Loop Review - The Rubber Room: Muscle Memory Dance Theatre creates a compelling story through movement and dialogue.
By Margaret Putman, Theater Jones
It’s a strange and compelling story. One teacher is sent “to purgatory” for saying a four-letter word in the empty hall, unaware that students are within earshot. Another loses his temper when the class is too loud, so he screams and throws a chair against the blackboard. Others don’t even know why they are sent to the rubber room. They continue to get paid, but have nothing to do. To pass time, they play cards, read, watch movies on their portable CDs, give Spanish lessons or draw. Having no power, teachers fight over a chair.
To turn this sad tale into dance form, Muscle Memory Dance Theatre’s co-artistic director Lesley Snelson-Figueroa approaches the subject as though seeing events from the viewpoint of an anthropologist. Appropriately, the title is The Rubber Room, and it features six dancers clad in clever outfits of red, black and white. Perhaps because they are teachers, they move about the stage in an orderly fashion, arms often bent at the same angle, legs straight. From time to time, they maneuver shiny red classroom chairs, tipping them over, stepping up on top of one, or fighting to claim it.
At times the spoken voices threaten to overpower the dance, as we hear one teacher after the other describe his or her months in the rubber room. But wisely, Ms. Snelson-Figueroa avoids the pitfall of making gestures and movements too literal, and when she does, they are effective. One teacher shoves another away, battling for a particular chair. Another sits still, glassy-eyed, head bobbing as she struggles to stay awake.
The movement is both streamlined and yet ever-changing, and its effect is to give this modern cautionary tale a cool, clinical air while below the surface it throbs with tension.
Margaret Putnam has been writing about dance since 1980, with works published by D Magazine, The Dallas Observer, The Dallas Times Herald, The Dallas Morning News, The New York Times, Playbill, Stagebill and Dance Magazine.