some collected accolades
Best Touring Dance 2018
Best Arts 2018
InfiniteBody Honor Roll
Best Dance Lists 2017 + 2018
"It’s Complicated: Cynthia Oliver Celebrates Black Masculinity" – Eva Yaa Asantewaa
Published: October 26, 2017
Short Quote: "The four bodies centered here—Duane Cyrus, Jonathan Gonzalez, Ni’Ja Whitson and Niall Noel Jones—comprise one of the most cunning, most satisfying performance ensembles on hand this season… What makes her resulting dance not merely a patchwork of a bunch of stuff done by three male-identified performers and one gender nonconforming performer is her taste and talent for connective flow and her eye for how being willfully or ecstatically off-center or molten or in-between uncovers the more inside the person. More self, more capacity, more joy, more supple, resilient strength. It's this more that, sadly, often threatens individuals, families, communities, religions and nations. It's this more--isn't it?--that for which we secretly yearn and which artists brilliantly model for us.
It might not necessarily take a woman to watch these things from the outside and bring them to her canvas or stage, but it takes this woman, perhaps, with apparently endless reserve of movement ideas to bring her concepts alive and keep us interested over 75 minutes…
Here's a journey ready to be taken more than once, but consider yourself lucky if you get to see Virago-Man Dem even just one time."
"Dance and Cultural Conventions, Ripe for Upending" – Siobhan Burke
Published: October 30, 2017
Short Quote: "At the beginning of Cynthia Oliver’s “Virago-Man Dem” on Wednesday, as audience members settled into the BAM Fisher theater, four performers entered, one by one, and stood still. “Go,” said a voice from offstage. But the dancers remained motionless, the only visible movement a flicker of light on a purple-blue backdrop. This was Ms. Oliver’s first gesture of defiance, a subtle one, in an evening that was all about defying cultural pressures and expectations, or slyly slipping out from underneath them."
The New York Times
"Together in the Fierce Tender - notes from October ‘17" – Maura Donohue
Published: November 4, 2017
Short Quote: "The power of every element in this work elevates an already stunning dance piece by a collection of phenomenal performers into a truly outstanding production. Everything stands out, but everything comes together for a satisfying whole too. Each performer maintains clear individuality against the backdrop of African-American and Afro-Caribbean masculinity. They deliver specificity and nuance to the notion of the angry black man, the feminized black man, the erotic black man and the non-biological black man to name only a few states and topics touched upon… they are fluid, elemental – earth wind air and fire. They are afro-punk, they are neo-soul, they are glam, they are excelling at sports. They are Horton, House and Hip Hop. They are postmodern vogue. They are track and field and golf. They are, as Ni’Ja says late in the work… they are shape shifters."
"IMPRESSIONS: Cynthia Oliver's ‘Virago-Man Dem’ at BAM" – Melanie Greene
Published: November 13, 2017
Short Quote: "From code switching to colloquialisms, Virago-Man Dem highlights black masculine multiplicity. There is no one way of being. This ambiguity encourages viewers to unpack their own relationship with masculinity while considering the experiences of straight vs. gay men, American vs. Caribbean men, or performers vs. non-performers. Oliver tackles this insurmountable topic with rigor and collective curiosity. Her work surfaces the occasional stereotype, perhaps that is inevitable. In order to speak about race and gender one must address stereotypes to move past them."
The Dance Enthusiast
"Virago-Man Dem entangles through love" – Chloe Nagle
Published Online: November 20, 2018
Short Quote: "The images take us through a spiritual sense of who the performers are, and take them through the past, present, and future. The work raises questions about what community, family, and lineage are, and how those forces move through us toward a future for black men and black masculinity that is feminist, expressive, fluid, complex, and whole.
At times the dancers moved gesturally, with sharp, mechanical, precise movements, like sudden glitches. The movement fluctuated from abstract gestures to images of sports, fashion/modeling, flirting, everyday postures and poses, waves and acknowledgements. The movements appeared to be assemblages of Oliver’s process of exploring taboos, as well as stereotypical masculine movements. The glitch-like quality of the movement was poetic and reappeared at different moments throughout the performance. In those moments, it was as if the performers were being interrupted, fragmented, and were negotiating those pieces of themselves that make up the whole of who they are, those pieces that do not align with a narrow view of masculinity, those pieces that they may have been told not to express. In this work, those pieces break through and are given expression, moving us to a place of connection."
