October 15, 2021
I had the chance to work with Kevin Augustine very briefly back in 2018. A colleague told
me this puppeteer had made some puppets of body parts and needed a dancer to partner
them, which was enough to hook me.
When I came to Augustine’s Brooklyn studio, I was
fascinated by his sort of inverse Bunraku in which, instead of multiple people operate a human
facsimile, every part of Augustine’s body was articulating the joints of one mere body part (in
this case, a leg). On top of this was a commitment to a physical intensity derived from Butoh.
The task to partner the puppet and not the operator was a challenge I hadn’t before
considered, one that has stayed with me as a creator and user of props ever since.
Seeing the results of three years of development, however, in the La MaMa Puppet
Festival, Augustine seems to have let go of his aspiration to have another body join him onstage
– holding ever true to his company’s name, “Lone Wolf Tribe.” Body Concert begins, much like
an orchestral concert, with the sounds of a tune up over a bleak stage picture resembling an
unkept attic with sheets covering who knows (but we can all imagine) what.
First to emerge,
however, is Augustine, who takes the bold move to, all the more Butoh-ishly, paint his body
white versus traditional attempts to conceal puppeteers. In doing so, Augustine was able to
satisfy his earlier desire to have a dancer partner the puppets, all the while simultaneously
serving as the operator.
Body Concert has a loose plot of scattered body parts finding each other, but reads more
like an essay of what juxtapositions possible with so many elements at one performer’s
disposal. Gripping his toes on strategically places hooks, Augustine presides over an arm and a
leg inch-worming towards each other.
He uncovers a jaw-less skull, blurring the boundary
between puppetry and mask work as he wears it over his own head. Boundaries are blurred still
between puppets, set pieces, and props as Augustine does his best to multitask with so many
pieces. Flesh flares out from a femur head in a way that resembles a meaty flower, and a large
eyeball that glares at us intensely (steered by Augustine’s legs) turns itself inside out into a
The only puppet who exists as an intact body is a baby who crawls throughout the
space, calling for mother. Finding the breast initiates a home stretch in which arm, leg, and skull
articulate along a tall frame so that mother and child can be reunited, face to face.
Who is Augustine in all this? He is ostensibly an intact body, but pours so much of his
spirit into these disparate parts that he sacrifices his own wholeness for his puppets. As the
puppets (duly) overshadow Augustine, Augustine’s stagecraft (unfortunately) obscures his
EYE ON THE ARTS -- Jonathan Matthews-Guzman