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EXCELLENCE AT PROPEL

Two dancers empty their pockets, spilling handfuls of metal onto the stage. These small metal pieces knock the floor, creating a rainfall sound. Upstage, a flashlight is pointing directly at the audience, interrupted by the silhouette of another dancer. The dancer twists slowly, revealing the profile of their face and the outline of their back. 

This ominous opening belongs to this is the time, and this is the record of the time, choreographed and performed by Maia Melene D’urfé. It is one of three pieces in PROPEL, a new artist program by eXit SPACE. Among other resources, selected artists receive free rehearsal space and a fully produced performance. In addition to D’urfé, PROPEL 2024 features Ron Gatsby and choreographic duo Margaux Gex and Lael Battiste.

this is the time, and this is the record of the time is patient and eerie, created in collaboration with performers Althea Alexander, Alicia Pugh, and Ashley Menestrina. There is frequently an element of observation, with one dancer traversing the edges of the stage while the other lifts off into full bodied choreography. Pugh and D’urfé embrace in the upstage corner, their hug transitioning to slow motion counterbalance. This duet gradually morphs again to a weighted struggle, abandoning some of the earlier tenderness before breaking apart. Alexander joins the landscape, edging towards the center of the stage. There is a moment of tension that dissipates in an unexpected slow dance. Before the first move, it feels as though Alexander may be ready to fight. Instead, softness prevails, an echo of the duet’s origin.

Throughout the work, the performers pass off a single blazer to each other, adorned with the same metal pieces spilled on the stage. It is visceral, creating clunky noises as it moves along their torsos. The blazer carries on the choreographic play between tough and soft. It is both armor and a personal disco ball. 

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To put it simply, these dancers are phenomenal at dancing together. They share a deep embodiment of the movement as well as a distinct vocabulary, including complicated floorwork and seamless level transitions. Arms last forever in this work. Their limbs surpass the expected trajectory, covering massive amounts of space. D’urfé makes us earn the unison, which means it’s even more exciting when it happens. The first glimpse of unison phrase work is a duet, a short-lived foreshadow of what’s to come. Finally, the full cast syncs up towards the end of the piece and I cannot wait. It does not disappoint, culminating in perfectly executed shoulder rolls, fast transitions, and tactile chugs. D’urfé’s work is extremely compelling and wonderfully performed. 

Ballroom and commercial dance come together in BG24, choreographed by Ron Gastsby with additional choreography by Nikkiya Dunmore, Pat O’Mahony, and Ryan Foster. The energy is so high that the floor vibrates beneath the dancers’ feet. Sharp formation changes keep the momentum of the piece. The performers play with the audience, frequently changing between smiles, piercing glances, and cheeky facial expressions.

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This work feels larger than its physical setting; as though we are actually in an arena instead of a small theater. The dancers are truly committed, projecting beyond the immediate space. BG24 brings epic energy to the stage, and it is satisfying to witness this liveliness. After the piece ended, one audience member exclaimed “THANK YOU!”.

The time in between opens with dancers forged in an asymmetrical clump, their bodies rumbling back and forth. This image scatters, replaced by quick individual shifts before another group formation emerges. Choreographed by Margaux Gex and Lael Battiste in collaboration with the dancers, this work draws focus from the beginning. It feels as though we are waiting for something imminent. 

The work has several distinguished partnering moments. At one point dancer Shayley Timm flies across the stage, carried face down by the other dancers and then pushed forward by Battiste’s feet. In another strong moment, Hayley Keller slides in a plank position off of Emily Vazquez’s concave back. There is very little prep for these moments, contributing to the surprise. 

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It is enjoyable to watch choreography that is so sequential without being predictable. There is a kind of logic to it, but it remains fresh throughout the work. The timing of the phrase work is deeply refined. Each movement has just enough time to resonate with the viewer, but not so much time that the viewer becomes bored. Individual dancers often place their hands on their own bodies as part of the phrase work, mimicking the later manipulation that occurs between dancers. This ties the different components of the work together, bridging the individual choreography and the group images. 

The group choreography in this work is very clean. Everyone is exactly in their place, with a shared understanding of the movement quality and timing. In the last section there is a solo moment with a side swipe of the leg. Minutes later, the piece ends with this movement in unison and a quick blackout before the dancers’ legs retract down. It is a stunning ending, showcasing the precision of the choreography and the skillset of the cast. As a whole, The time in between is meticulous and arresting. 

Each choreographer featured in PROPEL has an exceptional component of their work. It is thrilling to witness three works that are so distinct from one another yet so honed in their craft.

PROPEL ran March 1-3, 2024 at NOD Theater. For more information, visit eXit SPACE’s website.