"Fuller Beyond the Frame" – Kristen Kashock
Published Online: January 16, 2017
Short Quote: "At 1 p.m. on a Thursday afternoon, I walked into the upstairs space in the Institute of Contemporary Art to watch an improvisation structured by Cynthia Oliver and performed by Duane Cyrus, Jonathan Gonzalez, Shamar Watt, and Niall Noel Jones. This 20-minute movement laboratory was presented as part of ICA’s Endless Shout—“a multi-artist performance project exploring collectivity and improvisation.” Three times a day on Jan 11th, and then again on the 12th, the public was invited to witness Oliver and the dancers’ process as they developed sections towards a full-length piece, Virago-Man Dem. The piece will be premiered at the Gibney center in NYC this fall and then come back to the Painted Bride next spring. In collaboration with her performers, through movement and spoken word, Oliver seeks to present a more replete depiction of Caribbean and African-American black masculinities—as they are experienced rather than as they are commonly represented."
“Showing up in January: Day 3 Dispatch (AR Talks, LAVA, Cynthia Oliver & Kimberly Bartosik)” – Maura Donohue
Published Online: January 11, 2017
Short quote: "6pm, Virago-Man Dem, Cynthia Oliver, work-in-progress showing, American Realness at Gibney Dance: Agnes Varis Performing Arts Center Studio C – What you don’t see today, you won’t see. And, that’s none of your business. Cynthia welcomed us to her showing. Bronx born, Virgin Island raised, PhD in Performance Studies, professor, performer, scholar and choreographer, she brings a multiplicity of textures from the Caribbean into contemporary performances imbued with African and American aesthetics. She asks how as a woman can/does she choreograph masculinity, without resorting to stereotypes but instead locate its nuances, challenges and ambiguities? At this point in the process, performers Duane Cyrus, Jonathan Gonzalez, Shamar Watt, and Niall Noel Jones have clearly mined their lived experiences for a collage of witty, wild and wondrous moments. There are subtle hints that shift into explicit, loud shouts and shout outs. The cast is stunning, with virtuosic displays of endurance, vocal play, and extensive movement vocabularies. They are seductive, they are coy. They are spatially invasive, they are distant. They are powerful, they are exhausted. The material is rich and complex, at times iconic and familiar and others mysterious and personal. All of it leaves me eager for, when the work premieres later this year at Gibney, all that I didn’t yet see and a return to all that I did."
Women and Performance:
a journal of feminist theory
“Cynthia Oliver's BOOM! and Dean Moss’s johnbrown” – By Barbara Browning and Tara Willis
Published Online: October 27, 2015
Short quote: “Cynthia and Leslie [Cuyjet] were deep in an investigation of unison as a means to hold their own difference and sameness at once – as an intergenerational pair, as brown women with Caribbean–American backgrounds and a mentor/mentee relationship that’s also a friendship, as stand-ins for each other, like the same woman at different times in life but also individuated by being on the same stage at once. Like watching a train move along its course. They literally moved close together through space and went through similar experiences even when apart. The moments of drastic shift felt not only like they changed the situation for the rest of piece, but like they broke in, indented the basic flow and inserted structure. Or broke out.” –
The New Yorker
“Dance of the Everywoman” By Andrew Boynton
Published October 31, 2014
Short quote: Throughout “BOOM!,” Oliver kept changing our focus, from whence we’ve come, to where we are, to where we might be headed. Oliver and Cuyjet are twenty years apart in age, and, dressed similarly, each with her own unruly mop of hair, they could be seen at times as generational points on one woman’s continuum. They are wonderful performers, as accomplished in the theatrical elements as in the dance, as believable in the dramatic as in the comedic.
