Company founder Bernard Gaddis brings love home to Philly

Contemporary West Dance Theater presents Fall in Love Tour

3 minute read
Three dancers in white dresses synced in mid-dance on a pink and purple lit stage
'Fall in Love Tour' arrives at Fringe Bar this weekend. (Photo by Jerry Metellus.)

Contemporary West Dance Theater’s Fall in Love Tour at Fringe Bar on April 26 and 27 will mark a homecoming for founder Bernard H. Gaddis, who still calls himself “Phillyboy” on social media. When I caught up with him on Zoom, the company had just returned to its Las Vegas home after appearances in Texas, but his roots are in Philly. “I was at Sulzberger Junior High School,” he said. “They sent a piece of paper asking where we would like to go to high school and Creative and Performing Arts was on the paper.”

The first dance

In 1984, when Gaddis was deciding on a high school, Fame—a show about New York’s High School for the Performing Arts—was on TV, and he wanted to do that. Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA) requires auditions, though, and Gaddis said, “I had no formal training whatsoever. I did Michael Jackson, in brown dress pants, and they needed men!” CAPA was a turning point: at the age of 15, still in school, and with just one year of training, he joined PHILADANCO! Gaddis still considers Joan Myers Brown his dance mom. He was one of Roni Koresh’s first dancers and has known Rennie Harris since they were kids. (The Philly dance community is tight!)

He never really thought about starting his own company, but a role in the Los Angeles production of The Lion King and a stint with Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas took him west, where Cirque teacher Charmaine Hunter changed his mind. It was, he said, the first professional contemporary dance company in Nevada. They opened in 2007 to a theater full of strippers; Gaddis said, “They were some of the most supportive and wonderful, gracious people that I’ve ever met.” The company has grown since then, but still, he says, his heart is in Philly and he is looking forward to performing for his home audience.

A Philly favorite and a new experience

The tour brings two pieces by Gaddis and a premiere from Philly favorite Christopher Huggins. A new Huggins piece is always exciting and Paradox of Choice should be no exception. Based on the paradoxical theory that too much choice makes us anxious and indecisive, the piece looks at human relations and social media where, Gaddis explained, “everybody seems to be trying to find the perfect person, and they are constantly swiping left” (passing on to the next profile in a dating app).

Gaddis’s new work, Steveland is a tribute to Stevie Wonder that brings the heart and the soul. (Stevland is Stevie Wonder’s real name). “It starts off with one of my older members, Eddie Otero, who’s 64, the soothsayer or shaman that brings everyone into the space.” He chose Wonder songs about love like “For Once in My Life” and "Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours.” On a more somber note, the piece includes “If Your Love Cannot Be Moved” sung with gospel singer Kim Burrell in a section that remembers former PHILADANCO! student O'Shae Sibley and Jayden Perkins, an 11-year-old dance student in Chicago killed protecting his mother. The program rounds out with Bolero Unleashed, a different take on the classic.

On Sunday, April 28, Gaddis will be talking about his career as a dancer and company founder and artistic director with Brown as part of the PHILADANCO! series, Legacy Conversations: Pioneers in Their Craft: Bernard Gaddis.

What, When, Where

Fall in Love Tour. Choreography by Bernard H. Gaddis and Christopher Huggins. Contemporary West Dance Theater. $35. April 26-27, 2024, at Fringe Bar, 140 N Columbus Boulevard, Philadelphia.

Legacy Conversations: Pioneers in Their Craft: Bernard Gaddis. PHILADANCO! $15. Sunday, April 28, at 4pm, via livestream.


For accessibility information, visit the FringeArts website.

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