Isaac Hernández found himself onstage at San Francisco Ballet’s opening gala last January partnering Tina LeBlanc in Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux. Although Hernández was merely a member of the corps, LeBlanc had requested him as a partner. The partnering was serviceable, but Hernández’s aerial trajectory was astonishing. Critics left talking about him.
Hernández, a native of Guadalajara, Mexico, is pursuing his career at warp speed. He joined SFB only last summer. True, he spent his share of evenings in the corps this past season, but he also performed major roles. You couldn’t miss his neo-Bolshoi male duet in Christopher Wheeldon’s Within the Golden Hour, or his man in violet twisting exuberantly in the air in Alexei Ratmansky’s Russian Seasons. Hernández musters an impressive jump, high-velocity turns, a tapered line and a kind of self-deprecating confidence. For a debut season with a professional company, no dancer could ask for more.
And he has already made a favorable impression on the company’s artistic staff. “Isaac is a product of good training, and he comes across in class as poised and dedicated,” says Ballet Master Ricardo Bustamante. “He’s a good fit for SFB’s diverse repertoire.”
Hernández’s gifts had already gained attention in the ballet world. It was his father, Hector (a former member of Dance Theatre of Harlem), who introduced him to ballet at age 9 via lessons in the family’s backyard. Three years later, Isaac enrolled at Philadelphia’s The Rock School and attracted global attention in 2006 when he won both the gold medal (junior division) and the Ballet International Award at the USA International Ballet Competition in Jackson, Mississippi.
Life on the competition circuit treated Hernández well. He thrived in the environment. “I was at that point when I needed the challenge, the pressure to become better,” he says. “The recognition of my work kept me going. Of course, some dancers are not made for this.”
The experience generated nibbles from major companies, and a personal crisis, too. “I had a big breakdown at 16,” Hernández recalls. “I asked myself, What would be the right move? I was technically ready for a professional contract, but could I handle the company work? My whole life had always been about personal training, and I wanted to take advantage of that as long as possible. I thought that once you get into a company, it’s never the same. There are so many things you need to worry about.”
ABT II offered a compromise. Hernández praises the company and its director. “Wes Chapman had a lot to teach me and he didn’t hold back in his criticism.” Yet Hernández knew he needed to take the next step. He flew out to San Francisco, took one class with SFB and came away deeply impressed. Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson was also impressed: He hired Hernández then and there.
And at the moment, SFB presents Hernández with the ideal career situation. “Ricardo’s class has a great atmosphere,” he says. And there’s the repertoire, of course. Hernández’s wish list for 2010 includes Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet, and new ballets by Wheeldon and Yuri Possokhov.
Ambitious? Maybe. But given the events of the past year, realistic, too. “Helgi gives me opportunities,” says Hernández. “He puts me out there.”
Allan Ulrich is a San Francisco dance critic.
As a teenager, Adrian Durham studied at his local ballet school in Lake Charles, Louisiana. "I was one of three or four guys training there, and there were no male teachers," says Durham. "Most of my partnering experience came from rehearsals for performances." But after he began training with the male scholarship program at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet in 2014, he experienced a sea change. "It challenged me mentally, physically and emotionally, because it's such an intense program," he says. Now 20, he is preparing for a professional career with an integrated set of tools: ballet technique, physical strength and partnering skills.
Men's ballet technique classes have been available for decades, especially at summer intensives and urban ballet schools. Yet programs designed specifically for male dancers, often offering full scholarships, have been rarer—until now, that is. Training that allows boys to separately explore their skills, above and beyond a supplement of double tours en l'air and pirouettes à la seconde at the conclusion of a mixed class, can literally give young men a leg up as they aspire towards a dance career.
American Ballet Theatre's Cassandra Trenary seems to have it all—not only is our June/July 2016 cover star a dazzling soloist at ABT, she has a sunny, down-to-earth personality and a life-saving hero for a husband. But her first year in the company had its fair share of disappointments—in fact, she almost left dance altogether to pursue acting.
