Choreographing a Future for Las Vegas’ Contemporary Dance Company

Saturday, October 15, 2016.

Reaching a 10-year anniversary for the Las Vegas Contemporary Dance Theater (LVCDT) has not been easy.

While achieving widespread acclaim, the company has faced constant challenges, including sporadic funding, finding a useable space and even the studio’s air conditioner being stolen.

“We’ve survived,” says Bernard Gaddis, LVCDT president and founding artistic director. “I’m hoping we’ll be here in another 10 years.”

If anyone could do it, Gaddis could. Since starting dance at 14 and joining his first professional company at 15, the Philadelphia native has seized every opportunity to share dance with others.

“It’s my mission to create a rich tapestry of the arts (in Las Vegas),” he says. “I would like to be a guiding force not only in dance, but for all art forms for the city of Las Vegas.”

An Uncertain Beginning

Gaddis, who moved to Las Vegas in 2003 to perform with Cirque de Soleil, had doubts about starting LVCDT.

Approached about the idea by Charmaine Hunter – a renowned performer, educator and promoter of the arts – he worried about shouldering “all the burdens that go with starting a nonprofit,” he says.

Hoping to build dance resources in Las Vegas, he agreed. He formed the company while still dancing 10 shows a week with Cirque, which he’s continued for the last decade.

He faced an immediate challenge: a limited arts community at the time to offer support.

“I felt very much alone,” he says.

A former member of prominent companies such as Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Gaddis sought ideas from mentors out of state, with friends agreeing to dance to help get things rolling.

As Gaddis developed his contacts in Las Vegas, the company took shape.

“We slowly started to get more support,” he says. “We never got that amazing donor, though.”

A Teaching Company

Gaddis chose early on to build LVCDT on education.

Keeping the company small for touring, he recruits up-and-coming dancers to pass along training he received from dance legends including Martha Graham and Alvin Ailey.

“For me, it’s about training future artists and giving young dancers the (learning and performing) opportunity that was given to me,” he says.

He also built a diverse repertoire of more than 40 ballets, many highly athletic. The company has even premiered new works, including pieces choreographed by Ailey, and by Gaddis himself.

This has drawn company members from around the world with versatile backgrounds.

“There’s a high quality of repertoire we have that they can have the chance to perform and grow from,” Gaddis explains.

Overcoming Challenges

Even with talented performers, keeping LVCDT afloat has proved challenging.

LVCDT’s latest studio downtown experiences crime. While the company has local fans, audiences can be twice as large when they tour elsewhere.

“It sometimes feels like we are the city’s best kept secret,” Gaddis says.

Funding remains the top issue – to the point Gaddis nearly shut down the company recently.

“For my dancers, I kept it going,” he says. “We’re a family.”

Aiming to grow LVCDT’s board of directors, Gaddis plans to schedule a European tour to promote the company.

Eventually, the 46-year-old hopes to step off the stage.

“I’m coming to the age where I just want to walk into the audience and sit back, watch and enjoy my dancers living their dreams,” he says.

LVCDT will perform “Las Vegas Contemporary Dance Theater Celebrating 10 Years of Excellence,” on Friday, November 11. For tickets and more information, visit: www.thesmithcenter.com/event/las-vegas-contemporary-dance-theater-fall-season-9-2/.

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