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What a doll:  Marcelo Gomes plays a toy come to life 
    in The Nutcracker.
What a doll: Marcelo Gomes plays a toy come to life in The Nutcracker.
Rosalie O'Connor

The Prince of Plis

If ballet were baseball, Marcelo Gomes would be A-Rod -- minus the squabbles and ball-slapping. At 25, he's already a principal dancer with the world-renowned American Ballet Theatre (the Yankees of the ballet world). Dance companies around the world have cast him as a lead in every ballet from Giselle to Swan Lake. He's tall, fit and good-looking in the way only Brazilians can be. And he's just the nicest guy.

It's fitting, therefore, that the charmed prince of the ballet world would come to play a charmed prince in Houston Ballet's Nutcracker. This weekend and next, Gomes will dance the role of the Nutcracker Prince in Tchaikovsky's ubiquitous ballet. The Nutcracker Prince is the come-to-life version of Clara's nutcracker doll; he fends off the Rat King, escorts Clara to the Kingdom of Sweets and then has a nice little pas de deux with the Sugar Plum Fairy before becoming a stout wooden doll once more.

The Nutcracker is hard enough for civilians to evade; for dancers, it's pretty much mandatory. "I remember doing it since I could do my first plié," says Gomes. "When you know how to plié, you go do Nutcracker." It's become something of a barometer for his career: As a boy, he was a "very little soldier," then young Fritz, then the Cavalier, and now companies tap him to put that big fake Nutcracker head atop his shoulders. ("You get used to it," he says. "I've done some where you can't see through the eyes, and others where you can see but you can't breathe.")

This appointment is something of a homecoming for Gomes: He trained at the Houston Ballet Academy for two summers as a teenager. He's also worked previously with Houston Ballet artistic director Stanton Welch, when Welch was in New York choreographing for ABT. "He's a choreographer's dream," says Welch, spilling over with compliments. When asked what specifically choreographers like about Gomes, he says, "I think it's the fact that he does everything well."

The Sugar Plum Fairy is thrilled to greet her Prince as well. Houston Ballet principal Sara Webb studied with Gomes at the Harid Conservatory in Florida when they were both teens. "He was my first real ballet partner," she says. "We always thought that we'd dance together professionally, but it hasn't happened until now." Gomes, for his part, doesn't skip a princely beat when he says that partnering -- lifting, spinning and guiding a ballerina -- is his favorite thing to do (check off "chivalrous" on his Perfect Guy chart). "I got really excited when Stanton gave me the invitation," he says. "My first thought was 'I get to see Sara again.'"

You'd think that between the homecoming and the overflow of compliments, coupled with the fact that the ballet is set in a freaking Kingdom of Sweets, the whole Gomes-Nutcracker collaboration might be too saccharine. But Gomes just seems sweet. Plus, he's much happier to boast about his new dog than about his dancing expertise. Pretty down-to-earth for a guy who spends his days doing bravura jumps in fantasy worlds. -- Julia Ramey See Marcelo Gomes as the Nutcracker Prince in Houston Ballet's Nutcracker Saturday and Sunday, December 11 and 12; Wednesday, December 15; Friday, December 17; and Sunday and Monday, December 19 and 20. The show runs through December 26. Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas. For a full schedule, call 713-523-6300 or visit $17 to $80.


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