Canadian Contemporary Dance Theatre was founded in 1980 in Toronto by Deborah Lundmark and Michael deConinck Smith. The Company aimed to provide young dancers with a public performance alternative to prevailing competition, examination and recital options, which are still the predominant modes of intensive dance training available today. CCDT was modelled after local companies like Toronto Dance Theatre and shared studios with that group from 1984 to 1987. In 1984 CCDT debuted on the Canadian dance scene with a main stage performance at the Dance in Canada Conference in Saskatoon. By 1988 the Company had identified a technique base (Limón Modern) that best suited its dancers and began regularly commissioning established choreographers. The production that year of WinterSong – dances for a sacred season, at Premiere Dance Theatre (now Fleck Dance Theatre) with works by Carol Anderson, David Earle, Holly Small and Deborah Lundmark, marked CCDT’s coming of age as a professional repertory company, hailed by the Globe & Mail as "a national treasure".
Photo by Cylla von Tiedmann
In 1990, CCDT undertook its first international tour: three weeks in Beijing, Suzhou, Wuxi, Nanjing, Qin Tao, and Shanghai hosted by “China’s Baryshnikov”, Zhou Gui Xin, and presented alongside such renowned troupes as the Peking Opera of Nanjing. The company returned “tour-hardened” to share the YTV Arts Award with Barenaked Ladies and to originate a full-length production of William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience choreographed by ten senior Toronto artists.
The 1990s also saw the Company flourish as a Family Series favourite among Ontario’s pioneering Presenters’ network. Epic adventures of 4,000 kilometres from Thunder Bay to Atikokan via Red Lake and Rainy River proved almost as exotic to CCDT's young southern artists as had their international travels.
The 509 DANCE Building marquee, pictured in 2008.
In 1995, CCDT purchased and renovated its own facility on Parliament Street. 509 DANCE has become an intergenerational crossroads for the dance community and has been home to several local organizations including Danny Grossman Dance Company, Fujiwara Dance Inventions, ProArteDanza, The School of Toronto Dance Theatre, TOES for Dance, The Garage, Kenny Pearl's GMD classes, and hundreds of independent dancers.
CCDT entered the new millennium with a two-week tour to Malaysia and Singapore and returned to revise its family-series based presentation model. Exploring a new extended residency model, the company engaged 7,000 students and teachers in the Georgian Triangle supported by partnerships with local foundations, boards, theatres and studios. In 2002, CCDT launched a sister company, TILT sound+motion, on the National Arts Centre stage at the Canada Dance Festival. TILT enhanced CCDT's capacity to provide a stable platform for older emerging artists, to develop untapped youth audiences, and to define Dance for Young Audiences (DYA). By 2011, when TILT was retired for financial reasons, the two companies had introduced 200,000 Ontario students and teachers to work by some of Canada’s most exciting choreographers through over one hundred community residencies.
To mark its 30th anniversary in 2011 CCDT replaced the word "Children’s" with "Contemporary" in its name, signifying the Company's maturation from the 1980s start-up whose age limit for dancers was 14 years and whose repertoire had yet to include more than one hundred works by many of the country’s leading creators and designers.
Celebrating this anniversary at Fleck Dance Theatre, the Company showcased dances by Tedd Robinson, Danny Grossman, Robert Glumbek, Carol Anderson, Susie Burpee, Deborah Lundmark and David Earle. Stellar works by Hanna Kiel, Jera Wolfe, Andrea Nann, Michael Trent, Peter Chin, Roberto Campanella, Margie Gillis, Bill Coleman, William Yong, Santee Smith, Serge Bennathan, Peggy Baker and some forty other dance-makers including UK's Alexander Whitley and US's Colin Connor, Jennifer Archibald, Charles Moulton, Nicole Caruana, and Kevin Wynn, complete one of the country’s most diverse contemporary repertoires and arguably the world’s largest oeuvre designed primarily for young dancers and young audiences. Culminating its 30th birthday celebration, the company won the Toronto Arts Foundation’s prestigious Arts for Youth Award.
During recent years CCDT has divided its presentations between two annual engagements on Harbourfront Centre's NextSteps associated with eleven matinees for schools at Fleck Dance Theatre and two to four weeks of Ontario touring, presenting school matinees in communities' theatres. With the inception of Ontario Arts Council's international touring program and the new potential for crowd funding, the company expanded its horizons in July 2014, representing Canada at the Commonwealth Youth Dance Festival in Glasgow where The Scotsman Newspaper reviewer wrote, "The Canadian Contemporary Dance Theatre did their country proud… with a professionalism that belied their age." In October 2015 CCDT culminated a 27-year relationship with the José Limón Dance Company, joining them and other international companies to perform selections from the Limón repertoire at New York's storied Joyce Theater, in a two-week celebration of the Limón Company's 70th anniversary. An audience that included many of the Limón company's current and former members awarded CCDT's opening performance of excerpts from The Winged a standing ovation. Most recently, CCDT was featured in Harbourfront Centre’s inaugural Junior International Festival and at Fall for Dance North, Canada’s premiere international dance festival.
CCDT proudly celebrated its 40th Anniversary during the 2020-2021 Season, culminating with a May 2021 production of works old and new entitled Gravity's Edge.
The Winged, choreography by José Limón. Photo by David Hou