Abby Bender has developed eleven evening-length shows and more than fifty shorter works over the past twenty years. She presents her group work under the company name Schmantze Theatre, a playful spin on the over-used, catchall “dance theatre,” and is dedicated to developing shameless and meaningful work. 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. She recently stepped away from her longtime leadership role as the Executive/Artistic Director of Triskelion Arts, in Brooklyn, NY which she co-founded in 2000. She continues to direct and produce the Built on Stilts Dance Festival on Martha’s Vineyard, which she co-founded in 1997.
Bender's mission is 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. Her work has historically involved large groups of people from a multitude of backgrounds, of diverse ages, shapes and sizes. Professional and novice performers often share the stage. The theatric, oftentimes comical nature of her group dances and the risks her work takes, draws a new community of dance-viewers to the art form. She aims to creates performative experiences in which honesty and imagination wrestle and rest, leading her to a greater understanding of herself and the world around her.
She has choreographed for a variety of performers including Will Carlough, Harrington and Kauffman, The Hazzards, Don Dilego and Beautiful Small Machines. A longtime performer with Cirque This, she also 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 five short new solo and group works performed at Pathways and Built on Stilts, Bender has enjoyed collaborations with composer Brian Hughes on her intimate, immersive one-woman show, Inhabit The Garden, with LanDforms on The Home Show, with Leah Crosby on two short works, and with Cassie Tunick for Built on Stilts. She has periodically taught adult movement and fitness classes and has been a visiting artist at the island's charter school. She annually teaches the choreography workshops for kids and teens for Built on Stilts and co-writes and co-hosts Membership Down, an ongoing live variety game show series at the Oak Bluffs Public Library.