Cynthia Oliver

Cynthia Oliver creates performance collages that move from dance to word to sound and back again toward an eclectic and provocative dance theatre. A Bronx born, Virgin Island reared performer, she incorporates the textures of Caribbean performance with African, and American, aesthetic sensibilities.  She has been awarded and/or commissioned by the Franklin Furnace, The Puffin Foundation, The Jerome Foundation, Edward and Sally Van Lier Fund for Minority Artisits, NYSCA, 92nd St Y Harkness Center for Dance, Performance Space 122, Dance Theater Workshop, The National Performance Network, Creative Capital, The Rockefeller MAP Fund, New England Foundation for the Arts (NDP), the Pew Charitable Trust, The University of Illinois Research Board, and the Illinois Arts Council.  In 1995/96 Cynthia won a New York Dance and Performance Award (a Bessie) for her evening length work "Death's Door."  In 2000 she was called, "Outstanding Young Choreographer" by reviewer Frank Werner in the German magazine Ballet Tanz. She was featured in Dance Magazine's April 2002 article on Artists who balance academe and the professional arena. In 2007 she appeared in Arts Across Illinois, a series presenting Illinois artists and their work on local Public Television, and in 2009 Cynthia was honored with a Cal Arts Alpert Award nomination. In 2011 Cynthia received a University Scholar nomination only award from the University of Illinois and has recently received her second Illinois Arts Council Choreography Fellowship.

Her dance theatre work has been has been performed across the country in festivals and spaces like the The Public Theatre, The Kitchen, Performance Space 122, Dance Theater Workshop, Danspace at St. Mark’s Church, and Aaron Davis Hall in New York City; NOCCA, in New Orleans; Links Hall, the Hot House, the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts in Chicago and Urbana, IL; The Central District Forum for Arts & Ideas in Seattle; the Dance Place in Washington D.C.; The Painted Bride Arts Center in Philadelphia PA; and Bates Dance Festival in Lewiston Maine, amongst many others.  Her choreography for theatre has been performed at Minnesota's Penumbra and Pillsbury House Theaters, New York’s La MaMa Etc., Syncronicity Space, and Aaron Davis Hall. In 2004 Cynthia’s work made the leap across the pond when she collaborated with German Filmmaker Marcus Behrens of European arts channel Canal Arte to adapt her evening length work AfroSocialiteLifeDiva for film which aired on Canal Arte in 2005 and Germany, Austria and Switzerland’s 3Sat Arts Channel in 2006. In 2012 she was invited to Oagadougou, Burkina Faso, via the Suitcase Fund, to work with a group of 16 women dance artists, creating a choreography which spoke to their empowerment as creative artists who negotiate complex traditions that may in fact impede their art.

She has danced with Theatre Dance Inc. and the Caribbean Dance Company of St. Croix, Virgin Islands.  In New York she has danced with independent choreographers Janine Williams, Andrea E. Woods, and Patricia Hoffbauer and with many companies including the David Gordon Pick Up Co., the Prowess DanceArts Collective, Ronald Kevin Brown/Evidence, Bebe Miller Company and Tere O’Connor Dance.  As an actor Cynthia has performed in works by Greg Tate, Ione, Laurie Carlos, and Ntozake Shange.

In addition to Cynthia's performance work, she holds a Ph.D. in Performance Studies from New York University.  Her scholarly work has focused on performance in the Anglophone Caribbean.  She has taught at New York University's Department of Drama, Tisch School of the Arts, The Newcomb Summer Dance Intensive at Tulane University, Florida State University, and the University of Utah.  She is Professor of Dance at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

Visiting Artist | March 17-25, 2017

Virago-Man Dem

Cynthia Oliver is one of four artists funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to come to MANCC multiple times over the course of three years. This multi-year support enables choreographers who are familiar with MANCC and its resources to advance their research in a series of well-planned residences with the potential to include more collaborators and pull in more technical support. Such support results in a more substantial investment in the work for the artists, their commissioning partners, and audiences. It also offers the choreographer the opportunity to anchor their ongoing work at MANCC without immediately knowing the results of their research, allowing an opportunity to build the work into what it is going to be before the artist is asked to frame it for funding and touring purposes.

In her second residency, Oliver continued to develop her project, Virago-Man Dem. In preparation for her Fall 2018 premiere in New York City, Oliver was able to clarify casting choices by bringing two understudy dancers into the studio to rehearse and experiment with other core company members. Her composer, Jason Finkelman and lighting designer, Amanda Ringer began to develop and finalize scenic elements including lighting, video projection and sound, while Oliver and the dancers continued to hone the live elements of the performance. Costume designer Susan Becker utilized resources of the FSU costume shop to further costume designs.

