Tag Archives: Dancer

Justine Gera and the Stars That Guide Her Path in Dance

Dancing side by side with your mentors every day while fine-tuning your dance skills and perfecting your ability to absorb new choreography quickly — sounds like a dream come true, doesn’t it? It has been for dancer Justine Gera.

“I have met so many amazing people — choreographers I look up to,” explains Gera. “I’ve learned a lot about their career paths and knowing that they are supportive of my career and want me to succeed is the greatest feeling.”

For six years, Gera has taken the stage next to world-renowned dancemakers Tyce Diorio, Napoleon & Tabitha D’umo, Sean Cheesman, Luther Brown, ShoTyme, Megan Lawson, Jillian Meyers, Tina Landon and others as an assistant with Triple Threat Dance Conventions. It’s her job to demonstrate and lead the movement given to students by whichever top choreographer(s) she is assisting that day.

Dancer, Justine Gera

Versatility is key. It’s not uncommon to be performing contemporary dance in one session and transition to a completely different style in the next. Gera must also absorb the choreography as quickly as a thirsty sponge and immediately execute it flawlessly to provide students with a clear model of technique and of the quality of movement and style each choreographer desires.

Though the job demands a machine-like accuracy when it comes to mastering new dances, Gera’s dancing is far from robotic.

“Justine has a flare and character in her dance that is unique to her and is rarely seen,” says Triple Threat director Carolina Lancaster-Castellino. “She truly is one of the most exquisite and extraordinary dancers we have seen over our 18 years traveling across Canada.”

It is these qualities that have helped this stand-out make her mark outside the convention circuit as well. Gera has performed with Canadian pop artist Victoria Duffield and in music videos featuring Amanda Blush and Tristan Thompson. She’s also enjoyed time at sea as a dancer with Royal Caribbean cruise lines and appears as a dancer in Disney’s Descendants 2 movie.

A personal and professional highlight for Gera was performing “Rhythm Nation” with the legendary Janet Jackson during her Unbreakable World Tour. After a brief but intense audition process, performing with the superstar was exhilarating.

“The whole performance was a complete rush of adrenaline and I got a bit teary eyed when we finished,” recalls Gera.

Kelly Konno, who has worked with international music stars like Janet and Michael Jackson, Justin Timberlake, Prince, Pink, and*NSYNC and is director and co-owner of Triple Threat, has witnessed Gera’s development as a professional first-hand.

“Justine is one of the most hungry, driven, passionate and talented dancers that I’ve seen in a long time,” she observes. “She is the perfect representation of the next generation of professional dancers in Canada and the U.S..”

Justine at convention

It’s clear her dedication and talent are why Gera has been hired again and again by the convention to assist.

“We look for dancers who are not only at the top of their craft, but who are committed to all of the behind the scenes work as well,” says Triple Threat president and co-owner Dorie Konno. “Justine has been one of Triple Threat’s greatest assistants. Her passion for dance and the entertainment industry shines through.”

Despite the long hours and minimal sleep a dancer gets while working in this role, Gera is happy to go back for more each year.

“The best part is that it is just like a family reunion. Sometimes I don’t see a lot of these people until we reconnect at conventions and they are like my family,” she explains.

Gera’s dance family and her biological family encourage her to follow her dreams despite the obstacles that are part of a life in dance. Physical toll and the risk of injury are ever-present challenges but dance is often an emotional journey for performers as well.

“There have been many times in my career when I have thought that I wasn’t good enough or talented enough to ‘make it’ and reach my goals,” says Gera.

In those inevitable moments when her confidence is shaken, Gera recalls the advice of her supporters to never give up and channels her feelings into her dancing. Given her success in the dance industry, it’s a method that has clearly served Gera well.

Though she will continue to explore new heights, Gera is humble and thankful for the continued opportunity to develop professionally as a choreography and teaching assistant at conventions under the watchful eyes of the star choreographers who have been her mentors.

“It’s just a really good feeling to be relied upon. Certain choreographers have watched me grow up [at conventions] and having their support has made me believe that I am on the right career path.”

The dance world never doubted it.

Navid Charkhi Dances Into His Second “Descendants” Movie

Working 15-hour days is nothing when you love what you do and you’re having a good time doing it. For Iranian-Canadian dancer, Navid Charkhi, it is working with esteemed director, Kenny Ortega, the cast and the choreographers on Disney’s Descendants 2 film that makes long, grueling days fun in front of and behind the camera.

Navid Charkhi and Kenny Ortega
Navid Charkhi with Kenny Ortega on the Descendants 2 set.

