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.

The Conversation
Ballet Stars
Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB

Your teacher at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, Marcia Dale Weary, recently passed away. What impact did she have on you?

I feel deeply indebted to her. She shaped my life's course, and I know that were it not for her, I would not be living out my dream today. She led by example through her remarkable commitment to her work, as well as her genuine kindness and generosity.

You were a trainee with San Francisco Ballet. What was that experience like?

It was an exposure to different schools of thought. We were mostly in the full-lengths, and watching run-throughs of Sleeping Beauty and Don Quixote was revolutionary for me. But I was young and far away from home. That transition was hard. My body started changing. It wanted to be fleshy. Biology is cruel in that way. I desperately wanted to fit in, but it wasn't meant to be.

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The Royal Ballet's Vadim Muntagirov and Marianela Nuñez in La Bayadère. Photo by Bill Cooper, Courtesy ROH.

Do you ever wish you could teleport to London and casually stroll into The Royal Opera House to see some of the world's best-loved ballets? Well, we have a solution for you: The Royal Ballet's 2018-19 cinema season.

Whether live or recorded, the seven ballet programs listed below, streaming now through next October, will deliver all of the magic that The Royal Ballet has to offer straight to your local movie theater. Can you smell the popcorn already?

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Site Network
Left: Misa Kuranaga in The Veritginous Thrill of Exactitude. Gene Schiavone, Courtesy Boston Ballet. Right: Sasha Mukhamedov in Apollo. Altin Kaftira, Courtesy Dutch National Ballet.

San Francisco Ballet just announced some major news: longtime Boston Ballet star Misa Kuranaga will be joining the company as a principal dancer for the 2019-20 season, while Dutch National Ballet principal Sasha Mukhamedov has been hired as a soloist. They join a slew of newly promoted SFB principals and soloists, announced earlier this year.

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Ballet Stars
Xiao Nan Yu in company class. Aaron Vincent, Courtesy National Ballet of Canada.

On June 22, National Ballet of Canada principal Xiao Nan Yu will retire from the stage after 22 years with the company. Originally from Dalian, China, Yu studied at the Shen Yang School of Dance and the Beijing Dance Academy before coming to Canada's National Ballet School at age 17. She joined the National Ballet of Canada less than two years later, and was promoted to principal in 2001.

"She is a supreme dance actress with an innate ability to bring the audience into her world," says NBoC artistic director Karen Kain. "Nan has always brought such a calm confidence into the studio and has been a role model for so many dancers I will miss her generosity both inside the studio and out." We spoke with Yu as she prepared for her final week of performances. She opened up about her initial culture shock upon moving to Toronto, her thoughts on artistry and why she chose Hanna Glawari in The Merry Widow as her final role.

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