Inside the Audition: At Isaac Hernández’s Despertares Impulsa, Mexico’s Young Dancers Try for the Royal Ballet School

August 22, 2022

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.

Isaac Hernandez and Iain Mackay converse in front of risers and a curtained door. Hernandez, in a white button-down shirt and black pants, crosses his arms across his chest as he speaks, looking out into the room. Mackay, in a black t-shirt with white designs and black pants, his hands in his pockets, looks at Hernandez and listens.
Isaac Hernandez with Iain Mackay, international artistic manager of the Royal Ballet School. Photo by Alex Lopez, courtesy Soul Arts Productions.

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. 

Young female dancers in street clothes and warmups, with their dark hair in slick buns, hold water bottles and dance bags as they register for an audition class in a brightly lit room. A cardboard backdrop is behind the workers at the counter, all older females, with powder blue t-shirts and lanyards, who help the dancers register.
Dancers register for the auditions at the Escuela Superior de Musica y Danza de Monterrey. Photo by Alex Lopez, courtesy Soul Arts Productions.

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. 

Two young female dancers warm up in a studio before an audition class. The girl on the left, in a light brown-gray camisole leotard, wears black garbage bag warmup shorts over her pink tights and ballet slippers. She rests her left leg in an arabesque stretch on the barre, facing outward and in a combré back with her right arm on the barre and her left arm overhead in 5th en haut. She wears a paper number safety pinned to her leotard and looks out past her working elbow into the studio. The dancer on the right rests her left leg on the barre in an a la seconde stretch, facing in toward the barre, and looks at her pointed foot. A large wooden-frame window divides the cream-colored wall between them.
Students warm up before the audition. Photo by Alex Lopez, courtesy Soul Arts Productions.

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.” 

A young female dancer, in a black camisole leotard, pink ballet tights, and black warmup shorts, does a foot-in-hand stretch at the barre before class. She wears a purple warmup bootie on her standing right leg but does not wear the other as she holds on to her ballet slipper on her flexed working foot. She has a paper number, A104, safety pinned to the front of her leotard. She looks out into the studio. There are a piano, mirror, door, TV and other students behind her, and her dance bag and street shoes are beside her by the wall.
A young dancer warms up before her audition for the Royal Ballet School. Photo by Alex Lopez, courtesy Soul Arts Productions.

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. 

Fourteen young dancers, co-ed, do pliés at bare onstage in an audition class. The girls wear black camisole leotards, pink tights, and pink ballet slippers, their dark hair pulled back into slick buns. The boys wear white t-shirts, black tights, white socks and white ballet slippers. In the foreground, a male teacher leads the class and walks by in a black t-shirt, black jeans, and tennis shoes. He has gray hair and his hands in his jean pockets, body turned sideways as he turns his head away from the camera to watch the students with a concentrated expression.
Mackay leads dancers through auditions in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon. Photo by Alex Lopez, courtesy Soul Arts Productions.

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. 

A woman in a hot pink t-shirt, black athletic pants and black teaching shoes leads class onstage to four young male dancers. She stands in sous-sus with her arms in 3rd position, preparing for a tour en l'air. The dancers behind her mimic her movements, dressed in white t-shirts, black tights and shoes. They wear paper numbers, safety pinned to their fronts, for the audition class.
Dante Gonzalez (far left) and other auditioning students learn a combination from Jessica Clarke, artistic manager of the Vocational and Pre-professional Programs at the Royal Ballet School. Photo by Alex Lopez, courtesy Soul Arts Productions..

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. 

In the blurred foreground, two young female dancers execute an arabesque with their hands on the barre, facing in toward each other. The focused background shows a male and female who lead the audition class in front of risers. The woman, with her brown hair up and wearing a white sweatshirt, sits at a desk with water bottles and papers, holding her pen in her folded hands. The man, in a black t-shirt, black pants and a knit wrap around his mid-section, leans toward her with his arms resting on his bent knees. They both watch the dancers eagerly.
Mackay and Clarke assess the dancers. Photo by Alex Lopez, courtesy Soul Arts Productions.

“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.”