Performing Arts: 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

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