Abby Z and the New Utility wowed at the University at Albany on Saturday night.
We are all familiar with dancer as athlete. But when it comes to Abby Z and the New Utility, that notion is jacked up in an adrenaline-fueled, body-slamming and crashing experience that leaves audiences shocked, breathless and not even certain of what they saw.
The eight-member group, which performed Saturday night at the University at Albany’s Performing Arts Center, literally threw themselves into director and choreographer Abby Zbikowski’s latest “abandoned playground.” On the stage that was only slightly bigger than a squash court, with the audience sitting close on all-four sides, the dancers ran, whipped their limbs akimbo and splayed themselves flat nonstop for an hour.
The dancers didn’t cut the typical image of long-lean physiques. This crew was big-muscled like figures you would see in a boxing ring or a speed-skating arena. They are strong, acrobatic and have the endurance of a marathoner.
Sitting up close, in which a swooping arm or kicking leg zoomed just inches from your face, was rattling. It was like sitting up at a football game, but the action was condensed and in the lap of the spectators.
Zbikowski, a Saratoga Springs native, has said she is inspired by “tactics of survival” and pushing the human body beyond its “perceived limits.” To do this, she calls on her background in African dance, hip hop and tap. She pits it against the sounds of punk and then guns it.
Most of “abandoned playground” is not set to any sounds except what the dancers supplied – panting, foot stomping and calls of encouragement such as “yup” and “you got it” by dancers sidelined for a few seconds from the arena’s action.
Music did rage for their warm-up for all the audience to see. Wearing yellow gym shorts, black tanks and sneakers, the dancers gave the crowd a taste of what was to come – an urgent physical ride that challenged what most expect from dance’s graceful norms.
Did I like it? I loved it mainly because I was watching something I have never seen before. Zbikowski was moving contemporary dance in a new direction – one that is right now only her dancers could achieve.
What dancer do you know could twist and fling themselves about in the most violent way for several minutes, then slow it down to place a steady headstand, fall flat on their backs and then pop up in a standing position by pushing off on their backs? None I know.
And that was Abby Z’s wild, mind-shattering appeal.