“The way Kenny talks to the actors and dancers, and presents his acting or movement ideas to the cast– I feel he sees everything happening already and when he gives direction to the cast it is usually brilliant. There’s always a wow factor when you see his demonstrations,” says Charkhi.  “I watch closely and follow his steps behind the scenes.”

Who wouldn’t when working with a three-time Emmy award-winner who has directed projects like High School Musical, choreographed timeless films such as Dirty Dancing, and collaborated with heavy-hitters Michael Jackson, Bette Midler and Gene Kelly?

Charkhi and Ortega actually have similar reasons for getting into show business. Both were inspired as boys by dancers they idolized. For Ortega it was Hollywood screen legend, Kelly that moved him toward a career in the entertainment industry. Charkhi grew up watching Michael Jackson on television and was mesmerized, copying and learning from the popular recording artist and dancer’s moves. Charkhi admits to being a bit starstruck by the Descendants director’s history with the King of Pop.

“Kenny has worked with Micheal Jackson himself. Hearing stories of them working just brings tears to my eyes.”

Ortega is pretty impressed with Charkhi, too. The director recalls that Charkhi proved himself a standout right from the very beginning.

“I could not believe how much talent and skill he demonstrated at the initial auditions for the production,” remembers Ortega. “Usually dancers take a few takes and auditions before beginning to impress the director and the production crew. However, this was not the case for Navid.”

Dancer Navid Charkhi

Indeed Charkhi’s natural instincts when performing complex dance moves became an asset during the three-day Descendants 2 audition.

“On the first day over 400 people showed up and more than 200 of them got cut,” he says.

Co-choreographer, Tony Testa, explains that those who could not keep up while learning a new piece of choreography each day were cut from the production. Charkhi, on the other hand, has quickly made himself an “irreplaceable asset to the film,” according to Ortega. Not long after the initial auditions Charkhi was assigned to working alongside Testa, as he was the only dancer able to keep up with the changing challenges throughout the production.

“[Navid] is able to instantly adapt to any type of dance depending on the style of the production, which is an extremely important characteristic for a Descendants 2 dancer to have,” explains Testa.

In addition to versatility, characterization is also extremely important for a dancer working in the film industry. Ron Oliver directed Charkhi in the film Mostly Ghostly 3, for which Charkhi was promoted as assistant to choreographer, Richard O’Sullivan and helped to create choreography and prepare the cast for filming the sequences in just three days. Oliver is quick to express how well Charkhi works under pressure but, as a director, also gives insight into Charkhi’s acting abilities.

“Navid’s dance aesthetic is extremely distinct from the rest of his peers as he is able to portray character emotions through his dance moves,” states Oliver.

In the first Descendants movie, Charkhi got to play a baddie that wreaks havoc on a village. For Descendants 2, which is set to premiere in summer 2017, he still gets to explore his dark side, this time as a pirate. According to Paul Becker, who co-choreographed the original Descendants film, it’s a far cry from Charkhi’s real-life personality, however.

Navid Charkhi

“Navid is a generous spirit and great to work with,” insists Becker. “His giving nature comes across in his dancing. I have had the pleasure of hiring Navid as a dancer on [multiple] projects and always welcome the opportunity to work with people like him.”

Charkhi’s combination of generosity, work ethic, talent, and ability to adapt to any style or genre makes this Descendants dance principal one to watch as he ascends to great heights in Hollywood.

Dancer Justin Lopes Transforms Himself For FOX Rocky Horror Reboot

“You don’t realize how exciting something is until it’s actually happening,” says Canadian dancer Justin Lopes.

For a dancer, it doesn’t get much more electrifying than landing a role in legendary director-choreographer, Kenny Ortega’s next directorial project. That’s especially true when that project happens to be a highly anticipated, made-for-television reimagining of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which makes its primetime premiere on FOX in October 2016.

Ortega, who was mentored by Gene Kelly early in his career, is best known for directing Michael Jackson’s This Is It concerts, the High School Musical trilogy, and for choreographing the film Dirty Dancing and Madonna’s Material Girl music video. Lopes, of course, felt honored to work with the industry giant.

“To even be auditioning for Rocky Horror was an incredible feeling,” says Lopes. “Booking the job and working one-on-one with Mr. Ortega was the cherry on top.”

Dancer Justin Lopes
Dancer Justin Lopes | Photo by Alvin Collantes

Lopes, it’s clear, has the ability and versatility to make it in Hollywood– and Transylvania. Dancing in a large-scale production like The Rocky Horror Picture Show requires the ability to learn at an intensely fast pace and adapt to changes quickly. According to Jeff Mortensen, the production’s assistant choreographer, whether these changes have to do with spacing or choreography, Lopes would take anything given to him and run with it.

