Choreographer Cynthia Oliver digs into the complexities of race and gender in new dance-theater work, July 29 at 7:30pm

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Guilford, VT – Eclectic and provocative choreographer Cynthia Oliver will be in residency at Vermont Performance Lab (VPL) for two weeks this July to develop a new dance-theater work Virago-Man Dem. Born in the Bronx, NY and raised in the US Virgin Islands, Oliver’s choreography often incorporates textures of Caribbean performance with African and American aesthetic sensibilities. Virago-Man Dem continues this thread and digs into the complexities of the representation of black masculinities through movement, spoken language and visual design.

Oliver is a former dancer with numerous companies, including the David Gordon Pick Up Co., Ronald Kevin Brown/Evidence, and Bebe Miller Company. In addition to being a performer and choreographer, she is an accomplished scholar with an ongoing research interest in the black female subject as evidenced in her book, Queen of the Virgins: Pageantry and Black Womanhood in the Caribbean. Virago-Man Dem marks an important shift in choreographic focus for Oliver as she turns her attention to black men of differing nationalities, ages and class sensibilities.

Oliver is receiving multi-year residency support from VPL to develop Virago-Man Dem – a process that began in 2015 when she had a two-week research residency which included interviews with local black men about their experiences living in Southern Vermont. This July she returns for two weeks to further develop the movement and music with collaborators composer Jason Finkelman, musican Geoff Gersh, and dancers Duane Cyrus, Jonathan Gonzalez and Niall Noel Jones. In the summer of 2017, VPL intends to present the final production of Virago-Man Dem which will include animation and visual design by graphic novelist and Afro-Futurist John Jennings.

Reflecting on the impetus for this new dance-theater work, Oliver writes: “It is my moral obligation to offer something else to the world that I know to be true about black men and this choreography is my medium to do so. Virago-Man Dem is timely, and resonates on multiple levels with men of color, with their loved ones and with allies of all races. At the same time, it speaks to those who connect to poetics, to movement, to sonic and visual environments that reference the complex materials we use to manage adversity.”

Since 2006, VPL has supported a diverse range of over 400 artists working in dance, theater, and music. Through research, development and production residencies at VPL, artists have created award-winning performance work that tours nationally and internationally.

Sara Coffey, VPL Director commented, “Cynthia is using the medium of dance to dig into the nuances and complicated subject matter of black masculinity. And, in the wake of more police violence on black men, Virago-Man Dem is increasingly relevant. It’s our hope that the performance and residency will provide an opportunity to foster a dialogue with audiences around race and gender issues in our own community, and bring attention to some of the important work that is being done by some of our local social justice organizations.”

On Friday, July 29 at 7:30pm, VPL will present an IN THE WORKS showing of Virago-Man Dem in the Art Barn at Hilltop Montessori School in Brattleboro, VT followed by a post-performance conversation with the artists. This event is free and reservations are not required. This Vermont Performance Lab residency and IN THE WORKS showing are made possible with support from the National Endowment for the Arts, Vermont Arts Council and VPL’s Creation Fund donors.

Vermont Performance Lab is committed to making its programs accessible to all by producing events in ADA accessible venues that have handicapped accessible parking, bathrooms and seating. VPL also provides large print programs available on request. Audience members who have any additional special requirements should feel free to contact us at 802-257-3360.


Vermont Performance Lab (VPL) is a laboratory for creative research and community engagement. Since 2006, VPL has brought artists of regional, national and international stature to the grange halls, studios and classrooms of rural Vermont through its innovative artist residency program. Last year VPL’s community and education programs served more than 1,700 students, young professionals, families and seniors in Windham County through workshops, informal performances and art-making experiences. VPL often partners with local organizations to host such residencies and create meaningful connections between artists and communities. or

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.

Virago-Man Dem
Choreographed by Cynthia Oliver
Digging into the complexities of black masculinity, Virago-Man Dem features men of differing nationalities, ages and class sensibilities, performing both their very real and imagined selves. This residency and IN THE WORKS showing are made possible with support from the National Endowment for the Arts, Vermont Arts Council, VPL's Creation Fund donors, and is part of Vermont Arts 2016, a project of the Vermont Arts Council.
WHEN: 7:30pm, Friday, July 29
WHERE: The Arts Barn at Hilltop Montessori School, 99 Stafford Farm Hill, Brattleboro, VT 05301
TICKETS: Free | No Reservations Required!