Tag Archives: Canadian Talent

Akira Uchida: Born to Dance

Professional dancer Akira Uchida
Dancer Akira Uchida shot by Taylor James Photography

Since the time when our ancestors danced around fires performing ceremonial rituals and entertaining their tribe, the transformational power of dance and movement in general has been around for thousands of years. Most of us have felt it– the way stress or emotional pain seems to fade away the second the music hits us and we begin moving our bodies. While many of us love to dance, there’s a huge difference between just ‘loving’ to dance and turning this magical art form into a career.

A career as a dancer is a massive undertaking that requires intense training, dedication and an insane amount of talent, something that Canadian dancer Akira Uchida has in spades. Uchida first began dancing at the age of 3 and he hasn’t stopped since.

He says, “Dance was always freeing to me, it felt natural and right. I only ever recall the feeling of pure joy stepping on to the stage and taking a dance class. I was extremely passionate and driven from the very beginning and loved devoting myself to learning. I can’t pinpoint a particular moment when I decided to pursue it professionally… I simply could never have imagined it apart from my career.”

In 2010, Uchida leaped into his professional career as a dancer with relentless fervor, and what he’s accomplished since is nothing short of amazing. Last year Uchida was selected as one of 22 finalists out of 200 to present his work and perform at the Capezio A.C.E Awards, a choreography competition that is held in New York and judged by some of the most recognizable dancers in the industry internationally, such as Emmy Award winner Mia Michaels, Primetime Emmy nominee Warren Carlyle and the Editor in Chief of Dance Magazine, Jennifer Stahl.

The previous year Uchida was tapped to perform in the emerging choreographer’s showcase Fresh Blood. For the competition he created a mesmerizing routine he calls “Interconnectivity,” which he says, “explores the fundamental concept that everything happens for a reason; every action happens at a specific time and place to provoke another set of actions – a snowball effect of pre-determined fate. In a physical sense, the dancers embodied atoms breaking and forming chemical bonds, constantly in flux.” The performance definitely turned heads and in the end Uchida earned Fresh Blood’s coveted Audience Choice Award.

While Uchida grew up fully immersed in the world of competitive dance where he earned quite a bit of success, he is one of the rare dancers who has actually managed to transcend the competition world and turn his work as a dancer into a full-time career. One area where he’s made an indelible mark as an exuberantly talented professional dancer has come through his work in television.

In 2012 he landed a key role as a featured dancer on the hit series Canada’s Got Talent, which followed two-time Primetime Emmy Award winner Martin Short (Saturday Night Live), Meahsa Brueggergosman (Project Runway Canada) and Oscar Award nominee Stephen Moccio (Pitch Perfect 2), three judges who travel across Canada to find the country’s best talent. The popular series brought chosen competitors, which included dancers to comedians, into the spotlight and give them a chance to win a $100,000 cash prize plus several other awards.

As with all performance driven reality competitions, having an entertaining production take place as the competitors take the stage is paramount to keeping viewers engaged and getting the audience excited about the show, and that is exactly what Uchida did for the series as one of the lead dancers. Uchida’s expert skill as a dancer, the mesmerizing way he moves his body and his ability to quickly learn a routine is what ultimately helped to land him a role on the show so early on in his career.

“We would learn a routine to go along with certain acts in each episode, and add energy and excitement to the performances,” recalls Uchida. “Being on ‘Canada’s Got Talent’ was an invigorating experience at the time because it was the first season for the Canadian edition of the ‘Got Talent’ series. The American rendition of ‘Got Talent’ was so successful and revered by all, which made being a part of the Canadian version a fresh experience. It made those of us involved feel like we were embarking on a project that was full of potential.”

After his success on the series Canada’s Got Talent Uchida was tapped to take on a starring role as a lead dance on the series Over the Rainbow. Another one of Canada’s performance driven reality series, Over the Rainbow followed Andrew Lloyd Webber as he searched across Canada for the girl to play Dorothy in Mirvish’s production of “The Wizard of Oz.” The performances on the series varied greatly week after week meaning that Uchida had to easily adapt and quickly learn the new routines without much time to practice. But for a dynamically talented dancer such as Uchida, immersing himself in a new routine each week was nothing new– for him the challenge was actually playing characters during dance performances on the series, something that both pushed him as an artist and proved his capacity to tap into unique roles on screen.