The Amsterdam News
“Oliver and Cuyjet’s ‘BOOM!’: Third time is a charm” By Charmaine Warren
Short quote: In “BOOM!”, Oliver scores in her quest to embrace her own mission: to look at the “vulnerable, erroneously confident, humorous, ridiculous.” This dance must be marked down as a dance for everywoman, an anthem to declare and confirm female relationships and then some.
“Two Dancers Portray the Harried Lives of Women” By Merilyn Jackson
Published November 11, 2014
Short quote: That dancing telescoped so much meaning in every move. Shimmering thighs, jutting butts just short of twerking, stomping in place in temper tantrums, and, always, talking and gesticulating at each other, the audience, or in interior monologues… One broods on how tragically Sisyphean life can be. The two alternately or simultaneously portray a harsh world. “I’m going to punish you,” they say, viciously punching fists down, “and then, I’m going to raise you up.” And just when you think everything’s going to be all right, they’re going to bring you right back down again. Put you in your place.
The Philadelphia Inquirer
The New Yorker
“Two Besties Feeling the Power” By Siobhan Burke
Published October 24, 2014
Short quote: Often covering ground in unison — to the steady, clacking bounce of Jason Finkelman’s score — Ms. Oliver and Ms. Cuyjet seem propelled by a common intuition, even when affection yields to grappling. As candid as they are sultry, with a knack for looking us straight in the eye, they ride a fine line between celebrating and scrutinizing their bodies, between being in the moment and trying to escape it.
"Self-Mockery in Movement, and Divination in Ritual: Souleymane Badolo and Cynthia Oliver at New York Live Arts"
By Brian Seibert
Published: April 28, 2013
Short quote: What connects the choreographers Souleymane Badolo and Cynthia Oliver? He was born and raised in Burkina Faso. She was born in the Bronx but raised in the Virgin Islands. Whatever African heritage they might have in common, it seems a thin pretext for their sharing a program. But so it was at New York Live Arts on Thursday.
Ms. Oliver’s “Boom!,” a duet with Leslie Cuyjet made for Danspace Project last year, served as an opening act. The two women entered like noisy latecomers, arguing in comic fragments. Their self-mockery was winning from the start and thereafter.
The composition was remarkable for how fluently it moved from chatter to dance to something in between and back. The women, both assured performers, proudly pointed to their posteriors and yelled “Bam!” Crawling, they addressed audience members in biblical tones, promising to raise them up and punish them and make them surrender.
The New York Times
The Dance Enthusiast Comic Review
“Come Get Your Fill of ‘wine'” by Eva Yaa Asantewaa
October 16, 2009
How could I possibly miss anything by Cynthia Oliver and her COCo Dance Theatre, let alone a multimedia primer on Caribbean-ness/womanhood/the glory of the body/and the gleeful sacredness of “wining”?
You know wining? I’m not talking about what you sip from a glass. I’m talking about what you do with the lower part of your body in response to calypso and soca and how the African deities radiate their energy through your cells and the garish/gleaming/sparkly/half-tacky-but-don’t-care stuff you wear or half-wear on your pumping, rotating, figure-eighting hips and backside and how that body can come in any size like a big, tall, rangy swan whose limbs seem capable of scraping the balcony rails at St. Mark’s Church and it’s all wine-able and how talking does not preclude dancing and dancing does not preclude talking and how one feeds the other and tells the perennial, necessary tales and how the sacred and the secular do the same and how displacement and estrangement, love and disappointment entangle inseparably as Caribbean folk deal with being among family or out in the world of (and as) Other.
The one-hour piece, opened last evening at Danspace Project, is called Rigidigidim De Bamba De: Ruptured Calypso. Performers/text authors include A’Keitha Carey, Nehassaiu deGannes, Ithalia Forel, Lisa Green, Caryn Hodge and Rosamond S. King. The entire production team is fantastic, but let me point out Jason Finkelman (sound design and original music), Amanda K. Ringger (lighting) Marcus Behrens (video) and Meckha Cherry (costume design) for special recognition.
How raucous and rad and right this piece is, and its vibrant performers grab hold of you from the first and don’t let go.