In May, the National YoungArts Foundation, an organization that provides scholarships and mentorship to aspiring performing artists, brought Trenary (herself a 2011 YoungArts winner) and ABT artist in residence Alexei Ratmansky together for a salon-style discussion. Together they talked about critical turning points in their careers, as well as the challenges of navigating the dance world as a young professional. Below are exclusive excerpts of their interview—we hope their words inspire you as much as they inspire us!
There's still time to enter YoungArts's national arts competition for a chance at scholarships, workshops and more. Click here for information on how to apply.
To watch Irina Kolpakova coach Swan Lake is to witness a true artist at work. Although long retired from the stage, the American Ballet Theatre ballet mistress still possesses a commanding presence and an instinctive artistic spirit.
"Don't think about your shape when you first see Siegfried," she tells soloist Isabella Boylston during rehearsal for Odette's Act II entrance. "This is not 'port de bras.' This is 'Don't touch me!' " Kolpakova demonstrates, transforming instantly into the Swan Queen. Her eyes sparkling and alive, every inch of her diminutive stature swells with a palpable energy capable of reaching the highest ring of the balcony.
Call it stage presence, call it the "it" factor, some dancers just have a natural ability to draw people in and change the atmosphere around them. Stage presence can carry a dancer to a higher artistic realm. It's the final piece of the puzzle, the emotional heart of a performance that can bring an audience to tears. Without it, even the best choreography risks falling flat.
Last fall, Diana Vishneva shocked her NYC following when she announced that she would give her final performance with American Ballet Theatre on June 23, 2017. The Russian-born dancer has been part of ABT since performing in Romeo and Juliet as a guest artist in 2003, and has held the title of principal dancer with the company since 2005 in addition to her principal role with the Mariinksy Ballet. Throughout her time with ABT, which she spoke about in the below video for The New Yorker, Vishneva has danced as a guest artist with Bolshoi Ballet, Paris Opera Ballet and Berlin State Ballet.
Karen Kain is internationally renowned as a performer and as the National Ballet of Canada's artistic director. The former NBoC principal always carries herself with the grace and sophistication of a true leader. However, in this 1976 clip from Giselle, the distinguished ballerina is convincingly naïve and bewildered in her interpretation of the mad scene.
Kain conveys Giselle's innocence at the start of the scene with pure, unaffected gestures and facial expressions. Then, after Albrecht betrays her, her eyes stare unfocused into the distance as if she's in a trance. Although this scene is mostly acting, Kain dances dreamily to the musical motif at 5:30 and conceals her technical strength in order to show the character's frailty. It takes a true ballerina to perform this heartbreaking and beautiful role, and with performances like this and her lifelong commitment to the art form, Kain proves that she is an extraordinary one. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!
If you, like many of us here at Pointe, wish you could have seen Royal Ballet star Zenaida Yanowsky's retirement performance on June 7, you're in luck. The Royal will screen a recording of it in select movie theaters across the U.S. starting Sunday, June 25. (In many cities, it will be screened on Tuesday, July 11.) The program includes three works by the company's founding choreographer, Sir Frederick Ashton: The Dream, Symphonic Variations and Marguerite and Armand—the latter of which stars Yanowsky and Roberto Bolle. You can also catch other Royal favorites like Marianela Nuñez, Vadim Muntagirov, Steven McRae, Akane Takada and Yasmin Naghdi. Make sure to bring tissues!
To find dates, times and theaters near you, click here.
Choreographer Diane Coburn Bruning has a different kind of vision for her Chamber Dance Project. Though she relocated the project-based company from New York City to Washington, DC several years ago, her focus remains on creating collaborations between classically-trained ballet dancers and other contemporary artists to share in intimate venues with live music. This summer, the artistic director brings together dancers from Cincinnati, Kansas City, Milwaukee and Washington Ballets for a condensed period of time. The company's 2017 season show titled Ballet Brass & Song opens this weekend, and features works by Jennifer Archibald, Jorge Amarante, and a world premiere by Coburn Bruning herself. We caught up with her last week to hear more about her company's mission.