Cynthia Oliver’s Independent & Collaborative Works:


Virago-Man Dem (2017-2018)

“Virago-Man Dem,” is an evening-length, dance-theatre work by Cynthia Oliver navigating black masculinities. Troubling the term “Virago”’s reference to characteristically male behaviors and female cultural transgressions, Virago-Man Dem is a nuanced study in masculinities, and their multiplicities within cultures of Caribbeanist and African American communities. Utilizing movement, and spoken language and visual design, Virago-Man Dem explores the expressions particular to Caribbean and African American black masculinities as they are performed and expressed by men, staged on male bodies, but designed and interpreted by a woman — Oliver. The work is grounded in the lives of the men performing the work, Duane Cyrus, Jonathan Gonzalez, Shamar Watt, and Niall Noel Jones, and extrapolates to broader cultural trajectories. Oliver’s design team includes longtime collaborator composer Jason Finkelman, visual artist John Jennings, projection/animator John Boesche, costume designer Susan Becker, and lighting designer Amanda Ringger. The work will premiere in New York at Gibney Dance in the Fall of 2017 and will tour the country.

For further information on Virago – Man Dem, please contact:


BOOM! (2012, 2014)

Choreography and text by Cynthia Oliver in collaboration with Leslie Cuyjet.  In BOOM!, both performers are individuals, friends, strangers, family, younger/older versions of themselves, negotiating relations that are persistently in flux. BOOM! began as a short (17 minute) duet featured in Ishmael Houston-Jones Parallels in Black Platform Series at Danspace at St. Mark’s Church (2012). The duet was again featured a year later at New York Live Arts (2013), and was subsequently commissioned to be extended and presented in the 2014 New York Live Arts season in its evening-length entirety. BOOM! examines the conditions of the two performing black women, when LIFE happens, when “fairness” and cause and effect do not necessarily align. The evening length BOOM! builds upon Oliver’s signature investigation of slippages in everyday life where truest selves and real life conditions are revealed, where characters betray artifice and persist in the relentless continuous management of multiple social experiences.  Music by Jason Finkelman, Lighting by Amanda Ringger, Costumes by Susan Becker.

Closure for Blood Gutters for Veins (2011) 13 minute group work

“Closure” is a collaboration between Oliver, comic book artists John Jennings and Damian Duffy, and composer Jason Finkelman. Premiered at Festival 2011, University of Illinois Krannert Center for the Performing Arts.

Six dancers embody superhero iconography, pedestrian physicality and virtuostic dancing to navigate the meeting of the two-dimensional world of comics and the three-dimensional world of dance. This new exploration of Oliver’s is an experiment in a multi-disciplinary negotiation of image, space and time that is colorful, exacting, and at once humorous in its short and lively journey.

Rigidigidim De Bamba De: Ruptured Calypso (2009)

Choreography by Cynthia Oliver.
Text by Cynthia Oliver in collaboration with the performers.
Direction by Cynthia Oliver. Music and sound design by Jason Finkelman.
Videography by Marcus Behrens.
Lighting by Amanda Ringger.
Dramaturgy by Renee Redding Jones.
Premiered at the Painted Bride Art Center, Philadelphia PA.

Rigidigidim De Bamba De: Ruptured Calypso is an evening-length multidisciplinary dance theatre project that drifts in and out of the carnival context using calypso dancing as an agent of Afro-Caribbean identity across geographical, national, and aesthetic borders. Rigidigidim’s international cast of artists layer myth, herstory, the spoken word, and calypso dancing to deliver calypso’s subversive truth telling, innuendo, and rawness to raucous and downright unrespectable levels.

Corpus Againstus (2009)

Choreography by Cynthia Oliver.
Text by Oliver in collaboration with Nicholas Wagner.
Music by Pole.
Premiered at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, Urbana, IL.

Corpus Againstus is Oliver’s first work created on a male performer. A solo made on Nicholas Wagner, Corpus addresses the coming out and daily negotiation of a young gay man in a complex world. Flipping between the heavy coded walk of straight youth and that of a gay man trying to move through the world imperceptibly, he is at once brave and fearful, playful, tragic, and spiritually uplifted as he uplifts us with his embrace of himself and his complicated environment.

