Contemporary Dance Theater History

Jefferson James

Jefferson James, the founder and Artistic Director of Contemporary Dance Theater, attended Juilliard School of Music, Columbia University, and graduated from the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music. She has received choreography fellowships from the NEA and the Ohio Arts Council, the Ohio Governor’s Award in Arts Administration, and the OhioDance Award. In 2008, Ms. James received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Scripps Corbett awards committee. Ms. James and CDT are currently celebrating their 44th season. Contemporary Dance Theater, under the direction and leadership of Jefferson James, has presented over 200 dance presentations, overseen numerous productions of new work, and has been a partner of the National Performance Network since its beginning over 25 years ago.

Contemporary Dance Theater

Contemporary Dance Theater (CDT) has been presenting and/or producing work for 43 years and has brought over 120 artists/companies to the area. These are artists of national renown and in some cases these presentations were the start of an artist’s touring career. CDT has advanced the careers of several Cincinnati area choreographers through the presentation of their work – Cheryl Wallace, Judith Mikita, Diane Germaine and Shawn Womack in particular.

Without CDT the dance landscape in Cincinnati would be very different today. CDT’s continued support and presentation of dance has helped the development of a loyal and knowledgeable dance audience that attends events regular. The community now supports the development of a modern dance company and a jazz dance company in Cincinnati as well as a site-specific performance arts company. In addition Cincinnati Ballet has added contemporary dance choreographers to its mix of guest choreographers. While CDT can’t take credit for all of these activities and changes it has certainly been a catalyst in the development of dance interest in the area. It has also provided access to artist’s points of view in dance not often seen in the mid-west.

Contemporary Dance Theater’s mission: moving bodies moving souls

Contemporary Dance Theater accomplishes this through the following activities:

  • Presentation of contemporary dance and time arts that reflect: the diversity of style, diversity of geographic region, diversity of culture, which are inherent in the field.
  • Presentation of work that is serious in content, not merely entertaining, work that has a social message or context.
  • Production assistance for the creation and presentation of regional movement based work and time arts projects.
  • Educational community outreach with an emphasis on integrating art into community life.


Contemporary Dance Theater was created in January
Received its non-profit status and Federal Identification number in March
CDT became a partner of the National Performance Network when the network was being established. Since that inaugural year CDT and the NPN have collaborated to bring over 60 dance artists and companies to perform and share their work and vision with the Greater Cincinnati area. Through these performances and residencies CDT has also collaborated with numerous schools, universities and community organizations in the area, providing workshops and lecture demonstrations.
CDT collaborated with Contemporary Arts Center and visual artist Salli LoveLarkin, to present an installation of her work - a paper installation - and dance improvisation, this work also featured a commissioned score by jazz pianist and dance music composer Billy Larkin.
CDT dissolved its repertory company and concentrated on presenting the Guest Artist Series, and producing an adjudicated concert series – showcasing area choreographers and dancers who did not have established companies or opportunities.
Inside/Outside an arts project for incarcerated individuals- This developed from a series of workshops led by Pat Graney from Seattle with area artists of different disciplines gathering in Cincinnati at CDT’s studio. Support from the then Fine Arts Fund through a Collaboration grant allowed us to continue the work after Pat left (2001). CDT became one of the original collaborators and the major fund-raiser for the project. It is currently in hiatus until we can find more money and administrative assistance to keep it funded. During it’s more than 12 years it developed and collaboratively produced about 15 presentations created by incarcerated individuals with the help and support of visual, movement/theater and literary artists. Inside/Outside is not a dance project but it uses movement as one of its foundation art forms, and CDT and contemporary dancers like Pat Graney were the catalysts that make it happen.
CDT also created a performance art series, now called, Performance & Time Arts, which collaborates with individual artists from a variety of performance disciplines (dance, theater, film, poetry, visual arts installation) to create a series of weekend concerts during the season. The artists create work, and get an opportunity to present it in CDT’s studio/theater with low-tech lighting and sound assistance, the artists keep the box office after tech is paid.
Contemporary Dance Theater