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.