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“I think that he is just starting to scratch the surface of his abilities as a dramatic artist,” said Mary Ellen Hunt, a dance writer and critic in San Francisco.

Yet he nearly didn’t get even this far. At age 15, while at the Rock School, he took a jump and fell to the floor, unable to feel his legs. A doctor told him he had the spine of a 60-year-old man, with three discs nearly fused in his lower back. He couldn’t move for weeks or dance for a year, recovering in the rehabilitation facility for the Philadelphia Eagles because his injury was much more common among football players.

“Some of my deepest depressions were at that age. You are losing what makes you happy and it was really out of my hands,” he said. “For six months I was laying down on the floor. For the first couple weeks, I could only get up twice a day.”

But the moment he could put his hand on the barre again, he knew he wanted to come back.

“When I’m in the ballet studio is the only time that I make sense to myself,” he said. “It’s the most real thing I know.”

Hernandez returned to dance in his native country last November, appearing at the Bellas Artes theater in a program he called “A Moment to Dream,” referring to his desire to bring ballet to Mexico. Last week he was back, this time organizing a gala performance called “Awakenings” at Mexico’s much larger National Auditorium.

The performance featured dancers from top ballet companies around the world, including the American Ballet Theatre, and mixed classics such as “Don Quixote” and “Black Swan” with more accessible numbers: a dance on snow skis by the illusionist troupe Momix and the Vegas-style Bad Boys of Dance gyrating to Queen.

Hernandez himself performed four numbers, including one with his brother Esteban, 18, who is also causing a stir in the dance world as he finishes his final year at the Royal Ballet of London school. The audience gave the company a standing ovation, cheering and shouting “bravo” each time their native son spun and flew across the stage.

“It’s the first time I’ve see a show like that,” said Maria Rosa Perez Fernandez, 32, of Mexico City. “We’re used to ballet that is kind of boring. This one, they mixed in contemporary, there was more of a connection between him and the public.”

The auditorium that normally holds 10,000 people was cut to 5,000 seats, yielding a full performance but not a sellout. Unlike opening nights in San Francisco, there were no Versace gowns, rather a crowd in jeans and open collars.

“That’s the way we have to do it, little by little. It’s not going to change from today to tomorrow,” Hernandez said. “Mexico and the world are full of problems more important than the loss of culture. But that’s what makes us so crazy, to lose the small things that at the end of the day make us more human, that thing called art.”