Cynthia Oliver is a Bronx born, Virgin Island reared, award winning choreographer and performance artist. Her ongoing research is in the areas of intersection between contemporary dance, feminism, black popular culture and the expressive performances of Africans in the diaspora, with an emphasis on the performance in the Anglophone Caribbean, particularly the U.S. Virgin Islands.
She has danced with Theatre Dance Inc. and the Caribbean Dance Company of St. Croix, Virgin Islands. In the USA, she has danced with numerous independent choreographers and companies including most notably the David Gordon Pick Up Co., Ronald Kevin Brown/Evidence, Bebe Miller Company and Tere O’Connor Dance. As an actor, she has performed in works by Greg Tate, Ione, Laurie Carlos, and Ntozake Shange.
Significantly influenced by the black avant garde, Cynthia creates performance collages that move from dance to word to sound and back again toward an eclectic and provocative dance theatre, incorporating 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. Early in her career, Cynthia won a New York Dance and Performance Award (a Bessie) for her evening length work “Death’s Door” and was called, “Outstanding Young Choreographer” by reviewer Frank Werner in the German magazine Ballet Tanz. She has since been featured in numerous dance publications and local as well as international public television arts’ series. Cynthia has been a nominee for the Cal Arts Alpert Award (2009), USArtists (2015, 2017, 2019) and the Doris Duke Impact Award (2015). In 2011, she received a University Scholar (nomination only) award from the University of Illinois, and was later a Center for Advanced Study Fellow (2017). She has been a Mellon Fellow and resident artist at the Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography (MANCC) where she developed Virago-Man Dem,” with the support of the Vermont Performance Lab, Abrons Arts Center, Gibney Dance, Dancing While Black and the New Waves Institute of Trinidad & Tobago. “Virago-Man Dem” premiered at Brooklyn Academy of Music – BAM’s Next Wave Festival 2017 in Brooklyn New York, and toured the country. The evening-length quartet was nominated in two Bessie award categories and landed on multiple Best of…” lists in the field.
In addition to Cynthia’s performance work, she holds a Ph.D. in Performance Studies from New York University. Her scholarly work, like her choreographic 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, with affiliations in Gender and Women’s Studies, and African American Studies, and is currently serving as Associate Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation – Humanities, Arts, Related Fields at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.