The Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago will present the Chicago debut of COCo. Dance Theatre, founded and directed by choreographer Cynthia Oliver this November. Virago-Man Dem, Oliver’s newest evening-length, experimental dance-theater work, is a nuanced study in masculinities and their multiplicities within cultures of Caribbean and African-American communities. The work captures various masculinities through movement, spoken language and visual design and 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. Virago-Man Dem is based on the lives of the men performing it—Duane Cyrus, Jonathan Gonzalez, Niall Noel Jones and NI’Ja Whitson—and asks, “How can a woman choreograph masculinity without resorting to stereotypes, but instead locate its nuances, challenges and ambiguities? Those very elements that black communities know so well and yet see rarely reflected in the culture at large?”
COCo. Dance Theatre promotes a mission to “create dance theatre works that capture imaginations and engage audiences’ aesthetic, intellectual and experiential sensibilities; to excavate our social, political and deeply personal selves and make folks laugh, cry, curse, shout and consider and reconsider what we each do everyday to negotiate the complex lives we live; to engage in conversation at its most rewarding levels; to touch souls.” Cynthia Oliver has danced with Theatre Dance Inc. and the Caribbean Dance Company of St. Croix, Virgin Islands, and with numerous independent choreographers and companies, including the David Gordon Pick Up Co., Ronald Kevin Brown/Evidence, Bebe Miller Company (appearing at the Dance Center later this season) and Tere O’Connor Dance. She creates performance collages that move from dance to word to sound and back again toward an eclectic and provocative dance theater, incorporating textures of Caribbean performance with African and American aesthetic sensibilities. She is Professor of Dance at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana.
In partnership with the Dance Center, the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts will present a free panel discussion, “Performing Black Masculinities: Where, How and for Whom?,” featuring Oliver and taking place Monday, October 30 at 7 p.m. at the Logan Center, 915 E. 60th Street, in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood. In this public conversation, artists, activists and scholars present their work, offer up personal experiences and discuss places of intersection as they collectively address notions of black masculinity. The panel examines the ways black masculinities are activated across geography, generation and nationality and their relevance to sexualities, community, individuals and personhood. The panelists also include Columbia College Chicago Professor Raquel Monroe, Artist Roger Bonair-Agard and media personality Dometi Pongo. Activist Ayinde Jean-Baptiste will serve as moderator. Those interested in attending may RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org.
There is also a post-performance conversation with the artists following the performance on Thursday, November 2 and a pre-performance talk with Cynthia Oliver Friday, November 3 at 6:30 p.m. at Sherwood Community Music School’s recital hall, 1312 S. Michigan Ave. (next door to the Dance Center), both free to ticket holders. Additional residency activities with community partners and Columbia College Chicago students take place throughout the week leading up to the performance weekend.
For more information or for tickets, visit colum.edu/dancecenterpresents or call 312.369.8330.
Cynthia Oliver's Virago-Man Dem residency by COCo. Dance Theatre at MANCC 2017 (photo by Chris Cameron).
Clef Notes Chicagoland Journal for the Arts