Whisper To Shout (2007) 17 minute group work

Choreographed by Cynthia Oliver in collaboration with the renowned Black Chorus of the University of Illinois,
Directed by Dr. Ollie Watts-Davis. Premiered at Festival 2007, University of Illinois Krannert Center for the Performing Arts.

A three-song suite, ” Whisper to Shout” is a 47 member strong cast of dancers and singers on a journey from a spiritual’s quiet prayer to gospel’s jubilant praise. The work is inspired by the progression of a people determined to make “something out of nothing”; a pilgrim community– moving with the agency of a common purpose, striving toward justice, and reaching toward the fulfillment of more promise to come.

Till I Was Forty (2006) 20 minute solo with live music mixing

Written, Choreographed, and Performed by Cynthia Oliver
Music: live sound mixing by Jason Finkelman
Premiered at Central District Forum for Arts and Ideas, Seattle WA

A twenty-minute solo meditation on maturity and the transformation of a female body and psyche. With accompaniment of an inspired live mix of sounds associated with significant life periods, the improvisational sonic shifts signal the changes, mood, and moves of the performer.

Closer Than Skin (2006) 40 minute trio

Written, Choreographed and Performed by Cynthia Oliver, Maria Earle, and Leslie Cuyjet.
Music composed by Jason Finkelman with drumming by Gordon Kay and music mixes by various artists.
Premiered at Aaron Davis Hall’s E-Moves Series (E-Stablished)

Closer Than Skin is a collection of saucy movement solos, duets and trios from new works and prior evening length pieces, where Oliver’s signature mix of words sound and the clothes we wear indicate that what separates us is merely a slither of porous penetrable fleshiness.

Beseeching on Your Own Behalf (2005) 15 minute trio or quintet

Written and Choreographed by Cynthia Oliver
Music by Jason Finkelman with Gordon Kay on drums
Premiered in Festival 2006 at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, University of Illinois

Beseeching on Your Own Behalf is a work about secrets. A 15 minute explorations of the places and things we keep to ourselves and those we venture to share, the work plays with the space of a woman’s world (can be a trio or quintet) and moves from complete trust to quiet suspicion in a moments notice. Playful and mysterious, this work asks the viewer “what do you hide?”

Lessons In Female Etiquette (2005)

Written, Choreographed and Performed by Cynthia Oliver
Premiered in Food For Thought Series at Danspace at St. Mark’s Church

Based on the beauty pageant research Oliver unearthed on her way to writing her dissertation “Queen of the Virgins: Beauty Pageants the Popular Women’s Theatre of the U.S. Virgin Islands”, Lessons in Female Etiquette is a seven minute piece where the details of proper etiquette is the aim of this lone cigarette smoking, slightly unkempt woman whose more base tendencies seem to always slip out.

AfroSocialiteLifeDiva (2004) 25 minute Dance Film

Written and Choreographed by Cynthia Oliver
Directed by Marcus Behrens
Music; Straylight, featuring Jason Finkelman, Geoff Gersh and Charles Cohen
Performers: Blossom Leilani Crawford, Maria Earle, Leslie Cuyjet, and Oliver

AfroSocialiteLifeDiva, originally a full length stage dance theatre work, was transformed into a 25 minute dance film to be aired on European Arts Channel Canal Arte in the fall of 2005. Filmed on location in Oliver’s current home town of Champaign-Urbana Illinois, a local, national and international team of performers, artists, technicians and support staff contributed to the making of this 25 minute version of the saga of women moving across geographies of landscape, bodies, and matters of spirit in one vibrant American family.

