Dancer Keanu Uchida

Keanu Uchida Embodies a Champion Horse in New Musical “Dancer”

Keanu Uchida is still a fresh face in the professional dance world but he has already achieved considerable diversity and prestige in his career.

While still studying dance at his home dance studio near Ottawa, Uchida was honored with acceptance into the highly-respected summer intensive program at The Julliard School in 2013.

He has also received many regional and international titles in dance competition, making him one to watch in Canada and beyond. Most notably, he was awarded the title of Senior Male Best Dancer in 2014 at international dance event, The Dance Awards and given the opportunity to assist celebrated choreographers like Travis Wall, Nick Lazzarini, Mia Michaels, and Al Blackstone at conventions.

The multi-talented Uchida, who is a musician as well as a student of physics at The University of Toronto, is making big contributions to the professional dance community with his work on screen and on stage. He danced leading roles as a principal dancer on BBC television series, The Next Step and was hand-selected by head choreographer, Jeff Dimitriou to appear as one of only 15 dancers in the 2015 Pan American Games Closing Ceremonies production which was broadcast to an international audience.

“Keanu is simply brilliant,” says Stacey Tookey, who oversees contemporary dance for the NUVO Dance Convention and is probably best known for her appearances as a resident choreographer and guest judge on the Canadian and American versions of the dance competition reality show So You Think You Can Dance.

Canadian dancer Keanu Uchida

Uchida has also proven an invaluable contributor to dance in Toronto as a featured dancer in immersive and challenging performances by leaders in the city’s contemporary dance scene.

“I often create while channeling Keanu’s movement and essence,” says Cora Kozaris, choreographer of CARNÉ, a bold, new work debuting at one of Toronto’s oldest contemporary dance presenting organizations, Dancemakers Centre for Creation. “His uniqueness and creativity is harmonious with my mind. Together, we inspire each other to push boundaries.”

Uchida is looking forward to the next evolutionary step in his career as he immerses himself in the leading role, Northern Dancer in the upcoming musical theater production, Dancer, which is expected to debut in Spring 2017 at Toronto’s historic Elgin Theatre.

After a competitive audition process that lasted two days and lured many of Canada’s best dancers, he waited months for casting results to discover he was being offered to lead the cast as a race horse that is crowned Canada’s first winner of the Kentucky Derby. Uchida spent an intense three weeks last Spring working with Tookey, who is choreographer for the show, and producer John McKellar to artistically draft the scripted dance pieces during the workshop phase of the production.

“Digging into the creative process with both Stacey and John was a compelling experience,” recalls Uchida. “Both asked a lot from me regarding my character and discovering the role of Northern Dancer became a collaborative effort. I was given artistic freedom to try lots of things.”

The musical, told in “ten furlongs” and split into two acts, follows Northern Dancer’s steady rise to success. A horse no one wanted to buy, he forms special relationships with his owners, is trained and put to the test in race after race, eventually becoming a national symbol of pride. The story is an emotional journey as he seeks acceptance from the equine community and of himself.

The character of Norther Dancer has no lines in the musical, though he is in almost every scene. He communicates through body language and dance with friends and a few enemies throughout the performance. The technical and demanding choreography by Tookey requires of Uchida significant grace, poise, and control, not to mention, imagination and the ability to explore and innovate.

“Lots of movement was developed from improvisation, where I was asked to embody the horse and embrace its motion as naturally as possible,” says Uchida. “I wasn’t asked to ‘dance’ like a horse, but rather to be one.”

Uchida’s capabilities as a very creative and dextrous dancer made him perfect for this character and its development.

“Keanu’s ability to implement his creative vision while adhering to tight deadlines is what makes him an essential asset to any project he is a part of,” says Tookey.

Toronto-based dancer, Keanu Uchida

Fellow dancers and choreographers with whom Uchida has worked repeatedly mention his unique brilliance and artistry as a performer.

“Besides his physical capabilities, he has an incredible way of bringing you into a world,” explains Julia Cratchley, who hired Uchida last year for an immersive dance project with her company TranscenDANCE. “He will make you believe anything he does and captivate you doing even the slightest thing.”

Being thrown into a central role in a musical has inspired Uchida to take voice lessons.

“This process has completely sparked my interest in musical theatre,” he remarks.

Given his dedication and talent, it seems inevitable that no matter where Uchida’s career takes him next, audiences are very likely to see more of this young professional on stage in the future.

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