Haley Dennis is a senior in NFTY-STR. She currently serves as NFTY-STR outgoing Religious and Cultural Vice President. She will be performing “15 Seconds” at NFTY Convention in Atlanta.
I am a senior at Booker High School Visual and Performing Arts in Sarasota, FL. At my school, seniors have an opportunity to choreograph original pieces for either the fall or spring dance performance. Submitted dance pieces go through a selection process and they are ultimately presented in the show alongside faculty and guest artists’ work. Throughout high school, I knew I wanted to choreograph a piece, even though I also knew there would be many stresses during senior year, especially when submitting college applications
Last summer is when I definitively decided to prepare something for the Fall Show. I was at URJ Kutz Camp in upstate New York when the Gaza war broke out. My counselors and teachers were being called to come back and defend the land of Israel and this really opened my eyes. The previous summer, I went on a NFTY in Israel trip and visited a kibbutz right at the border of Israel and Gaza. We learned about how people living there took precautions to stay safe and how they had to take shelter when rockets were shot into Israel. I couldn’t help but think of the concept of time during this visit, or the lack of time they had to save their lives.
These two URJ summer experiences inspired the piece I eventually choreographed, “15 Seconds.” When I auditioned dancers to join me in the piece, I explained to them what living in Israel is like for its citizens. Israelis constantly live with an underlying fear, not knowing quite when a rocket will come from the sky. We might imagine feeling paralyzed by that fear, but it is so commonplace that they go along with their daily tasks, always knowing what they have to do if there is a rocket alert. Once I cast my piece, I began most rehearsals either updating the dancers about the latest current events in Israel or just reminding them of the tension between Israelis fearing for their lives and living their lives. Sounds easy right?
The piece begins with pairs of dancers performing everyday tasks – putting on shoes and socks, buttoning a shirt, braiding hair. Sirens interrupt each task, causing one dancer in each pair to flee the stage with one shoe on, half a shirt buttoned, and three sections of braid in their hair. The middle of the piece was accompanied by an instrumental song while dancers ran and walked across the stage. The choreography I created for this section was intended to convey multiple emotions, including fear, separation, intimacy, and all through varying speeds of movement. The end of the piece starts with a duet, one girl representing Israel and one representing Gaza. It is powerful to have these two physical bodies stand for these opposing geographical places. These “enemies” dance while a recording of a live news report of a rocket attack plays in the background. The reporter describes what is happening during the attack and the recording ends with the sound of a bomb hitting its target. The dancers are in parallel lines, one group representing Gaza and one representing Israel. The piece ends with a “face off,” although the winner is left unresolved since this real-life conflict continues. There hasn’t yet been an official “end.”
I feel so fortunate to have had the support of the dance faculty and fellow dancers at my school for helping to make my dream as a choreographer come to life. I know that I will continue to choreograph, especially inspired by things that mean a lot to me, such as Israel. In my eyes, “15 Seconds” is not complete and I look forward to expanding on it when I am older.