What comes naturally to you?
My emotion onstage. I don't have the ideal ballerina body, so I have to move to prove myself. My strength is that I can work hard and I don't think it's hard; I enjoy it.
You went to the School of American Ballet after your apprenticeship at San Francisco Ballet. Did that experience change you?
Hugely. I had coordination and could do some tricks, but no basic technique. I came to the United States from Japan and hit the wall. What do you do? You have to fix it. SAB gave me confidence to be a dancer because I was able to fix myself.
Is there a skill you've acquired that you're particularly proud of?
I had no turnout when I came to the U.S.; that's partly why I wasn't rehired by San Francisco Ballet. American companies care about that so much, everyone has an amazing way of using their feet. I really admired that. SAB gave me turnout and footwork—I'm still working on it every day.
How do you prepare for the rehearsal day?
I take class as a training session, not just to warm up. I'm always close to the mirror, side view, checking my turnout and line to improve myself. If I see something, I fix it right away. If it doesn't come overnight, I fix it on a month plan or a year plan. That way I have a goal that motivates me every day. It's fun.
Do you have a favorite role?
My favorites are dramatic roles. I don't particularly like Kitri in Don Quixote because the story is shallow—you're just a happy girl. In Swan Lake you are half bird and half woman, depressed, and then this evil, deceptive creature. Tatiana, in Onegin, is such a shy girl, then she grows into a sophisticated married woman who has to reject her real passion. Those things are so deep, so interesting.
Are there performances or dancers you return to for inspiration?
Gelsey Kirkland's Nutcracker or Theme and Variations. Natalia Makarova. Misha Baryshnikov is still my favorite male dancer.
What is it like working with your coach, Larissa Ponomarenko?
It's really fulfilling. She's about my height, and because of that, she wasn't always the first one to be chosen. Larissa mastered how to make herself look big and long, and she teaches me all that. It's a treasure.