Choreographer Cynthia Oliver digs into the complexities of race and gender


Guilford >> 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, N.Y. 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 Duan Cyrus, Jonathan Gonzales 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 7:30 p.m., VPL will present an in the works showing of Virago-Man Dem in the Art Barn at Hilltop Montessori School in Brattleboro 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.


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