Abby Bender has developed fifteen evening-length shows and more than fifty shorter works over the past twenty-five years. She presents her group work under the company name Schmantze Theatre, a playful spin on the over-used, catchall “dance theatre." Bender attempts to redefine what constitutes a dance, and who can be a dancer, while welcoming viewers and participants into the strange depths of her imagination. In 2016 she stepped away from her longtime leadership role as the Executive/Artistic Director of Triskelion Arts, in Brooklyn, NY which she co-founded in 2000, and moved to Martha's Vineyard. Island life finds her making more work than ever, and she continues to direct and produce the Built on Stilts Dance Festival which she co-founded in 1997.
Her work is often site-specific and uses object play alongside physical scores. It explores an array of subjects and/or obsessions both personal and historical and is an unusual hybrid of dance, comedy, and monologue. It draws on the beauty and power of language, the mysteries of the ego and id, the relentless influences of current events, and embraces the awkwardness of her own body. Through the past 25 years of making this work, she concedes her truest self in search of connections and understanding of the world and this life. She aims to share her zeal for the unlimited nature of live performance with the unlikely and occasionally resistant dance viewer and participant - to take modern dance beyond its niche audience by making work that is accessible without compromising its artistry. She deeply appreciates what the untrained dancer can intuitively bring to the stage. Professional and novice performers often share the stage. The theatric, oftentimes comical nature of her dances and the risks her work takes, draws a new community of dance-viewers to the art form.
She has choreographed for a variety of performers including Will Carlough, Harrington and Kauffman, The Hazzards, Don Dilego, Bree Sharp and Beautiful Small Machines. A longtime performer with Cirque This, she danced for several choreographers on MV and in NYC. Bender and Cassie Tunick premiered their collaborative work, Totally Other, in May 2014 at Triskelion Arts for which they received a Summer 2015 Creative Residency and presentation at The Yard on Martha’s Vineyard. In 2014, she was named one of “The 100 Most Influential People in Brooklyn Culture” by Brooklyn Magazine. Bender has served as a moderator for APAP, participated in the inaugural BAM Professional Development Program through the DeVos Institute of Arts Management at The Kennedy Center, and served on dance juries for the Department of Cultural Affairs Cultural Development Fund and Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. She's provided feedback in The Tank's xyz series and New Dance Alliance's LiftOff series. Since moving to Martha's Vineyard in 2016, in addition to short solo and group works, she's developed several evening-length, site specific and/or immersive group works at the MV Museum, Oak Bluffs Public Library, Pathways Arts, The Yard, and inside private homes and grounds. Bender has enjoyed collaborations with Jesse Keller Jason, Cassie Tunick, Leah Crosby, Danielle Doell, Lisa Gross, Laura Hall, composer, Brian Hughes and film maker, Danielle Mulcahy. She periodically teaches adult movement and fitness classes and has been a visiting teaching artist at the island's charter school. She annually co directs the choreography workshops for kids and teens for Built on Stilts and co-hosts Membership Down, an ongoing live variety game show series she developed with her cousin, Molly Coogan. She serves as a member of the Martha's Vineyard Cultural Council and volunteers at the Island Food Pantry.