Jazzy Inspiration – Q&A with Las Vegas Contemporary Dance Theater’s Bernard Gaddis

The Nov. 13 debut of Las Vegas Contemporary Dance Theater’s (LVCDT) production Simply Ella is just two weeks away, but founder and artistic director Bernard Gaddis is confident and calm on a Tuesday morning before rehearsals at LVCDT’s new studio in the Arts District. The company’s fourth production at The Smith Center, highlighted by a tribute to Ella Fitzgerald featuring Vegas entertainers Clint Holmes and Reva Rice, is both an homage to the jazz legend and a milestone for the young company, as it’s the dancers’ first performance at Reynolds Hall since moving to their permanent address.

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Spotlight: What was the genesis of Simply Ella?

BG: I’ve always loved Ella’s music. I started with a ballet called Standards. It was inspired by many different jazz artists, but Ella kind of stuck out for me and I started to listen to more of her music. The creative juices flowed from that, into creating this ballet. I also read about her legacy and her upbringing, and it just inspired me to pay homage to this great legendary woman.

SC: So initially you were going to pick standards and build the show around that?

BG: We’re a repertory theater, so we do the works of many different choreographers. Most of the time we don’t do a theme. We do three different ballets and we call it our fall season or our spring season, and people can actually come to the theater and see different ballets that are in different genres. One minute you’re listening to jazz, the next minute you’re listening to hip-hop, and then the next minute you’re listening to classical music. Our concerts give a variety to everyone in the community, and that’s basically my goal when doing programming.

SC: The entertainer that people associate most with Las Vegas is Frank Sinatra, and he cited her as his favorite singer.

BG: Ella played such a big part in the music history of Las Vegas that I definitely thought the Las Vegas community would embrace this specific ballet. In the meantime, we’re also doing Alvin Ailey’s Night Creatures, which is [scored with] Duke Ellington’s music, and the two of them collaborated many times so it’s definitely an amazing pairing. And this season I also wanted to celebrate jazz music. It’s something that I’ve always loved, being in Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and dancing to so much jazz.

SC: What will audiences see?

BG: The first ballet is sort of neo-classical/contemporary. It’s called Ballet #37. Basically it was my 37th ballet that I choreographed. Then you have an intermission, and then Night Creatures. After another intermission you have Ella Fitzgerald, which is Simply Ella. She did a lot of scatting, but when she did sing her voice was so pure. For me, the most elegant things are the simplest. You can find elegance in simplicity. Ella wasn’t about the pyrotechnics and production that all these stars need today. All you can hear is her voice, and it’s simply her. I didn’t do a lot of pyrotechnic choreography and all this other stuff. It’s a classic, traditional-jazz modern ballet.

SC: How are Vegas entertainers Clint Holmes and Reva Rice involved?

BG: I inserted Reva and Clint in specific songs that I thought would showcase and highlight their talents. It’s more or less how I thought Sinatra and Ella would sing together, and I don’t just have them onstage singing. There are times when they are actually interacting with the dancers. They’re incorporated in the ballet.

SC: Is there a lead dancer for the show?

BG: Actually, I give the opportunity to all dancers to become leads, to be highlighted, because I was given the opportunity to create my brand as far as an artist, and to gain respect and recognition in the dance world, which has helped support me from when I first started dancing professionally 32 years ago up until now. So I wanted to give that same opportunity to all of my dancers, that moment to shine. The dancers have to earn that, and work very hard for that spot. Ella gives the opportunity to, and showcases, almost every dancer in the company.

Tickets are on sale now and can be purchased here.

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