All the ballerinas, including Diana Vishneva, say that you are the genius partner. It is interesting who instilled this quality – not to show off yourself, because all the dancers want to play the first violin. It is such a profession.
Many layers to this question, we could talk about this for an hour publicly.
I think it’s very much part of my personality. Always to take care of others first and then of myself. It’s something that is already in me. I didn’t learn this from anybody. It comes from family education – my dad, my mom, from home.
I have a brother and sister. They live in Brazil and we always had to share everything with each other.
I started partnering in a very early age. Probably, before I was supposed to. With Cuban ballet came to Brazil once a year. And I took classes with Alicia Alonso’s daughter – Laura. Those classes were very frustrating for me because being a very young boy, I couldn’t lift anybody and saw the other men doing overhead process and raising the ballerina so many times and I got very discouraged. So I wanted to do those things so madly! My body was still growing and my arms were longer according to the proportions of my body and I was still going through many stages of figuring out myself as a dancer. I left Brazil for Florida and stayed there for three years then I studied in Paris for one year and after I could see that in partnering classes I had more ability than other dancers. I joined American Ballet Theatre and I became a principal, maybe because of my early studies with Laura and partnering… Even just by watching I was able to find a natural sense of what a ballerina needs to be at the age of 16-17.
When I joined ABT as a dancer of corps de ballet, my first featured principal role was in Tchaikovsky Pas des deux by Balanchine. Here was my chance to show how I could do all the lifts and at point time I had not done much, you know big lift with ballerina, and all my trainings came through at that moment. I felt really secure, very secure on a stage with a ballerina.
So this brings me back to your question… Many years later, after dancing with many ballerinas, I think the point is that you have to be humble but at the same time take control of where your partner is going and I found that very well with Diana. Because I am able to push her and she is able to push me. And I am able to listen to her and she is able to listen to me…
I feel like that the key to have successful partnership on stage is to be able to listen to what she needs and what she doesn’t need. Just like in life, the relationships on stage are not about what is good for me but what’s good for both of us.
And one more question about Diana… We appreciate and love her so much here in Russia, she one of our favorite ballerinas. Because she is very deep and dramatic, she is a real actress and she is one of the best dramatic ballerinas.
The first time you’ve danced with her you were 17 years old? Is it true?
No, a little bit older than that. Maybe 20, maybe little more.
But you remember how it was…
And could you tell us a little bit about it. It is very interesting.
She was supposed to dance full length Manon with another dancer. And a dancer was injured and I believe she had seen me already partnering with other people and she went to Kevin McKenzie and said: «I want to try to dance Manon with Marcelo». And I took the tape because everything was in tapes and watched des Grieux as much as I could and tried to learn. The next day was in studio wishing to come earlier but she was already there. So I quickly warmed up and we started from the first act. And it was just one of those really magical moments… We could feel that a real partnership was born. We didn’t know how, it was like something cosmic, like faith, like alchemy… I had never felt like this before and she felt very free and so it was like a drug, really, we wanted it again. I think it was a surprise for both. For never having touched each other before, while jumping in and doing that Pas des Deux which is very difficult, you know, the intimacy was instant, it was a very happy day.
About your homeland – Brazil. Do you often go there? Obviously, you are the national star…
Thank you. My family lives there – my mom, dad, my brother and sister. My sister has a daughter and my brother is about to have a baby. I will be an uncle for the second time. And I just love my family. I am a family-oriented person, feeling happier when I am with them. I also love my country, proud to be Brazilian, it’s a very tricky thing… I feel for the Brazilian hardworking people… There are lots of financial and economic troubles, but also there is so much the country has to give and export.
Unfortunately, I had to leave Brazil to pursue my career because while I was growing up there, there was not a company to join as a professional dancer so I left at the age of 13. But now there are many great companies in Brazil and you can successfully have a career. I don’t think you have alike experience in Russia, but in Brazil there is very little to no support for arts from the government and it makes things difficult for company’s artists. I try to support companies as much as I can and love dancing at home, dancing in Brazil. But what amazes me about Brazil that the dancers there, they have a little, but do a lot.
And I can’t help asking the trivial question about football because now we have The World Cup. Do you love football?
I follow a little bit especially when the Brazil plays for World Cup. Of course, last time when we were played with Germany and it was not very good unfortunately. I couldn’t watch more so I just took my bike and went for a ride. So hopefully this time they are training, they are focused and they have a new trainer in Brazilian team.
In such a country more football-oriented but not ballet how did you manage to follow your dream, to go further and maybe there were some idols, guiding stars?
It was very hard because the country is more about football, the players are stars and they are well-known. Maybe for that reason my family and I also decided that it would be best for me to go somewhere else, where I would get really good training and there I would be valued more.