AfroSocialteLifeDiva (2003) evening length

Written and Choreographed by Cynthia Oliver
Premiered at Dance Theater Workshop, Carnival Series, (NYC) Jan-Feb 2003
Performers: Oliver, Renee Redding-Jones, Cynthia Bueschel, Blossom Leilani, Maria Earle
Music: Straylight featuring Jason Finkelman, Geoff Gersh, Charles Cohen

Rooted in Oliver’s personal family history, AfroSocialiteLifeDiva (ASLD) tells the stories of lives built upon love and dependence – as well as the fierce and often explosive fight for independence between mother and daughter, daughter and self, daughter and spirit. In this interdisciplinary work that includes text, story, movement and sound, a unique environment emerges, composed of the essences of Harlem, the American South and the Caribbean. Here, women “becoming” delve into the complicated, intertwined and revelatory relationships that they share in one particularly vibrant family. Original music for ASLD is composed and performed by Bessie-Award winning ambient avant world trio Straylight, featuring Jason Finkelman, Geoff Gersh and Charles Cohen. Performers Renee Redding-Jones, Cynthia Bueschel, Blossom Leilani and Maria Earle will be dressed in the Urban Fairie costume designs of Adrienne McDonald. The physical landscape has been created by visual artist Erin Tapley.

The Mention of Her Name (2002)

Written and Choreographed by Cynthia Oliver
Premiered at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, (Urbana, IL) November 2002
Performers: Leslie Cuyjet, Molly Klaproth, KC Chun, Hallie Bauernschmidt
Music: Jason Finkelman

A trio and sometime a quartet, For the Mention is a moving dance theatre piece that portrays the ebb and flow of a family of women while focusing on its central force “Momma,” matriarch of a tribe. With Oliver’s signature use of text and story, this work moves through the memories of a family with passion and sensitivity. The women in this work tell the story of Momma, their mother, grandmother, and great grandmother, respectively. They recall summers in her care, loves she shared, and a home filled with the sounds of babies being birthed and boarders grateful for the warmth of her home. Moving through time, For the Mention invokes a family’s history in palpable terms. A 12 minute section of the larger evening work AfroSocialiteLifeDiva, it is a non-stop journey through the lives of three, four, or one woman all at once.

A Holy Roller Named Pimp (2002)

Written and Choreographed by Cynthia Oliver
Premiered at Links Hall, “Ova Queens,” (Chicago, IL) November 22, 23, 2002
Performers: Molly Klaproth, KC Chun
Music: Straylight featuring Jason Finkelman, Geoff Gersh, Charles Cohen

A biographical duet about the life, love, and travails of a a Southern woman domestic. Holy Roller moves through the moments in this character’s life as she worships in a Pentacostal fervor, moves through the country with the love of her life, and makes a living as a presser and a domestic in the homes of white folks. While the story is about one woman, it is told from the perspective of her niece and admirer. The two relate to one another, moving back and forth between their own identities and those of each other. This work is a work on its own as well as a part of AfroSocialiteLifeDiva.

Sketches of a Time Spirit (2002)

Written, Choreographed, and Performed by Cynthia Oliver
Premiered at The Hot House, (Chicago, IL), November 22, 23, 2002
Music: Jason Finkelman

Sketches of a Time Spirit is a 15 minute solo work about a woman torn between her own identity and that of her respectable, refined, and always pulled together mother. Drawn from research on beauty pageant etiquette training in the Caribbean, personal stories of women in Oliver’s family and the lessons learned as a girl, this work expresses the pull, appeal, and resistance of the behavior of a “woman” as different from that of a “lady.” This work explores the pathos of the female psyche as this woman negotiates multiple ways of being at once.

Conjoined (2001)

Written and Choreographed by Cynthia Oliver
Premiered at The Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, (Urbana, IL), February 2001
Performers: Mariam Thiam, Elizabeth Johnson, Anna Sapozhnikov, Ana Mendez, Leslie Cuyjet, Sarah Winkler, Francisca Silva, Solange Fermin
Music: Jason Finkelman

A large group work with eight women dancers, Conjoined was a work created for students of the University of Illinois Dance Department and is the stories of young women coming to terms with their relationships with their mothers and conversely mother’s relationships with their daughters. Presented from both perspectives it is a heart warming exploration of conflict, admiration, desire, and loss. Performed to an original sound score by composer Jason Finkelman, this work is a witty, somber, and joyful meditation on the complicated relationships between women who are inseparably a part of one another.

because she was (2001)