“Come test my wine! I dare you! I dare you!” (Destra Garica)
I dare you to test this wine.
"Calypso Is Fractured, but the Hips Are Intact" By Claudia La Rocco
October 18, 2009
Social dance is one of the vital ways a culture talks to and about itself. Political battles, gender relations, historical legacies: the sheer amount of information to be found in a club or dance hall is astounding, as is the (sometimes conflicting) complexity.
Rigidigidim De Bamba De: Ruptured Calypso A’Keitha Carey, left, and Lisa Green in a “winding” work by Cynthia Oliver at Danspace.
In “Rigidigidim De Bamba De: Ruptured Calypso,” which ended Saturday at Danspace Project, Cynthia Oliver delves into the riotously beautiful art of winding, a powerful, erotically charged rhythmic dance named for its sinuous, circular pelvic motion. (It’s pronounced wine-in, and spellings vary.) Backed by projected images and Jason Finkelman’s evocative sound design, her six chosen interpreters — all Caribbean women— offer tantalizing windows into winding’s shadings, its means and methods.
And how! These women are sublime, particularly the tall, voluptuously supple A’Keitha Carey, and Lisa Green, a muscular, compact dancer whose sexually frank presence contains a fierce militancy. That potent combination suggests the ways in which a dance that posits women as objects of desire also gives them the means of political resistance. Her strut, both exalted and worldly, leaves you breathless. Religion and the street, such movements remind us, are not so far apart.
Yet “Rigidigidim De Bamba De,” even while acknowledging these women’s strengths, does not always play to them. Rather than letting the dance do the talking, Ms. Oliver too often gives us actual talk, stories of the good girl not allowed to experience the pleasures of carnival, of being the other in a foreign country, of coming back to the place you thought was home only to find yourself an other there, too.
These are heartfelt messages. They are also stock and not aided by the cast’s sometimes muddled or strained delivery. To watch Ms. Green’s hips in conversation with Johnny Clarke’s roots reggae song “Move Out of Babylon” is to learn much more about her cultural heritage and how she uses her body to reinforce and subvert that heritage. It’s a lot to understand, and it doesn’t need any verbal introductions.
The New York Times
“From COCo, fascinating rhythm” By Sarah Halzack
March 1, 2010
Cultural dance can be a gateway to greater understanding of a society and its people, and nowhere is that more evident than in Cynthia Oliver’s new work “Rigidigidim De Bamba De: Ruptured Calypso.” It was performed Saturday at Dance Place by COCo Dance Theatre, six women of Caribbean heritage who now live in places as far-flung as St. Croix, the United Kingdom and New York. Still, they are connected by their shared love for calypso music and “winding,” a dance where the hips roll and whirl in styles that range from slow and slinky to swift and convulsive.
The dance melded movement and spoken word, with the performers telling fascinating anecdotes about their identities and their past. One dancer told the story of her emigration from Trinidad to Canada; another recalled to great comedic effect a moment from her teen years when she had been out winding at dance clubs and her displeased mother caught on.
At times, dancers would stop the action to deconstruct the steps in a mock-professorial tone. Though these interludes were funny, they weren’t necessary. The movement, rich with sensuality, strength and joy, spoke for itself.
This ensemble has great chemistry with one another and the fun they were having onstage was as apparent as it was infectious. But the evening’s most stand out dancing came during a solo section for Lisa Green, who mesmerized with her frisky charm, fierce strut and silky, low-to-the-ground hip swivels. Even her eyes seemed to be dancing, delivering a gaze that sparkled with allure and flirtation.
The Washington Post
“E-Moves Arthur Aviles Typical Theatre and Cynthia Oliver’s COCo Dance Theater” by Emily Macel
Uneasy Unsettling and out of control, Cynthia Oliver’s work nevertheless has a narrative cohesion that makes for effective dance theater. The E-Stablished Choreographers program was a perfect forum for Oliver’s work.[…]
The Caribbean influenced COCo Dance Theatre used similar theatrical elements – dance, monologues, sound, and music – to very different effect [than Arthur Aviles’] in Oliver’s Closer Than Skin. Though portions of the piece were excerpted from evening-length pieces, they worked together as a powerful display of a woman’s struggle with her place in society. Oliver’s solo “Trembling,” began as she wrapped her fingers over her cheek and mouth, like she was being taken hostage. She lashed her head in a fast, whipping motion. Recorded warped voices filled the stage and shoved at her until she could barely catch herself. At times her entire body trembled, as controlled as the flutter of a wing. The delirious dancing culminated in a trio, the dancers braiding together individual motifs. Props like dolls and small empty boxes added a childlike, mysterious quality to the work.
