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.

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