A choreographic study of the Alzheimer’s experience, The Quiet Room by Hailey Hubbs

by Winfield Maben for the Dance Journal

The Quiet Room is a short but intensely personal piece which takes its audience on a guided examination of the struggles faced by Alzheimer’s victims. Conceived by Hailey Hubbs and dedicated to Claire Conway, her grandmother whom she lost to Alzheimer’s in June of 2019, the piece premiered on Saturday, September 21 at Pig Iron Theatre Company’s Studio B.

The setup is intimate, benches line the walls of the studio and the dancers warm up in front of the audience as they filter in, accompanied by Anthony Ieradi on guitar. Once the piece begins this intimate setup only heightens the emotional deliverance of the choreography as the subtleties in the expressions and movements of the dancers can be more easily observed. The movement itself begins in synchronicity but soon one dancer (Leslie Elkins) begins to lag behind the others. This falling behind serves as the point of initiation from which the rest of the work proceeds as Elkins struggles to contend with her situation. Throughout several sections (all accompanied by Ierdi and Natalie Occhino) she deals with isolation, frustration, fear, and hesitation that come alongside living with Alzheimer’s.

The choreography supports these themes, often embodying a feeling or mood, such as when two dancers orbit Elkins, their movements sharp and direct, while hers remain hesitant and slow. This not only emphasizes the separation one feels when living with an isolating condition but also a sense of frustration as the other two dancers take on the dual role of portraying both the internal and external conflict around her. Other moments include a segment where Elkins seems lost and ignored by the world, as the other dancer seems drawn into their cellphones to pay her any mind. In this way, she’s nearly forced into invisibility via her lack of connection to those around her.

The accompaniment deserves note as well, as it serves more of a purpose than mere set dressing, instead of playing an active role in the theme and narrative of the work. The score consists of arrangements of a variety of songs ranging from Sinatra’s Fly Me to the Moon (1954) to Tash Sultana’s Pink Moon (2018). These were all arranged and performed live with the choreography by Ieradi and Occhino which proved effective as the live performance only heightened the intimate vibe of the rest of the production.

Perhaps the best example of music and choreography working in tandem to great effect comes at the end of the work when Fly Me to the Moon (which had been the first song of the work) returns. Elkins begins to repeat the choreography from the first section of the performance, however now she’s constantly interrupted by the music itself. As he plays, Ieradi begins to repeat lyrics, take lengthy pauses, and otherwise distort the song. Elkins echoes this, pausing alongside him, repeating movement motifs alongside the stuttering of Sinatra’s lyrics, and the effect is a manifestation of all the emotions she’s conveyed throughout the work, condensed into one final moment.

The Quiet Room is a thorough, heartfelt, and nuanced exploration of Alzheimer’s and its effects and experiences through movement and music, tying the two together to great effect. Though brief (only running about 30 minutes), it proves that dances do not have to belong to be effective. Hubbs and her collaborators have constructed a work which explores the social and physical isolation suffered by millions in quiet rooms of their own in a way that is constructive, emotional, and intensely personal all at once, treating the audience to an intimate and heartfelt experience.