Dance Magazine Online
“Viva La Diva! Oliver Delivers the Icons” by Gus Solomons Jr.
The Dance Inside, Flash Review 2, 1-28, 2003
New York- As we enter Dance Theater Workshop’s Bessie Schönberg Theater, eight oval panels glow from the dark at the rear of the stage. They depict women of color in delicately detailed wood-cut prints by Erin Tapley. The icons – unified in theme and size, although drawn in slightly different abstracted styles – remind you of stained glass windows in, perhaps an ultra hip southern country church.
Cynthia Oliver’s new ‘AfroSocialiteLifeDiva,’ part of DTW’s Carnival Series, is a stream of consciousness evocation in eloquent words and delicious movement of generations of black women. The text, brilliantly devised and deconstructed by Oliver is profuse and continuous, sometimes so rich with imagery and idiom you just have to let it go and enjoy its flavor without trying to comprehend it.
Five women enter in silhouette, one alone and the other four in couples, one partner carrying the other. Dancing in beautifully crafted unison and counterpoint, they take turns verbally describing and physically impersonating members of an extended family of women. They’re dressed in Adrienne McDonald’s form-flattering, multi-textured, earth-toned clothes; shawl skirts over slacks with fitted tops.
Oliver, a tall and substantial earth mother with sharp features and caramel-colored skin, and Renee Redding-Jones, more sturdily built and even more nurturing with rich coffee complexion, are such powerful stage personas they constantly arrest your focus. Their every move embodies the experience of living as triumphant black women. While the other three, Blossom Leilani, Maria Earle, and Cynthia Bueschel, all younger women, are no slouches in either vocal projection or dancing ability, they can’t match the sassy, savvy presence of the more mature pair.
In one recurring motif, the women tip toe around, as if wearing too-tight high-heels, hands dangling form limp wrists, hips switching proudly from side to side, over-talking each other about their diva-like assets. Music composed and performed live by percussionist Jason Finkelman, guitarist/composer Geoff Gersh, and Charles Cohen on an electronic synthesizer called Buchla Music Easel, add color and texture to the women’s flamboyant action.
These are utterly empowered women, recalling their role models” Redding-Jones is ‘Nana’ gesturing and grinning cordially like a fine lady at a cocktail party or a church social. Beuscschel[sic] and Earle wield dainty purses and cavort with ‘attitude’ in ‘A Holy Roller Named Pimp.’ In an arch and funny monologue, Oliver recounts her mother’s admonitions about proper behavior for a lady: Poise. Etiquette. Stand with feet at right angles, hands on hips, breasts thrust forward to create the most provocative esthetic impact; keep your knees decorously together whenever you sit. She and the cast illustrate with over-the-top exaggeration.
A similar dynamic tone throughout the seven continuous sections of the fifty-minute work mutes its overall impact. Still, ‘AfroSocialiteLifeDiva’ is a wittily written, soulfully performed, exposition of womanhood, distilled through the prism of Oliver’s unique sensitivity. And the performances of Oliver and Redding-Jones are definitely not to be missed.”
The Dance Insider
“Journeys: On the Town, On His Own, Through Family History. Wine, Spring Water, Tea” by Deborah Jowitt
The Village Voice, January 22-28, 2003
“[….]In Cynthia Oliver’s ‘AfroSocialiteLifeDiva'(at Dance Theater of Workshop January 23 and 24 and February 1 and 2), genealogy is sliced up and reconfigured in entrancing, sometimes confusing ways. That the grandmother, mother, and full-of-herself, bad-ass daughter of an African American family are played – sometimes jointly – by three black women, one white one, and a Hawaiian helps to both distance the subject and intensify it. As they dance juicy, outflung phrases, they also sing and talk – sometimes like a Greek chorus, sometimes bandying ‘she’ and ‘I’ about until the mother lives in the daughter, and the concept of observer and observed quakes like jelly.
