Houston Ballet's Yuriko Kajiya and Connor Walsh in Stanton Welch's Giselle. Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy Houston Ballet.
Houston Ballet principal Yuriko Kajiya wowed audiences in her first go in Stanton Welch's Giselle in 2016.But her performance at the company's season opener this September revealed even deeper levels of meaning. All boundless joy and bounce as the smitten village girl (her Albrecht was played by Connor Walsh), Kajiya radiated pure innocence until the mad scene. Her fits and starts took on an unpredictable and macabre essence, which was both thrilling and a presage for what was to come.
Kajiya as Gamzatti in Stanton Welch's La Bayadere. Photo by Amitava Sarkar, courtesy of Houston Ballet.
Your director Stanton Welch claims that you can hover in midair. Really? I am not sure that I can do that. I do know that I repeat things over and over because I need to find my own way with each step, and maybe the floating quality happens in there somewhere. I just do it.
If you had to pick one signature role which would it be? Just one? I can't. I have two. One is Giselle, because she's a human and not a creature, and people can relate to love and heartbreak. Stanton's Madame Butterfly is also important to me, because I met him when I was 17 and had heard that he thought I would be great in the role. I finally danced it in 2016 and it's a spectacular part.
Kajiya as Giselle in Stanton Welch's "Giselle." Photo by Amitava Sarkar, courtesy of Houston Ballet.
Houston Ballet's Jared Matthews and Sara Webb in"The Sleeping Beauty." Photo by Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy Houston Ballet.
Despite the devastation and pain that Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have left in their wake this fall, it's been encouraging to see dancers step up in aid of their communities: When the future of Houston Ballet's Nutcracker seemed uncertain, venues around the city pulled together to allow the company to produce the show on a "hometown tour." And when Florida ballet companies had to evacuate, Atlanta Ballet and Charlotte Ballet welcomed them with open arms. In addition, New York City-based studio Broadway Dance Center offered community classes in September with proceeds donated to the American Red Cross.
The next in this series of good deeds is Hearts for Houston, a benefit performance bringing dancers from seven major companies together at New York City's Alvin Ailey Citigroup Theater to raise money for the United Way of Greater Houston's Harvey Relief Fund. Scheduled for Sunday, October 22, the evening will feature members of the Houston Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet, Pennsylvania Ballet, Texas Ballet Theater, The Washington Ballet and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Hearts for Houston is imagined and produced by Houston Ballet principal dancers Yuriko Kajiya and Jared Matthews (both formerly of ABT) and funded by patrons Phoebe and Bobby Tudor and sponsor Neiman Marcus.
Sarah Lane as Aurora in ABT's Sleeping Beauty. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy ABT.
Lately, it seems like mentorship is having something of a moment: Many pro dancers are coming up with creative ways to give back to the dance community and act as a resource for young students striving to reach the top. Take Kathryn Morgan, who started her own blog and YouTube channel to pull back the curtain on the ballet world, and writes an advice column for Dance Spirit. Or David Hallberg, who's opened up about the challenges of being a young male ballet dancer, and worked to mentor boys at American Ballet Theatre's Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School. Or New York City Ballet principal Megan Fairchild, who shares advice in her "Ask Megan!" podcast.
Principal dancer Yuriko Kajiya rehearses the role of Giselle. Photo by Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy Houston Ballet.
With his new production of Giselle, Houston Ballet artistic director Stanton Welch continues his charge through history, updating the classical warhorses for modern audiences. He has already completed versions of Paquita, La Bayadère and, most recently, 2015's Romeo and Juliet, which he restructured to closely follow the play.
Giselle, which premieres June 9, is deeply connected to Houston Ballet's history. In 1967, the Houston Ballet Foundation, which was a school and pre-professional company, brought in Carla Fracci and Erik Bruhn as guest artists for a production of Giselle. The enthusiasm that followed their performance helped launch Houston Ballet.
Though she's lived in the U.S. for 14 years, Houston Ballet's Yuriko Kajiya still does most of her shopping at home in Japan. “It's always fun to go shopping with my mom," she says. “We're like girlfriends." When her busy rehearsal schedule prevents her from making a trip in person, she asks her mother to send clothes in the mail. Kajiya likes simple, sophisticated pieces that add height and length. “As a ballerina you're always trying to make your lines look longer," she says. “I think that translates to street fashion for me." In her rehearsal wear, she keeps her partners in mind. “I definitely think about what I have to rehearse that day and try to be considerate," she says. That means choosing leotards with cotton in them (they slip less), and functional styles. “Leotards with really low backs are very pretty, but I only wear them in class," she says—it's harder for a partner to have a firm hold on bare skin. Above all, she tries to keep her look original. “I want to be a little bit different," she says. “I think that's another reason I like to shop in Japan."
Yuriko Kajiya and artists of Houston Ballet in Stanton Welch's Paquita. Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy HB.
Whether attacking a new role with gusto or finally finishing that book, dancers are a goal-oriented lot. The New Year is a natural time to reflect on one's life and put forth goals for the season ahead. Pointe spoke with six dancers about their big dreams for 2015—and their plans extend beyond the studio and stage.