Isaac Hernández conquers the ballet world

The Mexican puts his country on the international map of classical dance

In the backyard of his family home, supported by a railing that served as a rehearsal bar, on a floor that sinks slightly, and with the glass window of the dining room as a mirror, Isaac Hernández took his first steps in the world of dance. At that time, it was a small house in the Seattle neighborhood of Zapopan, Mexico, that, according to his mother, Laura Elena Fernández de Hernández, originally had a carpentry workshop to help support 11 children. 

It has been 20 years since Isaac Hernández, recently awarded the Prix Benois de la Danse for Best Ballet Dancer of 2017 (the highest award given in Russia for the ballet world), practiced under the guidance of his own father, the former dancer and teacher Héctor Hernández, and some of his brothers on that old bar that remains intact in that courtyard that retains its unevenness. It has been two decades in which Isaac Hernández has conquered the world of classical ballet and its best stages, with presentations in 20 countries on five continents.

Since becoming the First Dancer of the National Ballet of Holland in Amsterdam, Hernández has set a clear goal that he has met step by step: putting Mexico on the world map of classical dance, and, at the same time, making Mexico consider ballet a discipline worthy of being taken seriously.

"Ballet and art in general keep youth away from violence. But the Latin American governments, and especially the Mexican one, must be aware that ballet is a high performance discipline, as sport can be. That's why more support and dissemination is needed,” Hernández said in several forums.

Hernández is currently the first dancer of the English National Ballet, a company with which his growth has been exponential and that has led him to test his own ability, which have seen no limits.

Mexico: lacking tradition in ballet

Although in Mexico there is a National Dance Company dedicated to classical and contemporary ballet, it is only 55 years old, so we can say that the tradition of the discipline is still very young in this country.

Great figures have stood out at the national level, but few have transcended internationally, such as Elisa Carrillo, the first dancer of the Staatsballet in Berlin, Germany, or Sinaloan José Limón, creator of a technique for contemporary dance that is replicated in various academies and companies around the world.

That is why, for Hernández, it has been fundamental not only to conquer the public, teachers, and critics from different countries, but to raise the level of classical dance in his own nation.

This is how he created, six years ago, through his own family company, Soul Arts Productions, the show Despertares (Awakenings), to bring to Mexico the best of world dance today. It is a show that has brought together some 30 companies and 100 dance professionals in their different manifestations, to bring the Mexican public closer to the majestic diversity that is developing in other territories.

The format that has made Despetares enroll in the world circuit has been so innovative. Suffice it to say that in the 2016 edition, when Hernández presented it for the first time in his native city, a whole company from the United States came to see the show; not only his dancers, but members of his board, as well as managerial and administrative staff.

Give to grow

Isaac Hernández has belonged to the San Francisco Ballet in the United States, as well as the National Ballet of the Netherlands and currently the English National Ballet of the United Kingdom. As a member of the last two institutions, he has been more concerned with sharing something of what he has learned abroad, so that aspiring dancers in Mexico can in turn grow from their experiences.

For example, he has supported the management of resources of European companies, such as courses and even costumes to support the Municipal School of Ballet of Tlajomulco directed by his father.

 Hernández has also managed to get the English National Ballet to audition Mexican students at their school for periods ranging from one summer to four years. He is also a prominent speaker, because in different forums in Mexico he has shared his life story to inspire the youngest to follow their dreams and reach their goals.

"All the sacrifice I've made since I was a child has been worth it. Sometimes I surprise myself, because they propose to participate in different companies as a guest and I say 'yes', almost without thinking, and then I see myself giving different functions in three countries in a same week and I think 'yes, I can do it' ", Hernández has declared about his dizzying life in which there is no place for rest: essays and functions from Monday to Sunday integrate his daily life, travel from one continent to another in the days that should be destined to rest.

Face to face with the great

"It has been a memorable experience. Mikhail Baryshnikov is an artist who deeply inspires me. It gives me an energy that only the great stars have and is eager to share their knowledge; that was the most special. After the show he congratulated me and stayed with me, when everyone left, advising me to help me grow my role more. It has made me very happy to live this experience. It is something that will accompany me for the rest of my life. Something that has also been very special for me, is that my parents could accompany me this important night in my career," said the Mexican dancer after being led by one of the living legends of classical dance around the world, dancing Don Quixote for the Opera of Rome last year.

This privilege had not been experienced by any Mexican dancer in all of history.

The goal is met

With the appointment as Best Dancer of 2017 in the Pix Benois de la Danse, which was delivered to him in June of this year, Isaac Hernández conquered much more than the most specialized jury in the world of dance. He conquered his country. Because, although the prize was well loved and recognized in the so-called Aztec lands before, this award has solidified both  his own name and the name of his country in the world history of classical ballet. And he is only 28 years old.

Esteban Hernández, with his own steps

It is worth mentioning, as the culmination of  Isaac Hernández’ great life story, the remarkable career of his younger brother, Esteban Hernández, who is currently a soloist at the San Francisco Ballet, a company with which he has also toured the world.

Esteban has a history full of triumphs in children's and youth competitions and is already in a firm position within his company to be part of the dream of his brother Isaac, to participate in all editions of Depertares.

His scenarios

Isaac Hernández has danced at the Bolshoi Theater in Russia, at the Paris Opera and at the Rome Opera, to name a few.

His performances at the National Auditorium of Mexico City have sold out, with about 10,000 seats sold, a record number for a classical dance on a single stage. With another date added, he will perform for more than 15,000 people on August 25 and 26, 2018.

Credit of photografies: Mich Canovas, Svetlana Loboff, Alejandro López and Soul Arts Production's files 

People at the photographies with Isaac Hernández: Tamara Rojo, Julio Bocca, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Mexican dance students and Héctor Hernández 

About the Writer

This text was written by Dalia Zúñiga Berumen, a Mexican cultural journalist with 25 years of media experience. For 6 years she has been closely following the career of Mexican dancers Isaac and Esteban Hernández.

  • Isaac Hernández by Svetlana Loboff
  • Isaac y Héctor Hernández
  • Isaac Hernandez and Baryshnikov