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Dance: Bringing It Home

Local roots and longtime friendships enrich annual dance festival

By Kathy Valin · June 4th, 2008 · Dance
If you dig modern dance, don't miss Contemporary Dance Theater's 2008 Choreographers Festival.

Thirteen impressive choreographers -- all with local links -- are set to show works with a rich variety of intention and approach in two distinct programs during the next two weekends.

Their stories tell a tale of finding a lifeline to working professionally in the congenial atmosphere that has defined Contemporary Dance Theatre's presence in Cincinnati for 35 years.

Longtime Cincinnati performer René McCafferty, who appears in Shawn Womack's Pageant, says "Twenty-seven years ago, if Jefferson James (CDT's current artistic director and former dancer with and director of the now defunct CDT company) hadn't been in my life ..." McCafferty stops as if to consider the unpleasant possibility before she continues decisively, "During the years of my association with CDT, I've received art and friendship. My life today is rich, with a husband and kids. I think I bring depth to my investigation of a work."

Womack, who also dances in Pageant, says, "I wanted to explore the ways of working together we had from years of performing together, and what it means to have four women in their fifties performing on the dance stage."

The former director of her own Cincinnati-based contemporary dance and performance company, Womack is known for her intellectual and socially conscious approach to creating dance leavened with a sense of wacky humor.

"I no longer live in Cincinnati, but I consider it my artistic home," she says. "CDT has fostered a close-knit and devoted community of choreographers, dancers and audience members for dance who have sophisticated understandings of the art form."

Terrace Park's Jeri Gatch, who reprises her Peloton, an exuberant and rollicking look at the culture of elite bicycle racing, is another teacher, choreographer and performer who has found her niche.

"I moved to Cincinnati in 1998," Gatch says. "In 2004, I made Peloton for my husband, a cyclist, and he and my slightly older children will perform in it again. I love taking everybody to work with me. My kids have actively seen how you take an idea and make it into something concrete -- a good example. And the advantage of presenting with CDT is to start working with casts over and over and developing invaluable relationships."

School for Creative and Performing Arts grads Paige Cunningham (now working in Chicago) and Heather Britt also will perform together for the first time in new work for four women by Cunningham.

This promises to be an exciting combination, since Britt is one of the most charismatic dancers and teachers on the Cincinnati scene and Cunningham made her artistic chops performing with the legendary Merce Cunningham Dance Company.

"Paige's dances are very athletic, which I love to do, and very technical at the same time, which I respect," Britt says. "When I came back to Cincinnati from San Francisco in 2001, where I'd been performing on a regular basis, I longed to still hold on to a piece of that. Contemporary Dance Theater has given me a chance to perform at a professional level at least once a year since then. I have two kids. I teach for and direct my own franchise (Rhythm and Motion Cincinnati), and I'm education manager for Cincinnati Ballet.

"I do enjoy working in the art," Britt says, smiling, "but it is still the most gratifying thing for me personally to perform."

CDT's CHOREOGRAPHERS FESTIVAL runs 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 7:30 p.m. June 13-14 at the Aronoff Center for the Arts. For a complete schedule of each weekend's performances, go to www.cdt-dance.org.



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