I can’t quite put my finger on how to describe the theater—part children’s TV show set, part contemporary art gallery. Hands are everywhere. Garlands of balloon hands hang from the corner. Center stage, a hand chair sits high on risers draped in jewel-tones. As the audience takes their seats for That’s a Handful, created and performed by Alyza DelPan-Monley, a video projection demonstrates the American Sign Language alphabet. Soon DelPan-Monley and ASL Interpreters Naomi Nieves Driver and RW Alves invite us to join a fingerspelling bee signing out hand puns like handsome and ambidextrous. This educational pre-show set the tone for a playful homage to how hands express and permeate our human experience.
Clad in pink and blue with hands sewn across the shoulders and back, DelPan-Monley sets off on a multimedia theatrical frolic. There are videos of hand puppets, facts about nerve bundles and bones of the hands, and a demonstration on how to count Babylonian-style, using the segments of your fingers. The audience is invited to help act out iconic pop culture references like “the claw” from Toy Story, ET’s bony finger, and the ubiquitous Spiderman pointing meme. DelPan-Monley sings “I Have Ten Little Fingers” wearing a huge hand-shaped headpiece. An audio compilation of YouTube how-to videos accompanies intricate hand choreography. DelPan-Monley folds a paper airplane and an audience member launches it across the theater. Hand idioms are liberally sprinkled throughout the show: Can you handle it? First hand. You’re in good hands. Arm’s length. Talk to the hand.
Hands down, a stand-out moment of the show is when DelPan-Monley plays a heavy metal version of Rochambeau with an audience plant. Dripping in red light, they battle each other to the ground with the palm pounding of rock, paper, scissors. In the end, DelPan-Monley picks and pokes at their opponent as they lie helplessly on the ground.
Balancing this kaleidoscopic play is a section of the show where DelPan-Monley most draws on their expertise as a movement artist. They interweave poetry as a sound track while they carry a ball of light in their hands, spellbinding the audience with the subtle movements of their fingers. I am entranced as the lights shift so that we can see serpentine shadows of DelPan-Monley’s arms on the screen at the back of the stage. They walk closer and closer to the screen, finally touching their own shadow. Meanwhile I am struck by the poignancy of touch expressed by lines in the poem. One talks about the “pads of mom’s fingers in my hair” that transported me right back to first grade when my mom would pull a brush through my mane, sometimes painfully working it into a braid. Another striking image, something to the effect of, “I can’t remember the feel of your touch the last time I saw you,” got me thinking about how the touch of someone’s hands is vital to human survival. We all need a hand to get along in life, to stave off fear and loneliness.
DelPan-Monley concludes the show by leading the audience in making a rainstorm with our hands. They move in a constant circle past sections of the audience, guiding us in gestures that create overlapping sound waves. First we rub our hands making a soft swishing sound, then it is plunking finger snaps, then hands clapping thighs—rain slapping the ground, and then retrograde to end with the soft hand swishing. As if we summoned it, my friend and I walk into a soft rain as we leave 12th Ave Arts. This segue from our theatrical experience of rain to walking through misty Capitol Hill is a literal translation of Velocity Dance’s vision to provide dancemakers the community and power to build a more open, connected, and embodied world. That’s a Handful translates so many topics from our daily lives through dance in ways that leave me with a new awareness of my own hands and the effects they have on the world around me. I am awash in gratitude for the hand Velocity gives our city in supporting dance-based genre-bending work.
That’s a Handful was performed October 11th, 12th, 13th, and 14th at 12th Ave Arts.