Professor | Associate Vice-Chancellor for Research in the Humanities, Arts, and Related Fields | Center for Advanced Studies Professor
Cynthia Oliver joined the Dance at Illinois faculty in August 2000. She is a former dancer with numerous companies, including the David Gordon Pick Up Co., the Bebe Miller Company, Ronald K. Brown/Evidence, and Tere O'Connor Dance. A woman of Caribbean descent, Cynthia creates work that is a mélange of dance theatre and the spoken word, incorporating textures of Caribbean performance with African and American sensibilities. Early in her career, she won a New York Dance and Performance ("Bessie") Award and was named Outstanding Young Choreographer by the German magazine Ballet Tanz (2002). Since then, her work has gained greater national and international attention. Her most recent evening-length production, entitled Virago-Man Dem (with U of I alums Niall Noel Jones and Duane Cyrus, along with Jonathan Gonzalez and Ni'Ja Whitson), examined the nuances and complexities of contemporary black masculinities. Virago-Man Dem premiered at the 2017 Brooklyn Academy of Music's Next Wave Festival and later toured the country. Cynthia has received numerous awards from national arts foundations to support her work, including Creative Capital (2002), Illinois Arts Council Choreography Fellowships (2004, 2014, 2017), the Rockefeller Foundation's MAP Fund (2007, 2015), the New England Foundation's National Dance Project (2009, 2017, 2019), awards from the National Performance Network's Creation Fund (2009, 2012, 2017), a prestigious nomination for the Alpert Award in the Arts for dance (2009), a 2015 nomination for the Doris Duke Impact Award, and a Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography Mellon Fellowship (2016-17). In 2011, she was selected for a nomination-only University Scholar award from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for her research and performance work. She holds a PhD in performance studies, and her scholarly work focuses on performance in the Anglophone Caribbean, particularly in the US Virgin Islands. She has published works in anthologies, exhibition booklets, the Movement Research Journal, and Women and Performance. Her single-authored book, Queen of the Virgins: Pageantry and Black Womanhood in the Caribbean, was published by the University Press of Mississippi in 2009. She teaches technique, composition, performance, post-colonial and feminist theory, and courses emphasizing the African-American and African-Caribbean influences in American performance. In 2017, she was appointed to the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation as an Associate Vice Chancellor for Research in the Humanities, Arts, and Related Fields. In 2020 she was named Center for Advanced Studies Professor, the highest award for faculty at Illinois.