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