And I think it was not until I was Principal dancer in ABT that the news and the magazines were starting to know who I was. I always think about Carmen Miranda who had to leave Brazil, then everyone knew who she was because she became successful outside of Brazil. But now in the times of social media, Internet, Instagram, Twitter younger dancers have much more. They are all well-known in Brazil – Thiago Soares, Thiago Bordin, Roberta Marques, Gustavo Carvalho, Denis Vieira, Murilo Gabriel, Moacir Manoel, Marcia Jaqueline, Jovani Furlan, Renan Cerdeiro and many others. But when I was growing up and working to become recognized was very hard. One had to do it by going on stage.
And what about the ambitions? When you were a young boy have you imagined to become the ABT Principal dancer?
No. I can tell you that for sure. I just wanted to dance very much. I have always been a hard worker in whatever I am doing. I’ve never danced “After the rain” (piece by Christopher Wheeldon) before and really wanted to learn it. And now I am going to dance it at the Bolshoi Gala with Alessandra Ferri. So when I was younger I just enjoyed going on the stage and never thought while dancing – “Oh, this is gonna make me a star!” I just knew what I needed to do and it happened.
In autumn you will perform at the Kremlin Gala with your own choreography. As I understand you are going to move with the career of choreographer?
It has been very interesting, when I was a young boy I always created movements by myself and my dad used to put me in the middle of the living room at the end of a party when all were already drunk and said – “Now Marcelo is doing a solo.” So my imagination comes from a very early age. It was very funny, they moved all the furniture to make a dance space (laughing).
And then I started choreographing a little bit for my friends at ABT. Little by little I created Pas des Deux and I had couples for creating opportunities. I am very lucky because my friends are the best dancers in the world so they can make anything look great. I created choreography for Roberto Bolle and Julie Kent, and on Bolshoi and Mariinsky Principals. Just the only problem when you first start as a choreographer people expect as much from you as you dance. In the beginning there was a lot of pressure as being a Principal dancer, I needed to be the same level as choreographer. You know what I mean. So as I have let that go, I am really exсited to bring to Kremlin Gala a piece called «Ami» – it means a friend in French and it is set to Chopin. Its about two men, they could be brothers, friend, rivals… It is not a story, just an idea behind that, and it’s actually a very early work of mine. But I’ve never performed it in Moscow. It will be a premiere. And Thomas Forster, he is a soloist with ABT, is beautiful talented dancer, great mover, and I have worked with him in many of my ballets. I’m excited to perform this with him since it was created on him and Rubi Pronk.
Unexpected, and maybe a strange question. While watching your Instagram we saw a wonderful dog. Do you love animals and how can a ballet dancer combine his work and the home pets?
It is really tough, but you know she is already 14 years old, so she has lots of white hair. They do become a part of your family, like a daughter. I took her when she was 8 weeks. And used to travel with her a lot because she was small. So it was easy to travel for me, but now its older and it is difficult to get her into the plane. So I just keep her home. And yeah, it’s tough. I think it is hard for her when she sees suitcases. But she is a sweetheart. Her name is Lua. I used to bring her to studio when she was young, so when she hears the piano she knows that she must stay in bag and when people start clapping she comes out.
First entering the stage
There was in Brazil, about 6 years old, some kind of jazz dance with Madonna music.
I’ve never tried…
I’ve never tried skiing.
3 things that are always with me
2 therapy balls for my back for massage, they are always with me. A little book and a pen just if have an idea for a ballet, I like to write it down. And pictures of family, my fiancé.
Your favorite city
I proud of…
Who I am today.
Bright moments from childhood
Eating dinner with my family.
I am reading now…
Call me by your name.
In my playlist…
Beyonce of course, Marisa Monte, brazillian singer, thousands of classical music, I listen to a lot of things.
I can’t live without…
The secret of success
Different people – different things, I think. But one of the biggest things for me is staying humble, so one is able to grow both as a dancer and as a person. Also remain positive, cause it attracts more positivity .
Your relationship towards social media?
It’s good, thank you (laughing).
Stage epic fail
I have been late to the stage once after the curtain had opened, everyone’s worst nightmare . Well I can check that off my list.
The ability you want to possess
Flying is nice but I want to eat food and gain no pounds. It would be great because I love to eat.
Your state of mind and soul at the moment
I feel very grateful, very appreciative. I have a deep gratitude for being on the stage, for being alive and in love. I feel like, life can take you in different directions it’s what you do with it, and so right now I feel blessed doing what I love to do.
Interview Alisa Aslanova
Photo Karina Zhitkova
Producer Ekaterina Bornovitskaya
The interview is created in partnership with Kremlin Gala that will be held 7th of October 2018.