Written, Choreographed, and Performed by Cynthia Oliver
Premiered at The Kitchen, Talking Dance Festival, (NYC), February 2001
Music: Jason Finkelman and Geoff Gersh

“Because she was” is a solo “mix-erpt” (cause it ain’t really an excerpt) of the evening length group piece SHEMAD, which premiered in New York at Performance Space 122 in the spring of 2000. It is the words, thoughts, and movements of a woman beyond the verge, a performance collage that slides from dance to poetry to sound and back again as it explores the encroaching alternatives to sanity from Caribbean myth to the madness of everyday life. Finkelman and Gersh, two members of Straylight, won a Bessie Award for composing the music to SHEMAD.

LUKoSiMAD (1999)

Written and Choreographed by Cynthia Oliver
Premiered: Dance Theater Workshop September 7, 8, 16, 17, 25, 26, 1999
Performers: Oliver, Rhetta Aleong, Cynthia Bueschel, Renee Redding-Jones, Melissa Wynn
Music: Straylight featuring Jason Finkelman, Geoff Gersh, Charles Cohen

LUKoSiMAD is the collaborative evening of work to be choreographed, written and performed by both Gabri Christa and Cynthia Oliver at Dance Theatre Workshop in the Fall of 1999. Exploring the topic of madness from both these Caribbean women’s perspectives (one from Curacao and the other from St. Croix), the audience experienced two half evenings of work by each artist and transitory collaborative moments which address the similarities in island mythologies and differences in individual considerations of madness. Oliver’s half is the preview of her larger evening length work SHEMAD which premiered at Performance Space 122 in 2000.

SHEMAD (2000)

Written and Choreographed by Cynthia Oliver
Premiered at Performance Space 122 May 18 – 21, 2000
Performers: Oliver, Rhetta Aleong, Cynthia Bueschel, Renee Redding-Jones, Melissa Wynn
Music: Straylight featuring Jason Finkelman, Geoff Gersh, Charles Cohen

SHEMAD is a full evening choregraphic/performance work by Oliver that addresses notions of women gone mad. Utilizing Caribbean mythologies behind women who contain immense power over others in their respective communities, Oliver asserts some diagnoses of “madness” has become a method designed to manage, and contain women’s power and potential in society. This new work problematizes the notion of madness as it has been presumed in our culture and complicates the way the term has been used within communities of women, men, and larger social constructs in both the Caribbean and the Americas. SHEMAD questions the ways in which categories of speech are employed to determine women who do not “behave” as mad, and tells stories which vocally, physically, and musically embody devices that have been used to “contain” mad women. SHEMAD is an evening length piece with five amazing, dancing, talking women, live music, beautiful costumes, and of course HIGH DRAMA.

Bed Opus: Dark Interiors (1998)

Written, Choreographed, and Performed by Cynthia Oliver and Jake-ann Jones
Premiered at TriBeCa Performing Arts Center, Page to Stage, (NYC), November 30, 1998
Director: Dennis Davis

Bed Op: Dark Interiors is the second installment of a collaborative performance art work created and performed by Jake-Ann Jones and Cynthia Oliver. The ongoing funky psychodrama of two urban black women dealing with their inner demons and outer joys, fears and dilemmas, Bed Op expresses the daily challenge these women face to either make that trek out of bed into the outer world, or succumb to the internal dialogue with fantasy shadow partner and stay. The first installment, BEDOP: Windowdance was performed at the African-American Performance Art Festival at Aaron Davis Hall in 1997. BedOp: Dark Interiors was read at the TriBeCa Performing Arts Center in November 1998, as part of their Page To Stage Series.

Unremovable Jacket (1997)

Written and Choreographed by Cynthia Oliver
Premiered at Performance Space 122, (NYC) December 11-14, 1998
Performers: Oliver, Karen Graham, Osunwale Tandum-Lett
Music: Straylight featuring Jason Finkelman, Geoff Gersh, Charles Cohen

Unremovable Jacket is a full evening piece that both implicitly and explicitly engages the burdens of race and classification as entities that are assigned and cannot be removed. Considering race as the ultimate fashion accessory, the work endeavors to look at the constructions of race, interpersonal relationships, the challenge of “the dialogue,” misinterpretation and misrepresentation as that which we on different sides of the racial divide do not/cannot know. With words, movement, live music, and a humorous tangle of fabulous fashion, this company melds seemingly separate worlds of the most uncomfortable material into an at once smooth, seamless, shattering, delicious spectacle which addresses the one accessory none of us can escape, that Unremovable Jacket.

