Youthful Cal Rep Movement Piece Doesn’t Deliver as Advertised

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MOVE: The History of a Hand. Runs through Dec. 8.

By Greggory Moore, Curtain Call columnist

Walk into a show with a title like MOVE: The History of a Hand, and the only thing you expect more than movement is something at least loosely historical about everyone’s favorite extremity. A discourse on the opposable thumb? An overview of human toolmaking? Ruminations on how our handedness has influenced the development of communication? I don’t know, but something.

Curiously, that’s exactly what we don’t get from California Repertory’s final 2019 offering. More group dance recital than anything, MOVE: The History of a Hand is basically wordless (so much for a history lesson), and there’s little in the movement co-created by director Ezra LeBank and ensemble to tip you off that hands are the supposed focus. Example: a full four minutes of this 70-minute runtime is nothing but ― and I mean literally nothing but ― the dozen performers flowing downstage in waves of attempted handstands, then circling back to repeat the process, again and again, wave after wave. Four minutes. Nothing but this.

But I don’t want to waste words panning the choreography or the (to cherry-pick a couple of words from LeBank’s own description in the program notes) “silly [and] nonsensical universe we’ve built,” because I’m not sure I should have been there in the first place. Rather than a reviewer, I felt like an interloper, an intruder, a party-crasher hiding in the shadows as a group of students came together for a final bit of play before making their separate ways into the adult world.

What I witnessed from my dark corner was the gratuitous exuberance of youth, joy without mindfulness, a dozen boys and girls bouncing about meaninglessly for the sheer sake of it. Because they can. Because this is when they can.

And so I no longer found myself thinking of the you, the theater-going public. Nothing I might write would make you want to see this show ― and it isn’t you I’d particularly like to put in the seats.

Not so many years from now, these so-very young men and women will be mothers and grandfathers, their youth (if not their exuberance) long behind them; and their descendants will know them as creatures quite different than the ones currently bounding about the Studio Theatre under exceedingly good lighting (kudos to Nathan Hawkins). They’ll be twice as slow and not half as springy, heavier both in body and in soul, their last handstand a distant memory. Theatre and dance will be part of their past as they navigate a maturity full of mortgages and medical issues and 9-to-5 jobs that are bearable at best.

It may not be as bleak as all that (just as it goes without saying that one’s college years are not all sunshine and lollipops), and bushels of blessings may outweigh the inevitable burdens of adulthood. But that’s beside the point. Whatever awaits them, it won’t be this. Better or worse, it won’t be this. These 12 people will no longer exist; they will have become someone else.

I wish there were a way for the future loved ones of those future someones to see them now, to get a first-hand look at the flower of their youth. Because those loved ones would not give a damn about the quality of the choreography or whether MOVE: The History of a Hand is handy with hand history: they would simply relish the chance to see the way their loved ones once frolicked, all those years ago.

Oh, and they would have to admire the last three seconds of this show, a final tableau where 11 of the ensemble bear up one of their own, awash in striking illumination as they stretch their young bodies to their full height and hold for all they’re worth, until darkness swallows the scene. It may be meaningless, but it’s a beautiful moment. And in this ever-fleeting life, you damn well better grab all the beautiful moments you can.

MOVE: A History of the Hand at California Repertory – Cal State Long Beach:
Times: Tues-Sat 7:30 p.m. and Sat-Sun 2 p.m.
The show runs through December 8.
Cost: $18 to $23
Details: 562-985-5526; CalRep.org
Venue: CSULB Studio Theater, Theatre Arts Building (South Campus), Long Beach

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