The residency culminated in an informal showing of the work, followed by an open discussion of feedback with Oliver and her collaborators. The showing was attended by faculty and students of the FSU School of Dance, as well as the Departments of Theater, Visual Art, and Modern Languages.  Several Tallahassee community members who connected with Oliver during her first residency were able to attend as well.

Virago-Man Dem will premiere in Fall 2018.

  • Duane Cyrus, Kerville Jack, Jonathon Gonzalez and Guy Thorne in rehearsal
  • Cynthia Oliver with Duane Cyrus
  • Jonathon Gonzalez, Duane Cyrus and Niall Jones in rehearsal
  • Cynthia Oliver with Guy Thorne and Kerville Jack
  • Duane Cyrus, Guy Thorne, Jonathon Gonzalez and Kerville Jack
  • Jonathon Gonzalez in rehearsal
  • Jonathon Gonzalez in rehearsal
  • Guy Thorne in rehearsal
  • Kerville Jack in rehearsal
  • Performers in rehearsal
  • Performers in rehearsal
  • Duane Cyrus in rehearsal
  • Niall Jones
  • Virago Man-Dem rehearsal
  • Duane Cyrus with Jonathon Gonzalez and Niall Jones
  • Virago Man-Dem rehearsal
  • Virago Man-Dem rehearsal
  • Virago Man-Dem rehearsal
  • Niall Jones
  • Virago Man-Dem rehearsal
  • Duane Cyrus and Jonathon Gonzalez
  • Jonathon Gonzalez
  • Jonathon Gonzalez with Niall Jones
  • Virago Man-Dem rehearsal
  • Virago Man-Dem rehearsal
  • Virago Man-Dem rehearsal

Collaborators in Residence: Duane Cyrus, Jonathon Gonzalez, Kerville Cosmos Jack, Niall Jones, Guy Thorne [performers], Jason Finkelman [composer], Cornelio Casaclang [company manager], Susan Becker [costume designer], Amanda Ringger [lighting designer], Val Oliveiro [stage manager], John Boesche [media designer]

Visiting Artist | May 22 - June 6, 2016

Virago-Man Dem

In Virago-Man Dem, Visiting Artist Cynthia Oliver turns her gaze toward a nuanced exploration of the masculine,probing the performance of its constituent elements’ reciprocal relationship to culture and locale. Reflecting on the core query that drives Virago-Man Dem Oliver asks, “How can/does a woman choreograph masculinity, without resorting to stereotypes but instead locate its nuances, challenges and ambiguities?”

Oliver and her collaborators, an all male cast of predominantly US-based, Afro-Caribbean dancers/performers, John Jennings (visual artist), Jason Finkelman [composer] and Fred Moten (writer) used the residency to unearth nuances, unspoken codes and overt expressions of black masculinity in both movement and spoken language. Drawing upon her extensive background in contemporary dance from Africanist and Euro-American cultural frameworks as well as her deep involvement in avant-garde theatrical traditions by black women in North America, Oliver created and directed these findings into a layered and complex choreography of non-linear movement, oral text and visual projections that move from dance to word to sound to image and back again, toward an eclectic and provocative dance theatre.

Like Virago, Oliver’s existing body of work is animated by the concerns and approaches of her scholarly research and writing, which largely probe the knowledge and material that resides at the intersection of contemporary dance, feminism, black popular culture and the expressive performances of Africans in the diaspora. Her recent interests include asserting the presence and complex negotiations of black artists in contemporary “avant-garde,” “experimental,” or neo-postmodern dance arenas.  She writes on the politics of the dance scene in the US, on relations between dance and other contemporary art movements, and the lives of black women in the Caribbean as evinced by her book, “Queen of the Virgins: Pageantry and Womanhood in the Caribbean” published by University Press of Mississippi in 2009.

Along with dance-based research in the studio, while at MANCC Oliver and her collaborative team held follow up conversations with FSU scholars Dr. Doug Schrock (Sociology) and Dr. Patrick Mason (Economics/Director of FSU’s African American Studies program), as well as Public Intellectual/Artist Summer Hill Seven. These discussions were initiated in January, when Oliver conducted a preliminary site visit to introduce and familiarize herself with the Tallahassee community. During that site visit, she met with Will Jones and Bruce Martin, Assistant Coaches for FAMU Men's Basketball Team, Dr. Shelby Chipman, FAMU Associate Director of Bands, Cesar Lopez, Street Outreach Advocate with Capital City Youth Services and Dr. Jennifer Atkins, School of Dance Faculty, as well as with Dr. Schrock, Dr. Mason and Summer Hill Seven. Additionally, Oliver shared the work-in-progress, followed by a discussion.

