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The Royal Ballet's Marcelino Sambé on reaching queer Black audiences as principal dancer

Attitude 101 empowered by Bentley celebrates LGBTQ trailblazers.

2021-12-13

Words; Joseph Kocharian; pictures: Kosmas Pavlos

There are many exceptionally talented artists on this earth, and the newly-crowned Principal of the Royal Ballet, Marcelino Sambé, is certainly one of the brightest stars out there. The Portuguese dancer is at the forefront as the world of ballet changes in leaps and bounds, enticing a new generation of fans as it does so.

Now, as the leader of the Fashion, Art, and Design category, supported by Klarna for the Attitude 101 issue - out now to download and to order globally, Marcelino reveals his hope that the art form can reach new audiences and his ambition, as a Black queer dancer, to inspire others to follow in his footsteps.

He was promoted to the prestigious position of Principal at the Royal Ballet, one of the most famous companies on the planet, just before lockdown began in 2020, and after hanging up his ballet shoes for almost a year, Marcelino has taken centre-stage in some of the most-loved productions, including Romeo and Juliet and Giselle.

As a Black, openly gay performer, he works hard to use his platform to be an excellent role model, playing an active part in the Royal Opera House’s Pride and Black History Month initiatives and making the time to reach out to the younger generation. 

"It almost felt like the ballet world was finally moving towards the 21st century and [exploring] how we can share our art in a larger way," Marcelino says in regard to The Royal Ballet putting productions online.

"I felt like we were finally connecting with people that were probably unlikely to come to the Opera House and that was beautiful," he adds.

"I always wanted to be able to connect and create these opportunities to talk about my experience as a queer and Black person in my industry and talk about things people actually want to hear, like what inspires me and what my background is.

On the importance of representation as a queer Black ballet dancer, Marcelino remembers feeling out of place aged 11 or 12 (then) in Lisbon. "I saw a video of Carlos Acosta playing Romeo and I was, like, what...? Is this possible?

Marcelino wears tank top, by Paco Rabanne, and trousers by Balmain (Photography: Kosmas Pavlos; Photography Assistant: Luke Johnson; Grooming: Kristopher Smith using Oribe and MAC Cosmetics; Fashion Assistant: Eoin Higgins; Post Production: Aleandra Heindle-Szinyur/Dienachbarin)

"Wow, if he did it, I can do it – and it’s happening to me right now. It’s like a dream come true for me, and by doing this, I can pass that aspiration on to someone else.

"The interactions that I get with fans are about being a queer dancer — they appreciate my art and want to know everything, from how I made it, my height, to how I surpass my insecurities. I love that."

Marcelino accepts that it’s a lot of responsibility, but that that's a good thing. 

"Imagine a life without responsibility; I would hate it to be all about me," he says. "I love being able to dream and to believe that I might be doing something that might reach someone.

"I will make mistakes — everyone does — but my job right now is hopefully to reach someone’s heart and inspire them. I’m still on my journey."

Check out the full, detailed list in the Attitude 101 issue, which is out now to download and to order globally. The Attitude 101 issue includes the FREE Attitude 2022 calendar, presented in association with Taimi.

Subscribe in print and get your first three issues for just £1 each, or digitally for just over £1.50 per issue.