“Justin couldn’t have been a better fit for our team,” he says. “I could always count on him to ask the right questions and help propel our Transylvanian ship in the direction it needed to go.”

Lopes stays sharp both mentally and physically for roles like this one by continuing to broaden his movement vocabulary and study different styles of dance. He considers versatility second only to expression of individuality when it comes to a dancer’s performance abilities. He is trained in contemporary, hip hop, jazz, ballet, modern, tap and acrobatic dance styles and is into athletic activities like soccer, dirt-biking, and skateboarding.

“To me, dance is movement,” he says. “All of these different styles allow me to have different languages to bring across to an audience and to project my feelings and emotions in different ways.”

Dancer Justin Lopes, Photo by Greg Tjepkema

It is his ability to immerse himself in a character that made Lopes an unquestionable fit for The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

“When we were looking for our Transylvanians we wanted to find people who could transform and take on these alien characters,” says Mortensen. “Justin’s talent not only lies in his dancing but also this transformation ability.”

Lopes is thrilled to be a part of the continuing history of this cult classic, and feels he’s grown from the experience and the leadership on set. Still, the work is not always glamorous. Lopes says the project took 2 full months and did take a toll on his body. He’s got no regrets, however, and considers Rocky Horror the most positive, fulfilling, and rewarding thing he’s yet done in his still young but flourishing dance career.

“When you’re surrounded by that much inspiration everyday, it definitely makes every bruise, scrape, and all the hours put in, worth it.”

Dancer Nick Phillips Embraces The Thrill Of Performing Live With Legends

No matter how many times he crosses the boards on stage or hits his mark in front of a camera, nerves and adrenaline are expected and even welcomed in the life of a performer. Still, as dancer Nick Phillips knows first-hand, some extraordinary career experiences go beyond normal nerves and excitement, especially at the start. Performing on stage with Oscar-winning actress Hayley Mills has been one such highlight for Phillips.

“To be honest I was incredibly nervous the first time we rehearsed,” recalls Phillips, “but [Mills] was so lovely and supportive the nerves subsided very quickly and by performance time I felt very comfortable and relaxed.”

Legends, which toured Australia in 2015 is a comedy starring Mills and her sister Juliet Mills as two rival film stars. Phillips, an in-demand dancer from Melbourne, stepped into the role of Boom Boom Johnson, a high-energy part that called upon Phillips’ remarkable versatility. He had to dance, perform acrobatics, beatbox, rap, and deliver dialog with comedic timing that held its own opposite two veteran actresses.

Nick Phillips, Photo by Jackson Ross

“To work with [the Mills sisters] was truly a privilege. I learned a lot from them about performance stamina– they were able to hold the audience’s attention for two hours while on stage practically the whole time.”

To wow a seasoned actress like Hayley Mills, is surely a noteworthy accomplishment. However, that’s exactly what Phillips achieved when he took on this character with the cheerful enthusiasm of one who lives for the challenge of live performance.

“When he had to step in and fill the breach left by a fellow actor,” remembers Mills, “he did so with alacrity and total professionalism, was word perfect, and danced brilliantly– we were all thrilled by his performance and very impressed.”

High praise aside, touring a show can be grueling. According to Phillips, traveling between cities is frequently lonely and it is common to experience some homesickness. Not to mention, the challenge of keeping the show fresh.

“When you’re doing eight shows a week, it can be hard to give the same high energy performance every night, especially with a character like Boom Boom,” says Phillips. “It can also take quite the toll on your body. I had to make sure I was always warmed up properly.”

Fortunately, a well-trained professional is accustomed to hard work. Phillips, who has gone from a young breakdancer with a relatively late start in any formal dance training to a sought-after performer for stage, television and commercial events, has shown great mastery of both the physical and mental challenges of the work. This natural ability may have much to do with his attitude.

“[Phillips] is a great company member, being positive and enthusiastic,” says Mills, “qualities that enhance the experience for everyone.”

Australian Dancer, Actor Nick Phillips

Though playing a very specific role as opposed to performing in an ensemble was different for Phillips he looks forward to tackling more roles that stretch him as a dancer and performer. And, though he loves the accessibility and experience of film and television, he enjoys the unpredictable response and instant validation of live performances like the one he gave in Legends.

“My favorite part was most definitely the surprise element. From the moment Boom Boom first storms onstage to the firing of his confetti-filled gun before he busts into a strip dance, the audience reactions are absolutely priceless.”

