Inside the Audition: At Isaac Hernández’s Despertares Impulsa, Mexico’s Young Dancers Try for the Royal Ballet School
On August 1, young, aspiring dancers from all over Mexico gathered in Monterrey, Nuevo León, to have their chance to earn a spot at London’s prestigious Royal Ballet School. It was the first time the school has ever held auditions in Mexico. The event was part of Despertares Impulsa, a program organized by San Francisco Ballet principal Isaac Hernández, the first Mexican recipient of the prestigious Benois de la Danse. In addition to the auditions, this year’s program also included a youth conference with Hernández entitled “Living with Purpose,” which drew 1,200 registrants, as well as master classes, all held free of charge. The Despertares gala, held August 6 in Mexico City’s National Auditorium, capped off the event, starring a slew of international dance stars.
The auditions were organized by Soul Arts Productions—the production company that Hernández runs with his brother and fellow SFB principal Esteban Hernández, their sister, Emília, and brother-in-law, Matthias Loutreuil—and the Royal Ballet School, as well as the Nuevo León Ministry of Culture. (Esteban graduated from the Royal Ballet School himself, the first Mexican to do so.) In previous years Despertares Impulsa has offered free auditions to study at the San Francisco Ballet School and English National Ballet School.
Open to dancers ages 12 to 19, the auditions were held at the Escuela Superior de Música y Danza de Monterrey, the official school of the Ballet de Monterrey, directed by retired Royal Ballet principal Thiago Soares. Out of 248 applicants, 77 were selected to audition in person.
Several young students shared their reasons for attending as they warmed up beforehand.
Abril Quezada, 13 years old, took a two-hour flight to Monterrey from her hometown of Chihuahua. She has been training for 10 years and wanted to audition for the Royal Ballet School to challenge herself. “This school is very important and talented, so I wanted to know if I can do this,” says Quezada. She says her favorite ballerina is Royal Ballet principal Marianela Nuñez.
A dancer since the age of 5, Ami Vaquero, 16, received a full scholarship to the SFB School summer program after auditioning at the 2019 Despertares Impulsa in Guadalajara. However, the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted her plans and she wasn’t able to attend. Her mother, Berenice, drove her eight hours from their home in Morelia, Michoacán, to see if she could get a second chance, hopefully this time with the Royal Ballet School. Berenice says she has no reservations about letting her daughter move across the pond if she gets accepted.
“I was a ballet teacher also, so I understand it,” says Berenice.
“We will cry if she gets it,” adds Ami’s sister, Paula. “We want her to go far.”
René Garza, 16, has been a student at the Escuela Superior de Música y Danza de Monterrey for six years. He has already experienced training abroad, first at the Princess Grace Academy in Monaco for eight months and then at a summer intensive with the Orlando Ballet School. He auditioned for the Royal Ballet School to gain more exposure to different ballet styles.
“The technique here at my school in Monterrey is very Cuban-focused,” says Garza, adding that he’d like to experience the British style.
Dante González, 18, is a Mexican American who grew up in Jacksonville, Florida. A recent graduate of the National Ballet School of Canada, González says he heard about the auditions in Monterrey by following Isaac Hernández and Despertares on social media. Since his family has friends in Monterrey, they combined a vacation with the audition opportunity.
“I got to do a Royal Ballet School intensive in 2016 at White Lodge,” says González. “I got a taste of it and now I hope to experience more.”
He admires Isaac for his contributions to ballet and Mexico. “He’s incredibly talented, but what really earns my trust and respect is his commitment to bringing possibilities to other dancers and bringing the art form to Mexico. We have invited family to watch the Despertares gala [in the past], and now they have become interested in ballet,” says González.
Following the auditions, Melissa Segura, secretary of culture of the state of Nuevo León, shared the news that five students had been accepted to study at the Royal Ballet School. It is a proud moment for Segura, who says her role was created by the current government administration in Nuevo León, which just took office nine months ago.
“The first decisions taken by this institution were focused on the creative and artistic development of children and youth,” explains Segura. “We are very happy to announce that several Mexican aspiring dancers have been accepted to continue their training at the Royal Ballet School. We congratulate them and reiterate our commitment to the arts.”