Akira Uchida
Jordan Clark winner of “So You Think You Can Dance Canada” season 4 (left) and Akira Uchida (right) on set of “Over the Rainbow”

“I loved the excitement of learning new routines every week. Every week we performed with different contestants, a new pairing of dancers, and an original theme and song. It kept the rehearsal process fresh,” says Uchida. “In one of the dances, the contestant played Cinderella. I was her Prince at the ball! In another, myself and dancer Jordan Clark played a celebrity couple at a movie premiere… Playing characters was challenging but very fun!”

A phenomenally talented dancer with a powerful stage presence, Uchida’s performances on the small screen have continued to attract the attention of audiences around the world. In 2013 and 2014 he was cast as a lead dancer on several episodes of the incredibly popular four-time Primetime Emmy Award nominated series Degrassi: The Next Generation. In the episode “Hypnotize,” which guest starred Niamh Wilson (Maps to the Stars, Hemlock Grove), Uchida was one of two featured dancers who performed in a full-length contemporary dance piece that was integral to the storyline in the show. During one of the main scenes Uchida and Wilson’s character Jack Jones, the love interest of one of the main characters, performed a complex dance routine, which was a major highlight of the episode and required immense skill.

“Niamh Wilson, the guest star, was a trained dancer and we were able to engage in relatively advanced choreography for the piece,” explains Uchida.  “This was also distinctive because the piece was featured and shown in its entirety. Definitely a rare sight in TV and among my favourite moments of my career…To be able to step on the set of an iconic show for Canadian youth was a very cool experience.”

His dance performances on a plethora of hit television shows over the years have definitely helped Akira Uchida establish a flawless reputation as a sought after dancer who is able to seamlessly take on any routine with style. Aside from his lead roles on television, Uchida has also had definitive success as a lead dancer in several popular music videos. In 2015 he starred in the Much Music promo video for Sam Smith’s “That Much Closer.” Considering that Sam Smith has earned an Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award, as well as several Billboard Music Awards and Grammy Awards, being chosen to be the main performer in the video for “That Much Closer” is a tell-tale sign of the caliber of work Uchida has become known for.

Caroline Torti, who choreographed the routine in the video along with dancer Bree Wasylenko, explains, “Akira is a chameleon and is able to replicate any style given to him by a choreographer. He is able to expertly take direction and create meaningful moments on whatever job he works on. Beyond that he is an artist in his own right and his unique movement quality makes him a very special member of any team.”

 

In 2015 Uchida choreographed the music video for solo artist Lights’ hit song “Same Sea,” one of the single’s off the album “Little Machine,” which earned the prestigious Juno Award for “Pop Album of the Year” (Canada’s equivalent of a Grammy Award in the U.S.) and debuted at No. 5 on the Canadian Album Charts.

The music video for the song “Same Sea,” which has garnered over 800,000 views on YouTube since its release, starts off in the year 5057 with Lights first appearing as a voyeuristic cyborg  observing the previous versions of herself over the centuries.

As the choreographer and one of the featured dancers in the music video Uchida, who handpicked the other dancers in the video as well, did a marvelous job of creating a routine that is fun and full of life. The video cuts back to the year 2011 where Lights, Uchida and the other dancers are fully involved in a dance class. Uchida infuses the routine with a lively energy that creates a stunning dichotomy between the futuristic version of Lights, who surrounded by robotic machinery and devoid of other humans, and that of her previous self.

“I sought to make the work powerful and uplifting, and chose to utilize high energy movements that would build moments of euphoria. I focused on creating strong visuals to highlight Lights and played with imagery based on the lyrics,” explains Uchida. “The song repeatedly talks about ‘the arms of the same sea,’ and inspired me to incorporate fluid wave-like movements in the piece. I wanted to involve elements of the sea and have her ‘swim’ amongst her dancers.”

Not only did Uchida choreograph a lyrically relevant routine that made the video for “Same Sea” entertaining to watch, but he was also tasked with teaching Lights the dance routine.

“Lights had little to no experience in dance before shooting this video, so I was responsible for coaching her on how to execute the movements properly and to help her feel as comfortable as possible,” recalls Uchida.

While he is still quite young, Akira Uchida has accomplished more over the past seven years than most professional dancers will in a lifetime; and we can’t wait to see what he does next!

