The Doris Duke Artist Awards were designed by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation (DDCF) to advance the creative work of outstanding artists in contemporary dance, jazz and theater who have shown their ongoing commitment to their field. The Foundation states that this is not a lifetime achievement award but a deep investment in the creative potential of dedicated artists. On October 21, 2021, the DDCF announced the names of the seven artists who will receive up to $275,000 each bringing the total amount of the unrestricted funding for Performing Artists to $2.2 million. This is the largest national award to individual in the performing arts and recipients may use this money however they wish to “create and thrive.” Created in 2012, the Doris Duke Artist Awards program has awarded more than $35.4 million in funding to 129 artists.

Receiving the Doris Duke Artist Award for their continuing contributions to the field of contemporary Dance were award winning choreographer and performance artists Cynthia Oliver and Dormeshia. For their ongoing innovation and impact in the field of Jazz, the recipients of the awards went to Kris Davis, Danilo Pérez and Wayne Shorter. Receiving the award for their continuing excellence Theatre, the recipients were Lileana Blain-Cruz and Teo Castellanos.

“Art is the antidote to crisis. These exemplary artists demonstrate that a time of unprecedented disruption in the arts and across society cannot stifle the power of great art to persevere,” said Sam Gill, president and CEO of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. “We are proud to support these outstanding creators and accelerate their phenomenal contributions to society.”

Cynthia Oliver - Photo courtesy of the artist

Cynthia Oliver – Photo courtesy of the artist

In the Virgin Islands, Cynthia Oliver performed 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, Oliver has performed in works by Greg Tate, Ione, Laurie Carlos, and Ntozake Shange. She holds a Ph.D. in Performance Studies from Tisch School of the Arts, at New York University. 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. Oliver’s awards include a New York Dance and Performance Award (a Bessie), a nominee for the Cal Arts Alpert Award (2009), USArtists (2015, 2017, 2019), and the Doris Duke Impact Award in2015. In addition, she has been a Mellon Fellow and resident artist at the Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography (MANCC)

(L-R) Leslie Cuyiet, Cynthia Oliver in "BOOM!" by Cynthia Oliver - Photo courtesy of the artist.

(L-R) Leslie Cuyiet, Cynthia Oliver in “BOOM!” by Cynthia Oliver – Photo courtesy of the artist.

One of her most recent evening-length performance works, “Virago-Man Dem,” uses movement, spoken word and visual design to explore the expressions particular to Caribbean and African American masculinities. The piece premiered at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival in 2017 and then toured the country. Oliver has also toured the globe as a featured dancer with contemporary dance companies such as David Gordon Pick Up Co., Ronald K. Brown/EVIDENCE, Bebe Miller Company and Tere O’Connor Dance. Early in her career, she also received a Bessie Award for her evening-length dance theatre work “Death’s Door.”

Dormeshia - Photo courtesy of the artist.

Dormeshia – Photo courtesy of the artist.

Born in Englewood, California Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards began studying tap at age 3 under the instruction of Paul and Arlene Kennedy. She performed at the Tip Tap Festival at age 8 and made her debut on Broadway in Black and Blue at age 12 performing alongside such tap masters as Gregory Hines, Jimmy Slyde, Buster Brown and Savion Glover. Still in her teens, Dormeshia performed as a soloist with the Los Angeles based Jazz Tap Ensemble led by dance artist Lynn Dally and following an extensive performing career on Broadway, touring in tap festivals nationally and internationally, in 1998 she and husband Omar Edwards opened a tap studio in Harlem. There Dormeshia set out to create new methods for teaching rhythm-tap for women, Women in Heels, described as “countering the downward-driving, piston-driven attack of traditional (male) rhythm-tapping styles with steps that were structured along more circuitous paths of attack.” Among her awards are a Bessie in 2012 for Outstanding Performer in Jason Samuels Smith’s work Chasing The Bird, a dance fellowship in 1994 and the Princess Grace Statue Award in 2017. Tap coach to the king of pop Michael Jackson over the course of eleven years, Dormeshia is currently on the board as the Tap Advisor for Dance Magazine and at one time the official Tap Spokesperson for Capezio. In his November 22, 2019, article for New York Times, Brian Seibert wrote: “Like Beyoncé or Prince, the tap dancer Dormeshia is singular enough to need no surname.” Last seen performing in Los Angeles this past summer, Dormeshia appeared with tap greats Derick K. Grant and Jason Samuels Smith in The Super Villainz: A Tap Dance Act for the Modern Age  as part of The Music Center’s “Dance at Dusk” series.

The Super Villainz: A Tap Dance Act For The Modern Age – (L to R) Derick K. Grant, Dormeshia, Jason Samuels Smith & Musicians – Photo by Denise Leitner

Now residing in Los Angeles, Wayne Shorter is an acclaimed American musician and composer, a major jazz saxophonist, a pioneer of jazz-rock fusion music. The winner of 11 Grammy Awards, the New York Times has recognized Shorter as “probably jazz’s greatest living small-group composer and a contender for greatest living improviser.” Shorter has performed with such bands as the Horace Silver quintet (1956), the Maynard Ferguson big band (1958), and with Art Blakey’s hard-bop Jazz Messengers (1959–63). He joined Miles Davis’s modal jazz quintet as a tenor saxophonist in 1964, leaving in 1970 to become a soprano saxophonist. During the 1970s and ’80s, Shorter and keyboard player Joe Zawinul led the fusion band “Weather Report”. While continuing to perform, Shorter’s most recent albums include Without a Net (2013), and Emanon (2018). Shorter was named a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1998, he received a lifetime achievement Grammy Award in 2015, and he was the recipient of the highly prestigious Kennedy Center Honor in 2018.

Wayne Shorter - Photo courtesy of the artist.

Wayne Shorter – Photo courtesy of the artist.

“We are thrilled to award this year’s cohort of exceptional artists with this support,” said Maurine Knighton, program director for the arts at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. “With the knowledge that these performing artists excel in their forms, we recognize that they deserve funding that trusts them to best determine how to invest in their own futures. These awards are intended to enable artists with the freedom to create the way that artists are meant to create: freely, organically and without restrictions.”

To read more about the Doris Duke Artist Awards and the 2021 Doris Duke Artists, click HERE.

To read more about the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, click HERE.

Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.

Featured image: Doris Duke Artist Awards Recipient Cynthia Oliver (Right) and Leslie Cuyiet (Left) in BOOM! – Photo courtesy of the artist.