A Soaring Ballet Career, Now With an Asterisk

Posted January 2, 2018 5:47 p.m. EST

The experience of watching the documentary “Anatomy of a Male Ballet Dancer” is a lesson for our times. As its title suggests, it is a head-to-battered-toe consideration of a male ballet dancer that takes you from studio to stage and points in between. It is formally conventional and draws on the usual zippy you-are-there moments with lots of gabby talking heads. What elevates it, though, is its charming — and from all accounts — deeply talented subject, Marcelo Gomes. So after it was over I eagerly searched Google for him on my phone only to discover that the day before, on Dec. 21, he had resigned from the American Ballet Theatre after he was accused of sexual misconduct.

The details remain sketchy. The New York Times reported that Andrew F. Barth, the chairman of the company’s board of trustees, had announced the bombshell news in an emailed statement: “Last Saturday, A.B.T. was made aware of a highly concerning allegation of sexual misconduct by Mr. Gomes, occurring approximately eight years ago.” Ballet Theatre took “immediate action,” and during its investigation, Gomes resigned. His spokeswoman told The Times in another emailed statement: “This is a time of reflection for Marcelo. He is gratified and strengthened by the support he has received from family, friends and colleagues. We have no further comment at this time.”

These revelations aren’t in “Anatomy of a Male Ballet Dancer,” which was produced, directed and shot by David Barba and James Pellerito. And while the accusations don’t invalidate the documentary, they have inevitably transformed its generally breezy, sometimes teary and altogether upbeat portrait. The movie is a classic underdog story, that of a Brazilian prodigy who — with a great deal of raw talent and drive, along with the kindness and encouragement of family and friends — matures into a genius of dance. Now, invariably, every painstaking step of that journey, each beat and milestone, comes with an unsettling asterisk as delight at his artistry mixes with doubt about his character.

The artistry is unassailable. Barba and Pellerito began shooting the movie in early 2010. Gomes had joined Ballet Theatre in 1997 at 18 and was promoted to a principal dancer in 2002. He soared. In a 2007 review of “Cinderella” in The Times, Alastair Macaulay wrote that Gomes “is at his finest as her prince: handsome dancing, modest, relaxed, attentive” — a description that nicely fits scene after scene of his performances here. Much of the documentary’s drama involves the countdown to his 20th anniversary with Ballet Theatre and all that entails, including Gomes’ acute attention to his aging body and his hope that his father will see him dance in New York.

Documentary portraits of this type often incorporate testimonials from affable, encouraging experts who smilingly help burnish the subject’s reputation. “Anatomy of a Male Ballet Dancer” is stuffed with such enthusiastic recommendations, including from numerous dancers — Misty Copeland, Julie Kent and Veronika Part — with whom Gomes partnered over his career. The love for him just pours off the screen in these moments, as does the respect and admiration. These persuasive testimonials are scattered among the dances, festivals and interstitial sections in which the energetic, very peripatetic Gomes quiets down and settles in for some intimate on-camera sharing.

Much of this is agreeable, or at least was. In retrospect, the sheer amount of gush in the movie, all the praise and feverish shouts of bravo, underscores the limits of affirmational documentaries. It is also a reminder that a movie’s meaning is made (and remade) by its viewers, not just its content. Barbra and Pellerito set out to create a portrait of Gomes, who comes across as an extremely nice guy. When I saw the movie in December, their portrayal seemed rather too fluffy and fawningly one-note, but it was also hard to resist. Gomes can be thrilling to watch even when partly obscured by a partner’s dress, but it may be that more of him was hidden from us than this movie suggests.


Production Notes:

‘Anatomy of a Male Ballet Dancer’

Not rated. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.