Anja Ellam is truly awesome with AwesomenessTV

Growing up in Toronto, Canada, Anja Ellam always wanted to entertain people. Although she had loved being on stage, making people truly feel the emotions of a character, it wasn’t until later when she realized her passion for writing. That was a fateful decision, as she is now not only an internationally recognized actress and successful influencer, but a celebrated writer.

Ellam now has shown the world why she is one of the best. Her film The Woods that she wrote went on to receive praise at many international film festivals. She worked with Verizon’s Go90 app and has written and hosted several of their top videos. The viral video What Girls Do in Cars on DangMattSmith’s YouTube channel that she co-wrote has over 1.4 million views. Working with ArsenicTV as a writer and host for their Snapchat story gets over 500,000 views a day. There is nothing this versatile writer, actress, and influencer cannot achieve.

“I’ve had a very successful career for someone my age but I like to think that this is only the very beginning. I’m very lucky to be in the place that I am, but it’s because I work incredibly hard,” said Ellam.

Ellam’s continued work with AwesomenessTV has helped make the channel what it is. As a writer for the Hollywood department, she writes for their many segments that come out on their channel daily. Her job as a host and influencer allows her to work on a wider variety of shows for the network.

“Me being an influencer helps me connect more to our audience and see what they’re interested in at the moment, which lets me write scripts that relate to them. My online presence helps me to stay connected and stay relevant on topics that relate to AwesomenessTV and entertainment news,” she said.

Without almost twenty-thousand followers on Instagram, Ellam has an impact all over the world. While promoting AwesomenessTV using social media, she has helped the videos viewership, ranging from 100,000 to over a million views.

“Anja and I worked together on AwesomenessTV’s Hollywood team where Anja wrote scripts and pitched ideas for daily episodes. She would always come prepared and would always be willing to step up when needed. I always enjoyed working with Anja and loved that she expressed her ideas and contributed to a team atmosphere. She definitely takes direction and has a good eye for what is trending and in the news. She knows what is relatable to our audience. She is super creative and always had input for stories to write and pitch ideas for stories,” said writer, host, and producer Hunter March.

Ellam writes a lot of AwesomenessTV’s daily entertainment news segments, which are targeted at teens and young adults. She says from the moment she first started working there, she fell in love, and quickly moved up due to her talent and commitment.

“Everyone was so welcoming and the company was so rapidly growing I knew that’s where I wanted to be. They’re definitely leading the way in digital media,” said Ellam. “I like that I can be open with my ideas and that even though we’re a big company, we’re still a small company where everyone knows each other. I like that my job allows me to be creative and that we reach such a large audience.”

Ellam does a lot of test shoots, but she also often appears as the main talent for the videos, hosting shows like Third Wheel and Dream Date with Brent Rivera. Their audience is drawn in by social media followers which is why having influencers on the channel are so important.

“The first time I hosted was very nerve racking because you’re in the office with everyone around you and you don’t want to mess up or take too long. But it always runs smoothly and the crew is amazing and very reassuring,” said Ellam. “It’s a good feeling because everything we put out is positive and it’s something I’m very proud of. I’m especially proud when a topic that I pick ends up with very high views because it’s something I was trusted to do and I was successful at it.”

Ellam’s followers are always eager to view her videos that she hosts or writes for Awesomeness, and she says it allows her to truly be connected with her audience.

“When I host or I’m a talent on the show I think it helps a lot because I can promote it on my social media platforms. I’m closer to our demographic and my followers are also the same demographic,” she concluded.

You can check out the Awesomeness TV channel here.

Director and producer Ron Grebler is the real deal while showcasing real food

Ron Grebler is a storyteller. He is a creator. He is a filmmaker. He uses his creativity and imagination to transport others to different places and times. Grebler uses his talent to captivate audiences. As both a Director and Producer from Toronto, Ontario, Ron Grebler has done it all.

With fans around the world, Grebler’s work has been appreciated by many. Just last year, his promotional video for the immensely popular Netflix series Stranger Things went viral, building up anticipation for the show. He has directed and produced several successful commercials, including the innovative campaign for Axe Hair Products on Canada’s MuchMusic, and commercials for Belair Direct, Fuji Instax, and We Day.

