t waste a second inviting him to come down here.”
Webb says before he even reached his seat next to Barbieri at the gala dinner, she had already made a deal with Gomes. He would return as a guest artist when the company performed choreographer Sir Frederick Ashton’s “The Two Pigeons,” a work Gomes had never danced.
It’s safe to say it went well.
“I don’t feel like I’m just inserted into a program and haven’t done any of the work,” Gomes says. “It’s not just my show, it’s our show. It’s important to me that it looks like I’m a part of this company — we’ve worked for weeks to put this together and take the audience on this journey.”
But unfortunately not all guest artists have the same experience. Webb recalls several instances during his long career as a professional dancer when he was invited to dance with companies whose dancers weren’t so happy to have him there.
“There’s nothing worse than going into a company to guest and they’re like, ‘Oh, they’re bringing you in, I should be doing that (part),’” Webb says. “It’s horrible because you feel like you have to isolate yourself and just do that show.”
But at his company, Webb says guest artists should never worry about feeling unwelcome. His dancers are eager to learn from outside performers, and the feeling is mutual for artists who feel there’s something to learn from the other dancers.
For Gomes, that educational opportunity lies in learning more pieces by Ashton, the choreographer Webb says some consider him to be on a “crusade” to keep staging works by.
In “Transcending Movement,” Gomes will perform Ashton’s “Meditation from Thaïs” and “Varii Capricci” (along with a world premiere by resident choreographer Ricardo Graziano). The former Gomes has done once before at a different company’s gala, but he says he doesn’t feel like he got to dig deep enough and spend enough time fine-tuning the details of the piece.
“Iain and Maggie have so much knowledge on Ashton’s ballets, so I feel like I’m kind of relearning it (“Meditation from Thaïs”), and that’s what I wanted,” he says. “It’s good to start fresh when you haven’t had the proper coaching for something.”
Ashton choreographed the pas de deux “Meditation from Thaïs” on Dame Antoinette Sibley and Sir Anthony Dowell for a gala performance in 1971, and it was so flawless, Dowell told Webb that Ashton had the pair do an encore performance.
He says he wouldn’t ask his dancers to do it twice in one show, but he has faith the crowd will be similarly excited.
The final ballet of the “Transcending Movements” program, Ashton’s “Varii Capricci,” is both a company premiere and a first for Gomes. It has been particularly tricky to put together because Webb has never seen it performed, so his preparation for the piece has been based on limited footage that didn’t include the last movement.
What he’s seen in rehearsals makes Webb confident, however, that audiences will enjoy the fun choreography that diverts from much of Ashton’s usual style.
“It feels like he was searching for something different,” Gomes says. “There is a jazzy quality to it that you don’t see much in other (Ashton) works — usually it’s pure classical lines, and this is a bit more to the ground and there’s a lot of playfulness between the man and the woman.”
Webb says choosing less widely popular ballets like this is one of many examples of how The Sarasota Ballet strives to be different.
“I don’t want anyone to close their eyes and point and say, ‘Oh I’ll just see it there,’” Webb says of Floridians looking to see classics like “Giselle.” “We have other pieces in our repertory that make us different.”