Ballet Stars

Houston Ballet’s Yuriko Kajiya on Her Signature Role, Favorite Ice Cream Flavor & Surprising Hidden Talent

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.


You recently danced your first Odette/Odile in Welch's full-length version. How did it go?
In Stanton's Swan Lake, it's really three roles: Maiden, Odette and Odile. It's very difficult in that she does so much over the course of the evening. It's always hard to carry the emotional arc from beginning to end, but it's also so rewarding to me.

What was it like to go from being a longtime soloist to a principal dancer?
I was fortunate to do a lot of principal roles during my 12 years with American Ballet Theatre. When I got promoted from first soloist to principal after coming to Houston, I felt ready for the challenge physically and artistically. It happened at the right time for me, and I felt very thankful.

Kajiya in Stanton Welch's "Paquita." Photo by Amitava Sarkar, courtesy of Houston Ballet.

If you were going to impress us with your cooking skills what would you make for us?
Nothing fancy, but Japanese home-style cooking. You name a dish, and I will cook it with a little bit of a twist!

What do you struggle with?
I have had a hip injury for 10 years. I deal with it every day and have learned to listen to my body.

Do you have a hidden talent?
I can ride a unicycle. (But, really, everyone can in Japan.)

Kajiya as Lilac Fairy in Ben Stevenson's "The Sleeping Beauty." Photo by Amitava Sarkar, courtesy of Houston Ballet.

Do you have any guilty pleasures?
I eat ice cream every night. I love coffee ice cream, although I don't drink coffee. But chocolate-covered strawberry is my favorite.

What don't people know about you?
At one point my Chinese was better than my Japanese. I lived in China for six years when I was at the Shanghai Ballet. I speak Mandarin and the dialect they speak in Shanghai.

Giveaways
Modeled by Daria Ionova. Darian Volkova, Courtesy Elevé Dancewear.
Keep reading... Show less
News
Boston Ballet's Kathleen Breen Combes, María Álvarez and Dawn Atkins. Christopher Duggan, Courtesy Jacob's Pillow.

Wonder what's going on in ballet this week? We've rounded up some highlights.

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Stars
Alexandra MacDonald (front row, third from left) didn't win a medal at the Genée International Ballet Competition, but says she came home inspired and newly motivated by the people she met there. Photo Courtesy Genée IBC.

Ballet competitions are an exciting part of any dancer's career. Yet while scholarships, prize money, job offers and the prestige that comes with winning a medal are compelling incentives to participate in one, they're not the only benefits. In fact, many dancers who go home empty-handed still look fondly on the experience and go on to become successful professionals.

This week, the 2019 Genée International Ballet Competition kicks off in Toronto. From August 20-29, over 50 dancers, ages 15–19 and trained in the Royal Academy of Dance syllabus, will perform three solos in the hopes of winning a medal and a $10,000 cash prize. Many past medalists have gone on to illustrious careers—but so have those who didn't win anything. We spoke with three Genée alumni now dancing professionally who know what it's like not to place. Read on to find out why they deem their comp experiences a success, and how you can make the most of yours—whether you win or not.

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Stars
Skylar Brandt and Josephine Lee. Screenshot Courtesy Lee.

Master pointe shoe fitter Josephine Lee of the California-based ThePointeShop chats with American Ballet Theatre soloist Skylar Brandt to hear about how she prepares her pointe shoes. We think Brandt might win an award for how long she makes her shoes last; watch the below video for the staggering number of days (or weeks!), and to hear about all of her unique customizations and pro tips.