Esteban and Isaac Hernández in rehearsal. "Sometimes I question whether I'm pushing myself too much," says Isaac (right), who spends much of his free time fundraising, planning the gala and making weekend trips to Mexico. "But I'm young and ambitious, and I must use that while my body still allows me to." Photo by Santiago Barreiro, Courtesy Soul Arts Productions.

An Evening of Stars: Inside Isaac Hernández's Gala in Mexico

Most people associate ballet with opera houses, not rock-concert venues. But on a summer night in August, almost 10,000 people packed Mexico City's National Auditorium to experience Despertares, an international gala featuring some of the dance world's biggest stars. Despertares (which means "awakenings" in Spanish) is the passion project of Mexican dancer Isaac Hernández, a lead principal at English National Ballet. Together with his brother, San Francisco Ballet soloist Esteban Hernández, they hope to develop new audiences in their home country. The gala is their fifth, and part of a larger initiative that includes outreach projects and a free ballet school for underprivileged children.

The National Auditorium in Mexico City. Photo Courtesy Soul Arts Productions.


Despertares grew out of Isaac's desire to awaken the interest of dance in Mexico, which both he and Esteban left at an early age due to a lack of professional opportunities. But he initially faced resistance from producers. "They told me that this would not work in Mexico, that people didn't care enough about ballet," he says. "So we decided to do it ourselves."

Isaac, Esteban and their sister Emilia and brother-in-law formed their own production company, and took the two brothers' success story to the press. (Their father, former Dance Theatre of Harlem, Houston Ballet and Harkness Ballet dancer Hector Hernández, gave all 11 siblings ballet lessons at a barre in their backyard.) "When people saw the possibilities of social movement that the arts brought me, and the structure it brought my life, they started paying attention," says Isaac. With the help of sponsors, the family opened a free ballet school in Tlajomulco de Zúñiga; it now has 700 children on its waiting list. "We saw how every year, audiences were growing."

Eventually they secured enough funding for Despertares—and Isaac wanted it to be different. "We made tickets as affordable as possible so that people from all backgrounds can see it," he says. The type of venue was also deliberate. "Those I want to reach never get close to an opera house, so I chose a venue where they could see anything, like Madonna or AC/DC. Most who come are seeing dance for the first time."

This year's gala featured stars from major companies all over the world, in pieces ranging from classical to contemporary to comedic. "That way people had a fair chance to decide if they like dance as a form of entertainment," says Isaac. Here's a behind-the-scenes look at this influential gala.

American Ballet Theatre principal Jeffrey Cirio and New York City Ballet principal Lauren Lovette rehearse Balanchine's "Rubies" pas de deux. Photo by Santiago Barreiro, Courtesy Soul Arts Productions.

"I walked away from Despertares with a renewed sense of gratitude and perspective, after getting to know so many kind, hard-working artists who've dedicated their lives to this craft, as I have." —Lauren Lovette


Cirio with a young fan at an autograph-signing event. Photo by Joel Hernández, Courtesy Soul Arts Productions.


Isaac and Boston Ballet principal Misa Kuranaga rehearse the Black Swan pas de deux. In addition to classical pas de deux, Isaac programmed newer works by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, William Forsythe, Akram Khan and Benjamin Millepied, and featured tap star Savion Glover. Photo by Santiago Barreiro, Courtesy Soul Arts Production.

"We must influence, we must create opportunities, we must create." —Isaac Hernández


Esteban and Maria Kochetkova in the pas de deux from The Talisman. Photo by Santiago Barreiro, Courtesy Soul Arts Production.


Tamara Rojo performs Carmen.Photo by Santiago Barreiro, Courtesy Soul Arts Production.


Isaac thanks the cast after the curtain comes down.Photo by Joel Hernández, Courtesy Soul Arts Production.

Latest Posts


Peter Mueller, Courtesy Cincinnati Ballet

2020 Stars of the Corps: 10 Dancers Making Strides In and Out of the Spotlight

The corps de ballet make up the backbone of every company. In our Fall 2020 issue, we highlighted 10 ensemble standouts to keep your eye on. Click on their names to learn more!

Dara Holmes, Joffrey Ballet

A male dancer catches a female dancer in his right arm as she wraps her left arm around his shoulder and executes a high arabesque on pointe. Both wear white costumes and dance in front of a blue backdrop onstage.

