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.

Ballet Careers
Sisters Isabella Shaker and Alexandra Pullen. Photo Courtesy Alexandra Pullen.

This is the second in a series of articles this month about ballet siblings.

My mom was in the corps de ballet at American Ballet Theatre. A generation later, so was I. As if that's not enough for one family, my younger sister Isabella Shaker dreams of following in our dancing footsteps. Her endeavor, and her status as somewhat of a child prodigy, stirs feelings of pride and apprehension within me, since I have lived through the ups and downs of this intense yet rewarding career.

Ballet will always be my first love and the thing that brings me the most joy, and my dance career has opened endless opportunities for me. However, it's a difficult career path that requires a lifelong dedication. It's super competitive and can lead to body image issues, physical injury and stress. Most dancers will face some of these problems; I definitely dealt with all three.

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Ballet Stars
Photo by Gabriel Davalos, Courtesy Valdés

For decades the name Alicia Alonso has been virtually synonymous with Ballet Nacional de Cuba, the company she co-founded in Havana in 1948. Alonso died on October 17, just shy of what would have been her 99th birthday. In recent years, she had stepped back from day-to-day decision-making in the company. As if preparing for the future, in January, the company's leading ballerina, 42-year-old Viengsay Valdés, was named deputy director, a job that seems to encompass most of the responsibilities of a traditional director. Now, presumably, she will step into her new role as director of the company. Her debut as curator of the repertory comes in November, when the troupe will perform three mixed bills selected by her at the Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso. The following has been translated from a conversation conducted in Spanish, Valdés' native tongue.

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Ballet Stars
Photo by Jayme Thornton

It's National Bullying Prevention Month—and Houston Ballet breakout star Harper Watters is exactly the advocate young dancers facing bullying need. Watters is no novice when it comes to slaying on social media, but his Bullying Prevention Month collaboration with Teen Vogue and Instagram is him at his most raw, speaking about his own experiences with bullies, and how his love of dance helped him to overcome adversity. Watters even penned an incredible op-ed for Teen Vogue's website, where he talks candidly about growing up queer. Catch his amazing anti-bullying video here—and, as Watters says, "Stay fabulous, stay flawless, stay flexible, but most importantly, stay fearless."

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News
Alicia Alonso with Igor Youskevitch. Sedge Leblang, Courtesy Dance Magazine Archives.

Her Dying Swan was as fragile as her Juliet was rebellious; her Odile, scheming, her Swanilda, insouciant. Her Belle was joyous, and her Carmen, both brooding and full-blooded. But there was one role in particular that prompted dance critic Arnold Haskell to ask, "How do you interpret Giselle when you are Giselle?"

At eight, Alicia Alonso took her first ballet class on a stage in her native Cuba, wearing street clothes. Fifteen years later, put in for an ailing Alicia Markova in a performance of Giselle with Ballet Theatre, she staked her claim to that title role.

Alonso received recognition throughout the world for her flawless technique and her ability to become one with the characters she danced, even after she became nearly blind. After a career in New York, she and her then husband Fernando Alonso established the Cuban National Ballet and the Cuban National Ballet School, both of which grew into major international dance powerhouses and beloved institutions in their home country. On October 17, the company announced that, after leading the company for a remarkable 71 years, Alonso died from cardiovascular disease at the age of 98.

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