Virago-Man Dem will premiere at Gibney Dance in New York in 2017. This residency was made possible by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

  • Duane Cyrus, Jonathon Gonzalez, Niall Jones and Shamar Watt in rehearsal for <i>Virago - Man Dem</i>
  • Shamar Watt, Jonathon Gonzalez, Niall Jones and Duane Cyrus rehearse
  • Shamar Watt, Duane Cyrus, Niall Jones and Jonathon Gonzalez in rehearsal
  • Duane Cyrus and Niall Jones with choreographer Cynthia Oliver
  • Duane Cyrus and Niall Jones rehearse
  • Jonathon Gonzalez, Duane Cyrus, Niall Jones and Shamar Watt in rehearsal
  • Shamar Watt and performers rehearse
  • Jonathon Gonzalez, Shamar Watt and performers in rehearsal
  • Duane Cyrus, Jonathon Gonzalez, Niall Jones and Shamar Watt rehearse
  • Jonathon Gonzalez, Niall Jones, Duane Cyrus and Shamar Watt
  • Shamar Watt and Jonathon Gonzalez rehearse
  • Duane Cyrus, Jonathon Gonzalez and Shamar Watt in rehearsal
  • Duane Cyrus and Shamar Watt rehearse
  • Niall Jones with Jonathon Gonzalez, Duane Cyrus, Shamar Watt and composer Jason Finkelman
  • Niall Jones rehearses
  • Collaborator Composer Jason Finkelman in rehearsal
  • Oliver talks to collaborator visual artist John Jennings
  • Oliver talks with visual artist John Jennings, performers and composer Jason Finkelman
  • Oliver talks to Dr. Patrick Mason (Economics) Director of FSU’s African-American Studies Program
  • Oliver talks with Dr. Mason and FSU Alum and MANCC Artist Darrell Jones
  • Shamar Watt, Niall Jones, Duane Cyrus, Jonathon Gonzalez and composer Jason Finkelman rehearse
  • Oliver and performer Shamar Watt discuss the work with Dr. Douglas Schrock (Sociology)
  • Oliver meets with Public Intellectual/Artist Summer Hill Seven
  • Jonathon Gonzalez, Duane Cyrus and Shamar Watt in rehearsal
  • Duane Cyrus with performers in rehearsal
  • Oliver with Dr. Shelby Chipman, FAMU Associate Director of Bands
  • Will Jones & Bruce Martin, Coaches for FAMU Men's Basketball Team, with Oliver
  • Oliver with Cesar Lopez, Street Outreach Advocate with Capital City Youth Services
  • Jonathon Gonzalez with Shamar Watt and Duane Cyrus prepare for the work-in-progress showing
  • Oliver demonstrates movement for Niall Jones, Jonathon Gonzalez and Duane Cyrus
  • Niall Jones with audience begins the work-in-progress showing
  • Niall Jones, Duane Cyrus, Jonathon Gonzalez, Shamar Watt perform
  • Shamar Watt, Jonathon Gonzalez, Niall Jones and Duane Cyrus in the work-in-progress showing
  • Niall Jones with Jonathon Gonzalez in the work-in-progress showing
  • Niall Jones, Duane Cyrus, Jonathon Gonzalez, Shamar Watt in the work-in-progress showing
  • Jonathon Gonzalez, Duane Cyrus and Shamar Watt in the work-in-progress showing
  • Shamar Watt with Duane Cyrus in rehearsal
  • Duane Cyrus, Shamar Watt and Jonathon Gonzalez rehearse
  • Performers Duane Cyrus, Jonathon Gonzalez, Niall Jones and Shamar Watt in rehearsal
  • Jonathon Gonzalez and Duane Cyrus rehearse
  • Jonathon Gonzalez, Duane Cyrus and Shamar Watt in rehearsal
  • Jonathon Gonzalez and Shamar Watt rehearse
  • Jonathon Gonzalez and Niall Jones in <i>Virago - Man Dem</i> work-in-progress showing
  • Shamar Watt, Jonathon Gonzalez, Niall Jones and Duane Cyrus perform

Collaborators in Residence: Duane Cyrus, Jonathon Gonzalez, Niall Jones and Shamar Watt [performers], Jason Finkelman [composer], John Jennings [visual artist], Fred Moten (writer)

World Premiere

Cynthia Oliver

Virago-Man Dem
October 25 - 28
BAM Fisher (NYC)

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