Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago presents COCo. DANCE THEATRE Review – breaking the mold.

Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago Presents Chicago Debut of COCo. Dance Theatre

COCo. Dance Theatre’s evening length dance theatre work Virago-Man Dem begins with a quartet congregating on stage coming from both the wings and the audience. Once in position they stand still even as the music begins. One of the performers yells “Go!” but the dancers stay in their statuesque position. Slowly they begin to shift, at first just a pop of the heel or shrug of a shoulder until the movement becomes larger and larger, radiating through their entire bodies.


Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago Presents CYNTHIA OLIVER’S COCo. DANCE THEATRE Preview – Chicago Debut
Cynthia Oliver Photo by Val Oliveiro

Choreographer Cynthia Oliver created Virago-Man Dem with the intention of examining masculinity through movement, spoken word, and visual art. The title of the piece, Virago-Man Dem, reflects Oliver’s Caribbean roots, “Virago” describing a woman who transgresses prescribed gender roles and “man-dem” being a Caribbean colloquialism for a group of male friends, according to the performance program notes.

Oliver uses her dancers as a source of inspiration and collaboration for the stories she tells during the performance. Each dancer has a solo moment throughout the piece in which they tell a story. One tells of his father’s deep voice and another of his Spanish-speaking grandmother and a third about playing football in Cleveland, Ohio. These stories of different experiences shed light on what it can mean to be male and female, masculine and feminine.

Often throughout the performance the dancers begin speaking the same word with different inflections such as “hey” or “damn.” The way in which these words are spoken gives them different connotations and feed into the stereotypes that Oliver is exploring. Gestural movements often seen in sports and associated with masculinity such as shooting a basketball, or throwing a football are also seen in Oliver’s choreography.

Technical aspects of the performance include dramatic shifts in lighting, designed by Amanda K. Ringger, and frequent costume changes amongst the dancers to convey changes in character with costumes by Susan Becker.

Projections on the backdrop of the stage by John Boesche also transform the stage, and transport the audience through each of the performers’ stories. The projections illuminating the backdrop range from what appears to be street art to images of the shadows of the dancers themselves. The projections shift with the mood of the piece, sometimes electrifying and loud with bright colors and sometimes soft and calming.


Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago Presents CYNTHIA OLIVER’S COCo. DANCE THEATRE
COCo. Dance Theatre's Virago-Man Dem. Photo by Chris Cameron.

Virago-Man Dem makes the audience reflect on their own experiences and pre-conceived stereotypes about masculinity through Oliver’s unique mix of movement, visual design and spoken word.

To learn more about Cynthia Oliver and COCo. Dance Theatre visit the COCo. Dance Theatre website Visit the Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago’s website to learn more about upcoming performances.

Hayley Ross

About the Author:

Hayley Ross graduated from Ohio University in 2016 with degrees in Dance and Journalism. She currently works in the Marketing department at Hubbard Street Dance Chicago as the Communication Coordinator. Learn more about Hayley at

Editors Note -- Click here to find more Picture This Post reviews by Hayley Ross. 

Learn more about dance by seeing dance through dancers eyes in the Picture This Post series, “Choreographers’ Eyes - Dancers Explain Dance”.  Watch this video preview of the story here— 

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