Dramatic Steps

Dance Theater director driven to build an arts legacy in Las Vegas

“Nothing to prove, everything to share” is prominently inscribed on the wall inside the Las Vegas Contemporary Dance Theater. At first you don’t pay much attention to it, because it seems like another one of those trite workplace truisms. But after you meet the man who had those words inscribed, you realize that this is one workplace where the words really mean something.

Bernard H. Gaddis is a human mission statement, and he founded this humble three-room studio in downtown’s Holsum Lofts because he could, given that he has nothing left to prove professionally. The Philadelphia native is a former principal dancer at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York, and his 27-year dance résumé includes performances for the Queen of England, Nelson Mandela and President Clinton. More recently, he has become one of Cirque’s go-to dancers and choreographers for its Vegas shows.

“I’m one of the last dancers to have studied under the greats,” Gaddis says. “And to be a longtime regular dancer for Cirque, I’m so grateful. Living both sides of the arts spectrum, between concert dance in New York and Cirque here, I want to share what I’ve learned through my own company.”

He hopes the “everything to share” part of the mission will flip Las Vegas on its head. Everybody knows this is the place where dance radiates with big lights, diamond-studded bikinis and extravagant costuming. But in all that flash, there’s no large pool of contemporary-trained dancers. From this unexpected outpost, Gaddis seeks to share this art form not only with Las Vegas but with the world.

“I want to mold the next professional dancer here,” he says, gazing at a class from his office door frame. “There are no names like Alvin Ailey or Baryshnikov anymore; it’s just a conglomerate of bodies.”

As artistic director of the LVCDT, Gaddis is the mastermind behind such works as Brethren, an all-male ballet ensemble about angels struggling for salvation, and Therapy, a modern ballet portraying the toil between the sexes. Both works were well-received here. He oversees the company’s dances as well as the costumes, guest choreographers and dancers, who are recruited by invitation only.

Gaddis isn’t the typical staff director. He has an open-door policy with his dancers and regularly talks with them, sharing experiences and discussing goals, thoughts and passions toward life, culture and dance. He encourages his dancers to see the world and inject those experiences in their dancing. For example, Gaddis says that diverse images such as the movements of a Geisha and the streets of Paris have inspired his repertoire.

Most importantly, he wants his dancers to maintain a strong technique. He does so through his regimen, in which all dancers take several mandatory regular dance classes to keep up technique and versatility.

This discipline doesn’t go unnoticed by Greg Sample, whose choreography will be featured in the LVCDT’s Fall Concert Series in November. “Bernard’s dancers are always physically ready to handle anything,” says the 33-year-old, who danced in Celine Dion’s A New Day on the Strip. “I don’t have to waste time dissecting a movement and showing them ‘how’ it’s done, and I really appreciate that.”

Gaddis, who is nearing 40, practices what he teaches, too. He’s a model of professional conditioning and technique.

“Even at my age, I’m doing 10 shows a week,” Gaddis says. “I’ve been with Cirque for seven years and somehow I’ve never had a serious injury—knock on wood.”

That’s how he continues to earn respect, performing with a powerhouse like Cirque du Soleil, and he, in turn, hopes to parlay that into respect for his studio.

“Cirque called me,” Gaddis says. “That’s how great my training has been, and that’s what I want to provide here at LVCDT.”

7 Don’t-Miss Events

Soap on His Hands

Photo by Andrei MigneaActor Ken Lally, the guest star of Shakespeare in the Park.

General Hospital alum Ken Lally (more recently of Pirates of the Caribbean fame) joins the Las Vegas Shakespeare Company’s production of Macbeth for this year’s Shakespeare in the Park, which takes place at various outdoor venues in Henderson. 7 p.m. Oct. 2, River Mountain Park (1941 Appaloosa Dr.); 7 p.m. Oct. 9, Lake Las Vegas, in The Village; 7 p.m. Oct. 16, Discovery Park (2011 Paseo Verde Parkway); 7 p.m. Oct. 23, Sonata Park (1550 Seven Hills Dr.). Free.

Tribute to the Master

Photo by Brooks AyolaNevada Ballet Theatre.

James Canfield, artistic director of the Nevada Ballet Theatre, got his big break when he was invited to join the famed Joffrey Ballet in New York. Now he honors the legacy of the late Robert Joffrey at NBT’s fall series. NBT has invited three national ballet companies and alumni dancers who studied under Joffrey to perform in what promises to be a grand tribute. 8 p.m. Oct. 15-16, 2 p.m. Oct. 17, UNLV’s Judy Bayley Theatre, 4505 S. Maryland Parkway, $10-$75, 895-2787.

My Fair Musical

In legendary musicals such as Camelot and Brigadoon, Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe discovered the perfect alchemy of melody and lyrics. At A Loverly Afternoon of Lerner & Loewe, performers from the Strip will sing the pair’s enduring hits. The show benefits Family Promise of Las Vegas and the College of Southern Nevada Performing Arts Center. 2 p.m. Oct. 23-24, Nicholas J. Horn Theatre, 3200 E. Cheyenne Ave., $20-$25, 651-5483.

Got Fright?

Insurgo Theater Movement, our new favorite local alt-theater company, puts its own twist on the famous French theater of macabre with Bloody Mary. Dates vary throughout October. Erotic Heritage Museum, 3275 Industrial Road, 369-6442, $25.

Time Warp, Again

Richard O’Brien’s deathless musical play The Rocky Horror Picture Show, with its renowned tendency to stimulate audience participation, opens at the Onyx Theater. It’s taken a while to get the rights for a Las Vegas production, but then again, this show never gets old. 8 p.m. Thu-Sat, Oct. 14-30, Onyx Theatre, 953 E. Sahara Ave., Suite 16. 732-7225, $25.

Poetry in Motion

Photo by Anthony MairBernard Gaddis (seated) in the studio with LVCDT dancers.

The Las Vegas Contemporary Dance Theater has become a local haven for modern dance training, choreography and performance. Its Fall Concert Series features new works by theater founder (and former Alvin Ailey principal dancer) Bernard Gaddis, the legendary Judith Jamison and more. 7:30 p.m. Nov. 5, 1:30 p.m. Nov. 6-7, West Las Vegas Library Theatre, 951 W. Lake Mead Blvd., $30-$40.

Everything But the Ferris Wheel

NameA Karnival contortionist.

The Onyx Theater’s cabaret show, Karnival, is subtitled “A Collection of Oddities.” The show promises to showcase Las Vegas’ “most unique talents.” It also promises to both entertain and disturb us. We’re disturbed already! See you there. 8 p.m. Oct. 6, 27 and Nov. 3, $20.

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