The women – handsomely dressed by Adrienne Wood [Adrienne McDonald] performing under Erin Tapley’s vivid paintings of female generations to excellent understated music composed and played live by Jason Finkelman, Geoff Gersh, and Charles Cohen – are marvelous. I love to watch Renee Redding-Jones and Blossom Leilani, reeling in and out of poses like friendly sisters, merging like mother and child to come. Love to note the different ways the women attack movement and words: Leilani lean and precise, Cynthia Bueschel poised and sturdy in her steps, Stephanie [sic][Maria] Earle joyously lusty, Oliver with flyaway gestures and complications, and Redding-Jones with matter-of-fact power. When they double-image a character, that character becomes all the richer.
Oliver’s text is both witty and sentimental. Perhaps because of her pursuit of obliqueness, some lines evoke hallowed generalities about birth, death, and not-too-bad family life. At other times, as during a tirade by Redding-Jones – now the tough, new generation woman (‘I’d rather be a lamppost in New York than the Mayor of Norfolk, Virginia!’) – specificity emerges, shaking its fists and swinging its hips.”
The Village Voice
“And DanceDanceDance at the Kitchen” by Susan Yung
The Dance Insider, Flash review Feb 2-9, 2001
“The second ‘Talking Dance’ program at the Kitchen, curated by Dean Moss and seen at its Wednesday opening, proffered a few different approaches to the use of language in dance performance. Several choreographers/companies integrated text into the performance almost as a formal element. Others directly engaged the audience in dialogue – if not literally, then by telling us a story or otherwise involving the content of the text as part of the work. Another tack was to treat text and dance as the subject matter itself. It is clear that the use of language can add layers of meaning. However, that alone does not insure more meaning or richness. In some cases, it can obscure the work or complicate it beyond its parameters.
[….] In ‘Because she was…’ Cynthia Oliver, accompanied by live guitar and percussion, basically loses it as we watch, weaving in and out of lucidity, casting spells and attempting to chase away demons of one sort or another. She drops in African/island/American signifiers of both dance and text, loading a simple ‘mm…hmmm’ with a number of potential interpretations, and patterning words into rhythmic structures as engaging as her dance.”
The Dance Insider
“Art of Moving the Mouth Along with Those Feet” by Jennifer Dunning
February 10, 2001
“The fusion of movement and spoken text was the subject of ‘Talking Dance,’ a two-part series at the Kitchen. The big guns were fired in the first part. What followed, in a performance devoted to younger or newer groups and individuals on Thursday night was for the most part a series of dismal misfirings.
There were three strong pieces and performances. Foofwa d’Imobilite addressed the making of a ‘talking dance’ and its fashionable video component in his solo ‘Iuj Godog?’, notable for its intriguing phallic costume, designed by Suzanne Gallo, and the intelligence and charm of its self depreciating humor. Lilliane Tondellier designed the handsone lighting.
The weave of text and dance was achieved less traditionally, with words serving as both text and aural accompaniment, in Cynthia Oliver’s ‘Because she was…’ and Katie Duck’s solo from ‘Love Poems.’ Ms. Duck’s voice and Alex Waterman’s score for cello and electronically produced sound had a murmuring quality that complimented Ms. Duck’s purposefully desultory movement style in this mediation on love.
Ms. Oliver achieved the same effect with word fragments in ‘Because she was…,’ set to a score for Afro-Brazilian percussion and guitar performed live by Jason Finkelman and Geoff Gersh. But the complex woman or women Ms. Oliver evoked did not emerge completely until late in the solo and then almost too boldly.”