Bed Opus: Windowdance (1997)

Written and performed by Cynthia Oliver and Jake-ann Jones.
Premiered at Aaron Davis Hall , (Harlem, NY) June 1997

In Bed Opus writer, choreographer/performer Cynthia Oliver and writer/performer Jake-ann Jones create a fantasy dialogue between two women who know each other only as shadow figures dancing in their apartment windows facing eachother high above the alley below. Trapped in the skyscraperproject existence of urban violence, scintillation, alienation and longing, the two project and abstract their least speakable, unactable and provocative imaginings on the shadowy guise of the other as they dance for each other in their windows in growing desperation and flights of fancy. With words , movement, and sound, Oliver and Jones meld homo-heterotica, ghettogirl logic, and a futuristic funkfeel in this first movement of Bed Opus, a series of installment-works exploring urban home-as-safe harbor, wo/man/bedroom-as-womb; death, life and rest.

Death’s Door (1995)

Bessie Award winning work choreographed and written by Cynthia Oliver
Premiered October 12-15, 1995 at Performance Space 122, New York, NY.
Performers: Oliver, Renee Redding-Jones, Osunwale Tandum-Lett
Music: Straylight featuring Jason Finkelman, Geoff Gersh
Songstress: Helga Davis

Death’s Door, tells the story of one woman’s encounters with death through the voices of four women. With a song, a dance, we lament lives cut short by fates hand and celebrate lives long lived. Using the weapon of the tongue, the power of the body, and the strength of the imagination and spirit, Death’s Door faces the ultimate human mystery with candor, humor, and surrender. This collage of movement, music, and the spoken word moves the performers from the African American canvas to the Caribbean, from moments alone to feelings of filled wakes reminiscent of carnival. This journey of moments is told through the voice of Helga Davis and the bodies of Renee Redding-Jones, Osunwale Tandum Lett-Murray, and Oliver with music by Straylight featuring Jason Finkelman and Geoff Gersh.

Woman: Dreamembering Madness: (1996)

Performer/Creator: Cynthia Oliver
Premiered at The Kitchen, New York Improvisation Festival

An improvisation which explored the beginnings of what would become SHEMAD, “Woman” is a solo meditation on containment, of voices hollering within, and the fragility of a body aiming to translate, manage, and move through the maze of a very busy mind.

Wake (1995)

Writer/Choreographer/Performer: Cynthia Oliver
Premiered at Performance Space122, as part of an evening of work by various artists.

A solo performance of story, dance and song which explored the material which would become Death’s Door, Wake was an autobiographical journey through family history, mythology, and loss to an arrival and acceptance of life’s mournful lessons.

Elisa (1993)

Choreographer/Writer/Performer: Cynthia Oliver
Premiered at Performance Space 122, as part of an evening of work by women of color. Curated by Prowess DanceArts Collective.

Called “an exuberant tribute to sacred/profane women of African blood,” Elisa is a solo autobiographical work that tells the stories of conjure women who influenced the life of one young woman. From the shores of the Caribbean to the hills of her family’s Virginia homestead, this work demonstrates the many faces of the diaspora in the body of one woman.

At A Loss (1992)

Choreographer/Performer : Cynthia Oliver
Premiered at The Joseph Papp Public Theater, as part of “Haphazard Cabaret” showcase curated by Vernon Reid.
Music: Jason Finkelman

Debut performance of Oliver’s choreography, this work was the only work which was pure movement. A collaboration with musician composer Jason Finkelman (afro-brazilian percussion) this work launched all of the work that has followed. Called “At A Loss” at the time because I thought I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. Clearly it was the launch pad for something distinct which would follow.