(Cavalier with Sugar Plum Fairy: Maggie Small and Fernando Sabino in The Nutcracker by Stoner Winslett. Richmond Ballet. All Rights Reserved. Photo by Sarah Ferguson.)

Brazilian Dancer Prepares For His Last Curtain Call In Norfolk

By Jim Roberts

Fernando Sabino doesn’t have an exact count, but he estimates he’s danced in about 300 performances of “The Nutcracker” since joining the Richmond Ballet 14 years ago. Sabino, who trained in his native Brazil, in Cuba and at Juilliard before moving to Virginia, is planning to retire in 2020, so his four upcoming performances at Chrysler Hall will be his last in Norfolk. He spoke to Veer Magazine in late October—a few weeks before he knew what his final “Nutcracker” role would be.

When did you realize you were good at ballet?

“You know, I still think I’m not good at it, to be honest. I feel like every day, I’m learning, learning, learning. I have a great experience right now, just because I get to dance so much and get to work with so many choreographers and people. But I feel like the reason I get to do all these roles and all these parts and be where I am in my life is just because I love dancing. I know every time I’m in the studio, I’m always working hard and giving everything that I have. I think that makes your confidence, and the confidence, I think, came with parts that I got to do. I’m not the kind of dancer that I think that I’m the best. I just think I’m unique, but I don’t think that makes me the best.”

What do you love about ‘The Nutcracker?’

“It’s something that you do every year and something that brings families together and something that you don’t have to tell everyone the story. Everybody knows the story and can just come and enjoy the beauty of the ballet and the live music. I like how the kids are involved with it as well—not just the professional company. It’s a family ballet. … It’s just how ‘The Nutcracker’ brings everyone together. Something that I really love about our production—I love our production just for the fact it’s so simple and is easy to understand. You don’t really need to read the story in order to know the performance.”

What do you like about performing in Norfolk?

“I like the theater a lot. It’s nice to play with the Virginia Symphony Orchestra with live music; it’s something that, as a dancer, is very important. I feel like Hampton Roads is so rich in arts and culture, so it’s nice to be around and give that opportunity for the people to be part of a professional company like Richmond. I feel like the city over these years is now really seeing us with different eyes and that we’re trying to be there and make art just for them—just share what we have two hours away.”

What’s it like to perform with your wife, Sabrina Holland?

“It’s awesome! Some people are like, ‘Oh, my god. You guys are married, live together, work together?’ … It’s so easy because we understand each other. I dance with her, but I don’t dance as much as everybody thinks. … It’s great, though. I think the fact that we do good outside of here works and makes it easier when we’re in work dancing together.”

Why have you decided to retire?

“I feel like everything comes to an end. It’s not something that I just came up with; it’s something that I discussed with my director before, and personally I just think that now is a great time for me to retire just because I want to try to open different doors. I still feel good, I’m still healthy, and I’m still dancing. I would like to teach dance around here and see if I can pass that on. … I learned so much when a teacher could show—instead of just telling me—could show or could demonstrate something, and I feel like if I am going to do this transition, I would like to do it now that I feel good about myself. I have other things that I like to do that doesn’t involve just dance. … I will be 34 by the time I’m retired. I think it would be personally a great time to do my next step in life.”

Tell us about your efforts to get more boys involved in ballet.

“Ballet, sometimes it can sound so feminine, but boys do dance, you know? … I have like 11 boys here taking class. They come from Minds In Motion; they’re introduced pretty much the same way that I was. … You can see they are very comfortable in their skin, and it’s always nice somebody from the company—a male dancer—teaching. I think it’s important that you have more male ballet dancers teaching, instead of just female. I think it’s always important; you’ve got to have that diversity of male and female in this world we are.”

What else do you want to tell us about yourself or about the show?

“I am what I am right now through dance. People are like, ‘How you ended up in Richmond?’ I’m like, ‘Look, I just dance, and it brought me there.’ … I think it was the passion for dance. And that’s something that I do have, and I always will have. And maybe that’s why like sometimes that passion, you know, is better you choose to stop than that passion dies inside of you.”



“The Nutcracker”

Presented by Richmond Ballet 

December 6-8

Chrysler Hall