The New York Times
“Shemad:Women Bearing Demons at P.S. 122” By Tamieca McCloud
Flash Review 1, 5-20, 2000
Intricate, lyrical, complex — qualities in women too often boxed and labeled “madness” when we are too afraid to look deeper. Cynthia Oliver’s “Shemad,” seen last night at P.S. 122, beautifully and painfully portrays the physical affectations and vocal outbursts of emotional disturbance. Ms. Oliver’s group of “madwomen” took the audience on a trip that brought with it images we often try so hard to pretend don’t affect us — are not a part of us. The very real images of women bearing demons.
At times the ensemble moved together, seeming comrades or acquaintances in shared experiences. In other moments, they were separate and critical. In those instances, there came to light a difference in one that enabled the others to separate themselves — to pretend they did not share her level of madness. The accompanying text made you take a second look at each woman and reconsider your initial reaction to her outburst. To consider the source of her madness.
Most memorable was a double-duet entitled, “The Washing,” performed by Ms. Oliver, Renee Redding-Jones, Melissa Wynn, and Cynthia Bueschel. This section provided a moment which was incredibly tender, and simply lovely. Ms. Oliver gathered a strong ensemble for this work, including herself, the women mentioned above, and Rhetta Aleong. Visually these women were very different and each managed to command attention in a way which complimented each other and the work rather than distracted.
Also to be noted is the music accompanying “Shemad,” created and performed live by the trio Straylight. They did a great job of presenting music which was neither lost nor overwhelming. It was very much a natural part of the performance. “Shemad” continues through tomorrow at P.S. 122.
“Madness Descending” by Heather Depres Burak
October 7, 1999* Issue 116, p. 40
“Billed as a work depicting women and madness, Gabri Christa and Cynthia Oliver’s LUKoSiMAD seemed more about the elusive act of self determination. Presented at Dance Theater Workshop’s Carnival Series, the program included one group piece by each choreographer and collaborative duets. These Diabologues,” magnetic in their ritualistic and stark movements, ride the line between feral incarnation bemusement. Appearing self possessed, urbane and clean, the two women morphed between feminine and animalistic, with burps, mouths, facial ticks, and shallow coughs that grew too ugly hacks. Eyes shifted, giggles became guffaws, growls.
[….] With a heady dose of humor and irony, Cynthia Oliver investigated the individual rituals that turn into habits and patterns, known only to the self, that come up against the equally routinized social patterns of complicity and scorn. Her piece, SHEMAD, opened with a flock of women, whispering and shushing each other. Amidst laughing, teasing and egging each other on, they attempted to move forward en masse across the stage. They spoke over each other while Oliver’s poetic narration mixed with music, told of “hush, groan, suck teeth, holler, mad, bad, bitch, evil, dancing women, happy women, couldn’t give a damn…” With their fingers wagging, they talked themselves into a cacophony while switching places and waiting for cues from each other. More than mere distraction, it became clear that all this commotion is, in fact, very important business.
In one section, two dancers gossiped while another dancer (the fierce Melissa Wynn) came on laughing half sentences, hysterical, and then crashed. She gets back up, like she is pushing sand around in circles then goes down again. Like a baby falling but not bothered by scrapes, we wonder if she will cry after each fall or continue. Touching her own face and laughing, the two women came back on stage shaking the proverbial finger, mocking, and spying; “It was a man, it was a woman, it was work, children, her attitude, ’cause she was smart, ’cause she wasn’t…” The women’s gestures of copying and laughing evolve into sound/gesture score accompanying Wynn’s so-called hysteria. But as their mimicking becomes more frenzied, they seem crazy, not her.
Ending the piece, the narration rumors how this woman went mad, “it was a stream of excess….” Yet, she and the others are not victims. She repeats, “name me, blame me, you can’t contain me, call me Mad, call me Mad, call me, call me…,” incantations half-way between a mantra and a call to war.”
