It was a strange feeling that all the work a person can do in their lifetime, seven days a week of dedicating your life, goes out the window and is not even mentioned, is put aside for a headline. It was shocking. Is that how quickly it goes?
English National Ballet Lead Principal Isaac Hernandez is talking about recent suggestions that his romantic involvement with the company’s director, Tamara Rojo, leads to him being given casting priority.
Some of the press was very specific about the age difference, which I think is unnecessary nowadays, but [Rojo] is a smart woman. She continues to attract some of the most talented dancers from all over the world, for one reason: her vision. This is a company where young talent gets opportunities. I kept telling her, trust in the facts and the work you’ve done won’t go unnoticed.
Hernandez is referring to the fact that he is 16 years younger than Rojo – he is 27. He has just finished reading a biography of Winston Churchill who was 27 when he first took his seat in the House of Commons and gave his noted maiden speech.
It was inspiring to read about a 27-year-old with that vision and hunger for the world. He excelled in so many different fields.
“Don’t underestimate the possibilities of a human being. Sometimes I work as a speaker, and that is the one thing I always say, “You can do much more than you give yourself credit for.” Sometimes people need to hear that.
Hernandez is talking to David Jays in today’s edition of The Sunday Times as the English National Ballet rehearse its Voices of America programme which opens at Sadler’s Wells on 21 April.
What was it like returning to a company which apparently has members of its ranks against him?
For me it was strange, I have never experienced hostility here, but when we returned from the holidays, I thought maybe people will treat me differently. That was not the case. I felt back in my environment. It made it easier while all the noise was happening.
The Arts Council has since looked into the matter and announced that ENB has “appropriate policies and processes in place to handle grievances, complaints and conflicts of interest”. Hernandez is justly proud of Rojo:
Her best asset is the work she’s done. It’s proof that since she’s taken over the company, the situation has improved for the dancers. As I keep telling her, ‘You’ve fought for them to have a better life quality. The new building will change the life of the company, the life of the city.’ I try to encourage her, but it is difficult to be in the spotlight.
Hernandez joined English National Ballet in 2015.
When I arrived, I thought, this is a company that can be whatever they want. They have the vision, so I said [he snaps his fingers] this is the place to be.
Hernandez is currently working with William Forsythe on his Approximate Sonata 2016 as well as a new piece called Playlist (Track 1, 2).
He has a very natural approach. Yesterday he said he strived to be the person he would like his children to run into at work. He has such a creative mind, but he can also communicate at a very personal level. I’ve always found the most extraordinary people are the ones who can talk naturally to anybody.
Recently he had the chance to work with another giant in the world of ballet when he was invited to guest at Rome Opera Ballet when the company staged Mikhail Baryshnikov’s production of Don Quixote:
I have always said I would only be starstruck with very few people, and Misha is one of them. But he was open, honest, easy to approach. I still wake every morning and feel lucky to have had the chance to hear him talk.
Although dancing is his focus right now, he is already thinking about life after dance, and producing is something that attracts him. When he was 19 he put on a show in Mexico with colleagues from North American companies.
I loved producing because it gave me an idea of the bigger picture. It was a complete mess [but] the next day I was with my father and sister in front of the National Auditorium, which holds 10,000 people, and I said, “I would love to do the show there.” Especially because my dad, when he was young and hungry, had slept in the restaurant kitchen.
Every single person said, “You’re crazy.” But every year, for five years, we’ve set out 10,000 seats, and I bring to Mexico what is happening at the Paris Opéra, the Royal Ballet. For my father to be a part of it is the culmination of his dream. We have seen a boom in ballet in Mexico. I wanted people to know you can dedicate your life to the arts and live with dignity.
I will always be a dancer. But now it has caught my attention that I can do a lot more in Mexico. I’m dreaming of seeing real change. To be in a position where I can influence the cultural life of Mexico, that is terribly attractive.