Ballet Stars

Standout Performances of 2019: Yuriko Kajiya in "Giselle"

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.


Yuriko Kajiya, wearing a white Romantic tutu, balances in arabesque behind a kneeling Connor Walsh. He wears a dark blue jacket and light blue tights.

Kajiya and Walsh in Act II of Stanton Welch's Giselle.

Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy Houston Ballet

As a wili in Act II, Kajiya appeared made more of air than flesh, floating like a swath of untethered tulle while rendering a ghostly gravitas. Kajiya also navigated the technical aspects in such a way that clarity and character merged in service to the role, carrying the Romantic arc of love to betrayal to forgiveness through a flawless performance. Her Giselle was not a victim, but a force for transformation and transcendence.

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Are you more of a Giselle or a Juliet?

I've always said that my favorite role is Juliet, because of her vulnerability and maturity throughout the ballet. But now that I've performed Giselle, I find her so incredibly enjoyable, from being a village girl who falls in love for the first time to the most tender, almost weightless dancing in Act II.

Are you more at home in the studio or onstage?

I love the time in the studio. The process of starting from zero to getting better each day is so rewarding. My favorite phrase in rehearsals is "Let's do it again, so I can sleep in peace tonight." I need to feel so comfortable in the studio so that when I am onstage there are no bad surprises.

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