Ballet Stars

The Star-Crossed Lover: Houston Ballet's Karina González on Dancing Juliet

Karina González in "Romeo and Juliet" choreographed by Stanton Welch. Photo by Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy of Houston Ballet.

As told to Julie Diana

Juliet is one of my favorite roles—you go through every emotion in just three acts. I had done different versions of the ballet before, but it was an amazing opportunity when my director Stanton Welch created the role for me. I watched a lot of videos to prepare and struggled at the beginning because I was trying to copy what other ballerinas had done. It took me a while to find my own way. But now, every step comes from deep inside.

I love that Juliet starts as an innocent little girl, playing with the nurse like she's her best friend. When she goes to the ball, she sees this person that moves her world around. I'm married now, and know what it means to give everything to someone and make decisions that will change your life. And because of the love you have for that person, it is worth it.

It's important to be able to trust your partner completely, especially when there are a lot of romantic scenes and crazy lifts. You throw yourself and know that he's going to be there for you. My Romeo was Connor Walsh. Our relationship is a little more special compared with other partners, and we're closer friends than before.

My husband was a dancer so he understands that kissing my partner is part of the job. But I don't like to rehearse those moments so much! We know that this kiss takes eight counts and the other one takes 12, and we kind of mark it for a while. The first time we kiss is in the dress rehearsal, so it's happening for the first time onstage.

González with her Romeo, Connor Walsh. Photo by Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy of Houston Ballet.

At the beginning of the ballet, I'm happy, smiling and jumping around like a little 14-year-old girl with all this energy. But the third act is intense emotionally. Juliet is so strong compared to the beginning of the ballet. Her age is the same, but she has matured through all the problems.

To prepare for the emotional scenes, I'd stand in my room in front of the mirror, finding that painful feeling that makes me cry. I spent a lot of time alone, because it's difficult to start crying in a studio with 60 people watching you! My dad would say, "Imagine that everyone is a Halloween pumpkin that has a face but is empty inside," so I would try to feel that I was by myself with a lot of pumpkins around. Through the years, I've learned to let go of fear ("Do I look pretty while I'm crying?") Now I just try to feel what is happening in the moment.

González and Walsh. Photo by Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy Houston Ballet.

For the death scene, I struggled. I hadn't had a bad experience in my life; I didn't want to just make a face, or do the steps. Eventually I learned how to bring the emotion in just eight counts—the music says it. But I lost my dad six months ago, so I'm sure the next time it will be completely different, having been through that pain.

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Photographed by Jayme Thornton for Pointe.

If you are a dance lover in South Korea, EunWon Lee is a household name. The delicate ballerina and former principal at the Korean National Ballet danced every major classical role to critical acclaim, including Odette/Odile, Giselle, Kitri, Nikiya and Gamzatti. Then, at the peak of her career, Lee left it all behind.

In 2016, she moved to Washington, DC, to join The Washington Ballet. The company of 26 is unranked, making Lee simply a dancer—not a soloist, not a principal and not a star, like she was back home.

"I try to challenge myself, and always I had the urge to widen my experience and continue to improve," she says one blustery winter day after company class, still glowing from the exertion of honing, stretching and strengthening. "When I had a chance to work with Julie Kent, I didn't hesitate."

Lee with Brooklyn Mack in the "Le Corsaire" pas de deux. Photo by Theo Kossenas, Courtesy TWB.

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Audition Advice
Photo by Jim Lafferty for Pointe.

Have you ever attended an audition and wished that you knew what the director was looking for? We've rounded up some of our favorite quotes from our Director's Notes column over the past few years to give you a deeper glimpse into the minds of 10 artistic directors.

Ashley Wheater, Joffrey Ballet

"I want to develop and nurture artists," says Wheater, seeking "people who are not afraid to be expressive, and understand all the layers that go into making a work above and beyond the steps."

Ingrid Lorentzen, Norwegian National Ballet

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When you spend as much time on the road as The Royal Ballet's Steven McRae, getting access to a proper gym can be a hassle. To stay fit, the Australian-born principal turns to calisthenics—the old-school art of developing aerobic ability and strength with little to no equipment.

"It's basically just using your own body weight," McRae explains. "In terms of partnering, I'm not going to dance with a ballerina who is bigger than me, so if I can sustain my own body weight, then in my head I should be fine."

Today, McRae shares videos of his workouts on social media (where he has approximately 150,000 Instagram followers). They are often shot in his dressing room, with a chair as the only prop while he does développés from an arched handstand, for instance—a feat of upper-body strength and flexibility.

"I think people are genuinely intrigued and interested in what we do: I get lovely comments offering suggestions to alter the exercise."

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Ballet Stars
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Though according to our calendars today is the first day of spring, it feels like anything but. That's why we've been extra jealous watching American Ballet Theatre dancers' Instagram posts from their tour to Singapore. From swimming in rooftop pools to hiking with monkeys to jet-lag influenced shenanigans (oh, and dancing Swan Lake), their photos are making us believe that warm weather really is on its way. We rounded up some of our favorite shots from the first half of ABT's Asian tour; they'll spend this week in Hong Kong dancing Alexei Ratmansky's Whipped Cream. Keep the photos coming, ABT!

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Ballet Careers
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