Mission: What happens when we are confronted with information we have no means to make sense of? In our daily lives we are continuously guided by visual stimulus that directs our looking and accompanying indicators of how we are supposed to view it to such an extent that we are desensitized to its power over our engagement in the world. What’s new and un-codified can feel scary because it destabilizes our perceived places in the world and forces us to deal with our own feelings of irrelevance. This fear isn’t just paranoia, it’s called cognitive bias and is an evolutionary trait that we all possess to a certain degree; it fuels our need to understand the unfamiliar in order to accurately size it up and make sure it can’t harm us. I intentionally make dances that exists in this uncomfortable liminal space beyond our immediate cognitive recognition, on its way to a new way of knowing.
For the past five years I have been creating a series of works with the purpose of laying a primer for how to look at future works, and in turn a future world. We all possess so much specific cultural information relevant to our own lived experiences that I never approach the construction of a piece with the intention of it appealing to one demographic, not even a dance one. I’ve never personally felt part of a singular demographic and would feel disrespectful assuming personal information about groups of individuals in order to better sell them an idea. With a touch of forced ignorance I attempt to create something alien to us all, situating myself as the ultimate outsider. One of my ultimate goals is to create a unity amongst audiences of my work through unearthing and presenting movement ideas and aesthetics that no one can relate to, which intrinsically forms a union whether they are actively aware of it or not.
While I wouldn’t blame them, and have often wanted to as an audience member during certain shows, I have never had an audience forcibly rebel against a presentation of these new ideas. I have had people come up to me after showings to tell me I have “no reverence for dance,” whatever that means, but they seemed to be speaking out of anger of their own displacement rather than a sincere concern for dance’s reverence. To keep an audience’s attention I invoke spectacle by bombarding them with rich, dynamic, rhythms that carry these moving bodies into unidentifiable territory just outside of dance. Performers fully engage their own bodies, each other’s presences, along with the space and any other possible physically tangible compositional elements to an obsessive degree in order to remain in control and accountable for the perception of onlookers; building the work from the bottom-up instead of from the top-down. It takes tremendous strength to strip yourself of the familiar and put yourself on display. The people I work with take the world head on during performances, while maintaining a sense of self and dignity. They demonstrate prideful physical labor that transcends common human associations. They find new meaning in what could be excruciating work.
While I’m obsessed with what’s new and developing effective ways of viewing it, my drive and aesthetic values didn’t develop in a vacuum. I’m a product of dance practices rooted in African and African-American cultural values in which I’ve trained in since my beginnings as a mover. In order to fully understand the dance world I was trying to be in conversation with, I inevitably sought out experiences in more classical modern dance forms. These experiences helped me in identifying the established system that my alternative and/or “other” dance practices were situating themselves in relation to. The political navigation taking place seemed necessary and clear, and became a large influence on the way I have chosen to position myself and work in the world.
Bio: Abby Zbikowski is a choreographer interrogating dance aesthetics and culture. Abby’s work with her company, the New Utility, has been presented by the Bates Dance Festival, Dance New Amsterdam, the Gibney Dance Center, and the Kelly Strayhorn Theater, among other venues. She has studied intensively at Germaine Acogny’s L’École de Sables in Senegal and holds a BFA in dance from Temple University and an MFA in dance from Ohio State University. As a performer, Abby has worked with choreographers Charles O. Anderson/dance theater X, Megan Mazarick, Nora Gibson, Paige Phillips, and Maree ReMalia and has performed nationally and internationally with the Baker & Tarpaga Dance Project. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Dance at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and will teach technique and repertory at the American Dance Festival in the summer of 2015.