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Karina Gonzalez in rehearsal for the part of Swanilda in Coppélia at the Houston Ballet.
Karina Gonzalez in rehearsal for the part of Swanilda in Coppélia at the Houston Ballet.
Photo by Amitava Sarka/Courtesy of Houston Ballet

Houston Ballet's Karina Gonzalez Talks About Competing With a Life Size Doll in Coppélia

It's tough to beat perfection. Perfection as in a beautiful body and face, a quiet manner, and obvious intelligence because this is a young woman who is always seen reading a book. So Franz falls in love.

Trouble is, Franz is already engaged to Swanilda and Swanilda is not at all happy about this turn of events. Of, course, she's not about to meekly step aside either. She investigates further and discovers that the mysterious young woman is actually a life size doll, put together by Dr. Coppelius.

It's Coppélia about to be brought back by the Houston Ballet with choreography by former Houston Ballet Artistic Director Ben Stevenson in a big and colorful production involving almost all of the Houston Ballet company. The dancing ranges from classical ballet to folk dances. And part of its story is conveyed in mime.

Principal Karina Gonzalez dances the Swanilda part which has her on stage for all three acts of the proceedings, including the part where she pretends to be Coppélia herself. This is the first time performing this role as a professional, she says, in a ballet that isn't done very often.

Swanilda is a peasant, she says. "She's really fun to do. She’s sassy; she’s happy. She's full of energy. She kind of likes to get in trouble because she wants to wants to control everything that she's in. It's challenging — it’s a marathon for her as a dancer  She's on all three acts. The hardest act for me is the second act when she goes to Dr. Coppelius' house and she tricks Dr. Coppelius and she becomes the doll. I feel that's the hardest because she's not herself dancing. "

Gonzalez says she paces herself as much as she can "And every intermission I try to eat protein and bananas so my energy is still there."

With this big a production, audiences will have the chance to see the principals as well as younger dancers on the rise, she says, adding that they started full on practices about a month ago.

"I think this is one of the most light and comical ballets and I think that every person and kids will love it," Gonzalez says. "It's a light story. It's funny. You can see classical tutus costumes and also more folk dancing and more peasant. Seeing mechanical dolls come alive and then having a happy ending, I think the story is one that every member of the family will love. "

She says one of the things that she likes the most about this ballet is that the dancers connect with the audience a lot. "In this one we kind of talk to the audience a lot doing the mimes. I think that's something wonderful. The audience feels like they're part of the communication and the language of the ballet.

"I think it’s a perfect ballet to introduce kids to the ballet," she says. "In the second act I think they’re going to have a blast just because there are dolls coming alive and there are toys around. I think especially the kids will love it."

Performances are scheduled for May 17-26 at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays at the Wortham Center, 500 Texas. For information, call 713-227-2787 or visit houstonballet.org. $25-$175.

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