Dara Holmes and Edson Barbosa in Myles Thatcher's Body of Your Dreams

Cheryl Mann, Courtesy Joffrey Ballet

Wanyue Qiao, American Ballet Theatre

Wearing a powder blue tutu, cropped light yellow top and feather tiara, Wanyue Qiao does a piqu\u00e9 retir\u00e9 on pointe on her left leg and pulls her right arm in towards her.

Wanyue Qiao as an Odalisque in Konstantin Sergeyev's Le Corsaire

Gene Schiavone, Courtesy ABT

Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson, Houston Ballet

Three male dancers in tight-fitting, multicolored costumes stand in positions of ascending height from left to right. All extend their right arms out in front of them.

Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson (far right) with Saul Newport and Austen Acevedo in Oliver Halkowich's Following

Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy Houston Ballet

Leah McFadden, Colorado Ballet

Wearing a white pixie wig and a short light-pink tunic costume, a female ballet dancer poses in attitude front on pointe with her left arm bent across her ribs and her right hand held below her chin.

Leah McFadden as Amour in Colorado Ballet's production of Don Quixote

Mike Watson, Courtesy Colorado Ballet

Maria Coelho, Tulsa Ballet

Maria Coelho and Sasha Chernjavsky in Andy Blankenbuehler's Remember Our Song

Kate Lubar, Courtesy Tulsa Ballet

Alexander Reneff-Olson, San Francisco Ballet

A ballerina in a black feathered tutu stands triumphantly in sous-sus, holding the hand of a male dancer in a dark cloak with feathers underneath who raises his left hand in the air.

Alexander Reneff-Olson (right) as Von Rothbart with San Francisco Ballet principal Yuan Yuan Tan in Swan Lake

Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB

India Bradley, New York City Ballet

Wearing a blue dance dress with rhinestone embellishments and a sparkly tiara, India Bradley finishes a move with her arms out to the side and hands slightly flexed.

India Bradley practices backstage before a performance of Balanchine's Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2.

Erin Baiano, Courtesy NYCB

Bella Ureta, Cincinnati Ballet

Wearing a white dress with pink corset, Bella Ureta does a first arabesque on pointe in front of an onstage stone wall.

Bella Ureta performs the Act I Pas de Trois in Kirk Peterson's Swan Lake

Hiromi Platt, Courtesy Cincinnati Ballet

Alejándro Gonzales, Oklahoma City Ballet

Dressed in a green bell-boy costume and hat, Alejandro Gonz\u00e1lez does a saut\u00e9 with his left leg in retir\u00e9 and his arms in a long diagonal from right to left. Other dancers in late 19-century period costumes watch him around the stage.

Alejandro González in Michael Pink's Dracula at Oklahoma City Ballet.

Kate Luber, Courtesy Oklahoma City Ballet

Nina Fernandes, Miami City Ballet

Wearing a long white tutu and crown, Nina Fernandes does a saut de chat in front of a wintery backdrop as snow falls from the top of the stage.

Nina Fernandes in George Balanchine's The Nutcracker

Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy Miami City Ballet

Courtesy Carrie Gaerte, modeled by 2020 Butler University graduate Michela Semenza

Concussions Are More Than a Bump on the Head. Here's What Dancers Need to Know

Your partner accidentally drops you during a lift. You collide head-on with another dancer in rehearsal. Or you're hit in the face while you're spotting a turn. Even if you didn't lose consciousness, you may have a concussion, which can occur from a direct blow to the head or rotary force of the brain moving excessively or striking the skull.

As a dancer, your first instinct may be to keep going, but you shouldn't, says physical therapist and athletic trainer Carrie Gaerte, PT, DPT, ATC, who works with Butler University in Indianapolis and at Ascension St. Vincent Sports Performance. "What's really hard for dancers is admitting that maybe something isn't right," she says. "But the big thing about concussions is that your brain is not like your ankle, shoulder or knee. When your brain has an injury, that needs to take precedence over a role or a job."

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Getty Images

Thinking About College Ballet Programs? Here's a Comprehensive Guide to the Application Process

Gone are the days when you had to skip college in order to have a successful ballet career. College ballet programs are better than ever before, providing students with the training, professional connections and performance experience they need to thrive in companies postgraduation. But given the number of elements involved in the application process, choosing the right program can feel daunting. We've broken the college application timeline down step by step to help you best approach each stage along the way.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks