Sasha Soreff Dance Theater

Eye on Dance

April 12, 2014
“What is sacred to you right now?” inquired the program notes of Sasha Soreff’s Hineni. Premiered at the Performance Project at University Settlement only a few days prior to Passover, the title, Hebrew for “Here I Am,” calls for a particular presence from its audience to both bear witness and contribute to an intergenerational study on the idea of a calling and the myriad of routes one can take to reply.

For an hour, we peer on vignettes of modulating emotional intensity, connected spatially by a diagonal trailing upstage left. What could possibly lie beyond is as variable as each dancer’s response to the pathway. Three young guest artists from The Door take the first steps. Their methodical crawls from downstage right make the space seem miles long. They effortlessly pass a pool of light, but Soreff’s dancers all struggle intensely. Are the youngin’s oblivious to a present calling, or are they following a more instinctive signal farther off? Regardless, the work consistently affirms “the kids are alright.”

The first time the entire cast is onstage is the first time the diagonal disappears. They all seem to navigate their own diagonals, proclaiming their presence to themselves alone. After reinstating, it disappears again the first time the cast looks at us directly from a more visually dominant horizon upstage. This relationship of first times with a distorted path is subtle but symptomatic of the increasing ambivalence of Jeanette McMahon’s disembodied voice: “My leap of faith is not yours for the taking.” We meet Calling’s neurotic twin, Compulsion.

Soreff’s company is an incredibly mixed bag. Desira Barnes’ focus is so full you experience it vicariously to watch her. Ryan Leveille is a generous partner and an agile soloist. Nathan Duszny’s dance moves look too much like dance moves for the work, but he executes them with a raw honesty. You can hardly tell Mika Yanagihara was a Graham dancer when she speaks Soreff’s softer vocabulary; her dramatic intensity gives her away. Ana Romero, a newcomer, has a trustworthy stage presence, providing a grounding that allows these disparate dynamics to harmonize consonantly to Yoav Shemesh’s rich score.

It ain’t over ‘til the entire audience takes a comp class. The program’s questions were not rhetorical. The piece halts; Soreff leads a discussion about our criteria for sanctity, astutely bringing awareness to and translating body language as choreography. The audience catches on. More speak up in the hopes that their, at this point, eagerly pre-choreographed gestures will be made into art, but art isn’t the point.

After a small phrase is made, we travel with these movements on the diagonal that shapes the entire journey. The goal of Soreff’s art is real, hands-on community engagement. Her residency is doing (and accomplishing) highly necessary work – making dance accessible to laymen without dumbing it down. We dive into the frame yet can keep our discoveries once we emerge.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews


Everyone manages moments of adversity differently. For Jewish choreographer Sasha Soreff, a community dance project is the ideal approach. Premiering on Wednesday night in New York City, Soreff’s interpretive dance performance Hineni—Hebrew for ‘here I am’—combines biblical stories with modern examples of struggle. Each performance will be followed by an audience discussion led by various faith leaders, rendering the Jewish-inspired artwork accessible for the community at large.

Inspired by a tattoo of the word hineni she once saw on a dancer’s ankle, Soreff set out to create a dance that would be deeply rooted in Jewish tradition yet meaningful to a wider audience. She studied the 26 times the word hineni is used in the Tanach and attended a class on Jewish and Muslim exegetical texts that examined the stories of Abraham and Moses. Soreff also studied early childhood development to understand the stage at which man is most likely to take responsibility and be moved to action.

The project progressed when she met Israeli composer Yoav Shemesh through Asylum Arts, an organization that connects artists interested in exploring Jewish culture. Hineni’s debut marks exactly one year since the two artists met and decided to collaborate, with Soreff choreographing and Shemesh composing an original score for the piece.

Notably, none of Hineni’s dancers are Jewish. Soreff, who grew up in a Conservative Jewish household and is a member of a synagogue in New York, explained that the performers feel personally connected to the piece even though its foundational stories are Jewish. Dancers will be joined onstage by participants in The Door, the University Settlement’s program for at-risk youth.

Certainly, the dance will appeal to Jews in the week leading up to Passover, where they will recount the story of the Jews’ exodus from Egypt and the 40 subsequent years traveling through the desert. But Soreff insists that the performance’s interpretations of scenarios like the binding of Isaac, or Moses at the burning bush, are for more than just Jews: “What does it mean to be called upon? How do we respond? Everyone can contribute to that conversation, regardless of their faith, or lack thereof.”

Hineni runs April 9 through 12 at 7:30 p.m at the University Settlement. You can buy tickets here.

New York Times