“The Vibrancy of Rhythm: Black Choreographers Tread New Paths Through Old Territory” by Deborah Jowitt
September 21, 1999
“[….]Oliver’s text for SHEMAD is not always easy to grasp. Voices natter over other voices, compete with percussionist Jason Finkelman’s intriguing score (played live by his ‘avant world’ trio Straylight) and drop into the honey accents of the Virgin Islands. Oliver introduces us to her compelling cast by having them propose, one by one, visions of women. But ‘one by one’ is misleading; every image offered – some of them wild – elicits umms and yes, yess, laughter, instant actings-out, and interruptions. They embark on a great botched race in which nearly everyone jumps the gun and doubles back, eventually throwing even the destination into question. They dance, arms and legs beautifully akimbo. What are the shapes of madness? Is myth useful madness? Melissa Wynn staggers spectacularly around, throwing her skinny limbs in all directions; Is she any nuttier than Oliver and Rhetta Aleong, who stand like two village aunties, gossiping about her in banshee voices? What’s behind Renee Redding-Jones’s crazed state of mind? Why didn’t she ‘get on’? Cynthia Bueschel dances along side her, suggesting and then retracting probably causes.
Oliver speaks out to us near the end; ‘How you going to contain me? Are you gonna call me mad?’ Society has done that to females who ventured out of their prescribed roles… Oliver makes madness a rallying cry.”
The Village Voice
“Seeing Race As A Life Sentence” by Jack Anderson
December 17, 1997
Choreographers usually celebrate the body. But in ‘Unremovable Jacket,’ which Cynthia Oliver presented on Sunday night at Performance Space 122, the body was often treated as a suspicious or even repellent object. The jacket Ms. Oliver referred to in her title was human flesh itself. All flesh is unremovable; so, too, the production pointed out, is each individual’s skin color.
That realization inspired Ms. Oliver to create tense worried choreography for herself, Tandum Lett, and Karen Graham. The dancers also collaboratively devised a spoken text. The accompaniment, which combined live and taped sounds, was composed by a combo called Straylight, with Jason Finkelman, Geoff, Gersh and Charles Cohen as featured musicians.
The performers’ nervous intensity helped make ‘Unremovable Jacket’ disquieting. The dancers kept pacing warily and regarding one another with suspicion. Repeatedly throughout the piece, they would cover their mouths with their hands as if in amazement even horror.
No matter how feverishly they moved, they could not shake off their bodies, and the sense of imprisonment was intensified in a scene which Carol Mullins’s lighting divided the floor into squares: one for black people, one for whites and one for people whose racial or ethnic identities are considered unclassifiable by lovers of rigid categories.
Although the work lasted only an hour, it seemed repetitive at times, and a parody of a fashion show was a labored attempt at grotesque humor. Yet Ms. Oliver did convincingly equate one’s flesh with one’s fate. As her text put it, flesh ‘wears you out.'”
The New York Times
“When Words Count” by Deborah Jowitt
October 31, 1995 * Vol. XL No. 44
“In Cynthia Oliver’s Death’s Door(P.S. 122, October 12, through 15), the dancing is not so reticent, and the text is more oblique. Three gorgeous women – Oliver, Renee Redding-Jones, and Osunwale Tandum Lett-Murray – dance alone and together throughout the piece. Their legs slice up the air; they move. Oliver – once a knockout in David Gordon’s Company, still with Ronald K. Brown’s is a less experienced choreographer than [Susan] Marshall, but although the binding movement and words into a whole are less secure, there are moments of great power and beauty.
Oliver’s text reveals its meaning elliptically, working backward: alluding to prayer, conjuring up funerals, then moving from each woman’s testimony about particular deaths to thoughts on dying. They play witnesses, not characters; their cryptic memories of death affect the dancing the way private grief might color an ongoing litany of prayers. Through repetition and variation, gestures gradually reveal the emotions of the text. Like a Greek chorus, the women sometimes snatch out of the air words spoken or sung by Helga Davis, fragmenting them into whispers that shudder around one another. Music improvised by guitarist Geoff Gersh, and percussionist Jason Finkelman (both of Straylight) lays a floor of light rhythmic patterns and mostly gentle sounds that evoke rain forests (Finkelman’s array includes marimbas, drums, gourds, bells).
The power of the dancing almost succeeds in knitting the text together. But not quite. Intense whisps of meaning cling briefly to a gesture, a dash through space, a woman, a life – and slip away.”