“I would like to think that I strive for ‘quiet storytelling’, letting the idea unfold in visual images rather than be heavily driven by dialogue or voice over narration. This is the path more rarely travelled in the heavily direct messaging style of the commercial world, and often embraced by branded content. Visually, there’s something fascinating to me about extreme close-ups with limited depth of field. That perspective can take the subject and add a dimensionality to it that’s almost abstract, which I believe connects with viewers. Given that I work in the commercial world, it’s not often that I can use shots like these, but at the right moment, they can really make a spot pop. I’m very cognizant of color and contrast. There is high pressure when creating a commercial because ultimately, it’s about ‘selling’ and for many viewers there is a reticence to that. That’s why I always try to layer a spot with cues for the unconscious mind to find them entertaining, engaging and if possible, playful,” said Grebler, describing his style of directing.

With such a commitment to his craft and an appreciation of the nuances, it is no doubt as to why Grebler is considered one of the best. When working on a promotional video series for Thermador, Grebler showed his abilities to go beyond what is typical, and create something revolutionary. Real Food with Thermador was a four-part web series that was an early foray into the world of online branded content video featuring celebrity chef Jamie Kennedy.

“There was a very unique approach in the development of this project as it was meant to truly be branded content, meaning we weren’t pushing the ‘hard sell’ of Thermador products,” said Grebler. “It was really meant to focus on passion for locally grown seasonal ingredients, especially as perceived through the eyes of celebrated chef Jamie Kennedy.”

The series was shot similarly to an HGTV show or a Food Network program, educating viewers as well as entertaining. Acting as both producer and director for the project, Grebler’s vision was imperative to its success. Mike Codner, former Studio Manager with DDB Canada , sought-out Grebler to be the director and producer, knowing of his creativity, work ethic and passion for the job.

“Ron has a flexible approach to production, whether it’s a big budget or small, he treats it with the same respect. He’s a director and producer first, but he sees the big picture in terms of the clients’ needs and the reality of working within budgetary constraints. He’s passionately engaged in the process, from pre-production through the shoot and will sit in on all post production too. He takes ownership of all that he does,” said Codner.

The campaign was very successful and won both the International Association of Business Communicators Gold Quill Award and Ovation Award, the Canadian Marketing Association Award, and the Canadian Public Relations ACE Award. Grebler says he didn’t even consider awards while making the video, he just wanted to focus on the client’s goals while making something visually outstanding.

“Honestly it felt odd at first. I was told we were nominated and I kind of shrugged my shoulders. The agency told me that it was a bigger deal than I realized and when we won I was quite proud. Maybe I was naïve but I had no idea how important it was to win awards,” Grebler laughed.

Taking on the vital roles of director and producer, Grebler was responsible for implementing his vision. By making the videos appear like a television show it helped connect the audience to the product in a way that other commercials couldn’t. The videos were made in 2008, and in those early days of branded content, it was essential that the video not feel like a commercial. By giving viewers compelling content, great visuals and passionate discussion about the topic of real food, Grebler knew they’d be engaged. When the chef ended up describing some of the specific Thermador products, it was part of the flow of the show and made sense, not just like a ‘stop-and-sell-the-product’ moment.

“It was flattering to be selected to work on this kind of programming. After the scripts were written, it was less about thinking and more about doing. We had a lot of locations to cover in only a few days, so it was about maximizing our time and getting the most powerful content. It wasn’t until the edit that I really grasped how seamlessly everything cut together and that it really flowed like a segment for a TV show, nothing at all like a commercial,” Grebler described.

Grebler also succeeded in making the videos a work of art. Shooting in picturesque Prince Edward County, venturing from Jamie Kennedy’s to an artisanal cheese factory, he set up each shot to have stunning imagery. The outdoor shots showcased the perfect late summer weather, from the golden light over a tomato farm to mouth-watering close-ups of prepared dishes. The passion and depth of knowledge shown by on-camera talent Jamie Kennedy and those he would speak with also shone through.

“It was a great pleasure working on this because it was as much an on-the-fly learning process about local foods and farming and food production as much as it was the logistics of video production. We had a small and very talented crew and we had to think on our feet quickly because of limited access and time at the locations as well as working with real people. I trusted them completely and the visuals and content we got was quite captivating while engaging in passionate conversations about food with local farmers and artisanal cheesemakers,” he described.

Working with a celebrity chef and farmers was initially concerning for the director and producer, however, as he was concerned about their ability to articulate in a way that would connect with audiences. Grebler eventually learned a valuable lesson that he carries with him today.

“Find someone’s passion when you’re speaking with them and they will give you gold,” Grebler concluded.

Watch Grebler’s work on the first episode of Real Food with Thermador here.