Versed In Contemporary and Street Styles, Dancer Renee Ritchie is a Chameleon of Dance

Dancer Renee Ritchie
Dancer, Renee Ritchie; Photo by Chris Tsattalios

 

Professional dancers who have the ability to adjust and adapt quickly to changes in style are prized in the dance world.

Renee Ritchie, a former contestant on Season 3 of Australia’s So You Think You Can Dance (SYTYCD), celebrity teacher, choreographer, and dance assistant, is one of those versatile dancers colleagues are happy to work with again and again.

“Renee has a very strong technical background, including contemporary. She makes beautiful shapes and lines with her body,” says Cat Rendic, a former NBA Miami Heat dancer who has toured with artists like Shakira, Jennifer Lopez, Ricky Martin, and Iggy Azalea, has worked with Richie on multiple projects. “As if that wasn’t enough, she [Ritchie] has also trained in various street styles, making her a chameleon of dance.”

Ritchie has spent many years developing her talent and abilities through hard work and commitment to growing in her art and skills in the dance industry. A dancer from the age of five, dancing gave a shy child like Ritchie confidence.

“I loved dance so much, it was all I ever wanted to do.” she says.

Ritchie’s journey from Top-12 SYTYCD contestant has been filled with successes that have taken her on tour throughout Australia and the United States. In addition to working as a dancer for major recording artists like Kylie Minogue and Kelly Clarkson, she was selected to be part of the Nigel Lythgoe and Brian Friedman-produced Go90 series, Every Single Step, making it to the top 6 in this talent search for young, fresh choreographers. Richie currently travels the convention circuit with Hollywood Vibe, working with all of its celebrity choreographers as a dance assistant, demonstrating their work for thousands of young dance hopefuls.

The work is demanding but also very creative. Ritchie must be able to quickly learn new choreography and execute it with a high level of performance immediately. Getting to know each choreographer, all of whom work very differently, and deciding when to offer creative input is a big part of the job.

“You’re always working and pushing to be better,” explains Ritchie. “To work at a high level with these choreographers and others around you is rewarding. It’s nice to be appreciated and know your hard work has paid off.”

 

Renee Ritchie, dancer
Renee Ritchie, professional dancer; Photo by Chris Tsattalios

 

In addition to her work with celebrity dancers like Alexa Anderson, Caitlin Kinney, Kent Boyd, and Allison Holker–all of SYTYCD fame– Ritchie collaborates frequently on creative projects with choreographer Kevin Maher, including his work on Jennifer Lopez’ Las Vegas show at The Axis at Planet Hollywood Resort.

Ritchie also co-choreographed the Paula Abdul award-winning music video, “Check Yourself” which raised awareness of breast cancer and was assistant choreographer to Lucas Newline on the show Absinthe in Las Vegas, choreographing one of its numbers in 2013. Ritchie is excited to soon tour with KAR Elite Dance Competition as one of their celebrity judges and choreographers.

Ritchie knows that when things get tough, she always has dance as a kind of cure for life’s difficulties. She is inspired most by mentors Kevin Maher, Jason Winters and Tony Tzar who she says stay true to who they are as creators and teachers and give selflessly of their time and advice.

Ritchie seems to follow their example well. Aside from the positive, contagious energy that she brings to the room, Rendic describes Ritchie as someone consistently willing to step in and offer help.

“Renee is always going the extra mile,” says Rendic.

This habit is why a dance chameleon like Ritchie will go the distance. She plans to continue to work behind the scenes on tours, hoping to someday work with artists like Beyoncé and Nick Jonas. She also wants to share her talent and knowledge with a younger generation of dancers as a faculty member of conventions traveling America. Well on her way toward these goals, Ritchie’s future in the dance industry looks bright and multi-colored.

The World is a Stage for Irish Dancer Taylor Reardigan

Dancer Taylor Reardigan
                                                                                Dancer Taylor Reardigan

A multi-talented Canadian dancer, Taylor Reardigan was first drawn to the stage and the dance world after witnessing the fast-moving feet, graceful jumps and rhythmic clicking sounds of Riverdance early on in childhood.

Caught up in a whirlwind of Irish dance at an age when most of her peers were still learning how to run and decipher their right from left, Reardigan put her magical feet to the test and whole-heartedly jumped into the competitive field of Irish dancing at the age of 6.

Naturally gifted with perfect rhythm and incredible athleticism, the young competitor spent her youth and teenage years training and competing with the best Irish dancers in the world.

“Irish dancing is literally all picking up your own body weight. You are flying in the air for 3 minutes picking yourself off the ground and it seriously takes so much out of you,” explains Reardigan. “The amount of training you have to do just to get through one dance is crazy. There are so many drills and weight lifting and leg training. For worlds we actually get a personal trainer in before every class to help us build up our stamina.”

By the time she had reached high school, Reardigan had already staked her claim as one of the strongest dance competitors in the sport, a feat proven by her extensive award collection which includes a lengthy list of 1st place awards at world qualifiers, as well as 15th place at the 2008 World Irish Dancing Championships and 13th at the 2009 World Irish Dancing Championships.

“I have won against literally 100’s of other Irish dancers and at world championships you are against 300 or more girls and dancing in a concert hall for 1,000’s of people,” said Reardigan.

While Reardigan continues to perform professionally as an Irish dancer, her repertoire of work has come to include an incredibly diverse list of television, theater and musical productions as well.

Some of her theatrical and musical productions include “Leaps and Bounds,” where she wowed audiences with her mesmerizing abilities as a jazz dancer at Victoria Performing Arts, St. Francis’ “High School Musical” where she played the role of Sharpay, “Shumka” at the Jubilee Auditorium and “Shhh” in New York. Reardigan has also been cast as a dancer in the television shows Blacklisted and Starz Power.

Audiences can catch Taylor Reardigan in the musical production of “Homecoming,” which opens this Friday at 7 p.m. at the York Performing Arts Center in Queens, New York. She will also be performing as an Irish dancer in the renowned Big Apple Circus in New York next year, and is currently working as the associate choreographer of the musical “A Christmas Story,” which will open at the John W Engeman Theater in New York on November 20.

When it comes to performing on stage, Reardigan feels at home, explaining, “I feel like I am exactly where I am supposed to be. I love it.”

Canadian Star Kelsey Oluk

Kelsey Oluk
                                                                 Kelsey Oluk

A genuinely talented actress both on the stage and silver screen, Kelsey Oluk has proven time and time again the dynamic nature of her craft through the vast number of diverse roles she has taken on over the course of her career.

In the film My Little Girl Kelsey plays the starring role of a girl caught between the dilemma of no longer being a teenager and what it means to be a grown up. Kelsey explains, “On the morning of her 20-something birthday, my character wakes up hiding from herself, and the reality that another year has passed.”

A shy young thing confused by the fact that while her age keeps growing, she still feels like a child, the film is a beautiful display of self-discovery and the confusion most 20-somethings face in the wake of getting older.

While Kelsey’s character in the film My Little Girl shows the actress’s softer more vulnerable side, viewers have the opportunity to see her get under the skin of a totally different character in the film Secret Clubhouse. 

Much like the film My Little Girl, the film Secret Clubhouse also revolves around the fear that comes with transitioning into adulthood, however this time Kelsey undertakes the role of Natalie, the film’s supreme bitch. Nominated for a Canadian Comedy Award, the film follows an anxious 29-year-old named Shannon, played by Sara Hennessey, who flees a party after Kelsey’s character Natalie destroys her confidence with a cutting dialogue that hits like an iron-fist.

Aside from the films My Little Girl and Secret Clubhouse, Kelsey Oluk has starred in the films Ivadelle, Kenneyville, Crazytown, the documentary Look At What The Light Did Now, and the shows Goodbye Sara Hennessey and How To Be A Friend. 

A recognizable face in the Canadian entertainment industry, Ms. Oluk has also been in several Canadian public service announcements including “Taking Pulse,” which was sponsored by the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation, the Canadian Cancer Society’s “Julyna” PSA for Cervical Cancer Awareness, and the Autism Awareness PSA entitled “Carly’s Café.”

Although Kelsey has undoubtedly staked her claim as a highly sought after actress in the Canadian entertainment industry, she is also known on an international level for her extraordinary abilities as dancer.

Kelsey was chosen by multi-award winning choreographer Noémie Lafrance to dance in Feist’s music video for the song “1,2,3,4.” The video, which was also used for a commercial for Apple’s iPods Nano, was so successful that it received a Grammy Award nomination for Best Music Video, the Le Prix Victoire de la Music for Best Music Video of the Year, which is often referred to as the French Grammy, and a CAD Award in London, as well as garnered Noémie Lafrance the award for MVPA Music Video Production Award for Best Choreography.

Besides starring in the music videos for the songs “The Way It Should Be” by PLEX,   “Laces Out” by USS, “You got it” by George Leach, “PF” by Controller.Controller and “Do it in the Dark” by The Balconies, Kelsey also choreographed the video for The Balconies’ song “Boys and Girls,” which she danced in as well.