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Transformations of Space, Community, and the Body Spirits Rising
by Deborah Jowitt
October 9 – 15, 2002

Puppetry messes not just with our perception but with our ideas about agency. When the puppeteer is out of sight, as is the case with most marionettes, we slip between viewing the dolls as self-motivating creatures and marveling over what is conveyed to them by the human hands on their strings. The visible black-clad manipulators of Japanese bunraku are conjoined with their puppets, both physically and emotionally, while controlling their actions at a psychological distance.

Body puppets are perhaps the most perplexing of all. In some provocative works they seem to control their handler. The perplexed and homesick Colombian immigrant-hero of Federico Restrepo’s latest work, Nine Windows (at La MaMa through October 27), is a soft body puppet. His large, sad, jug-eared face is attached via black elastic straps to the puppet maker’s head; his hands are Restrepo’s, and his feet are fastened to Restrepo’s. Because the puppeteer is a dancer, the hapless figure effectively vaults onto his heavy steamer trunk and leaps and crouches as he is both beset and embraced by bodiless heads with extra-long, skinny arms and big hands (whose four clustered puppeteers perform their own intricate dance behind a scrim). We see Restrepo pushing the puppet ahead of him, but we also see the puppet leading, even straining to break free. Utterly thrilling are the moments in which Restrepo unfastens the puppet from his head and then, with the help of semi-visible hands, is peeled from his other self. Sweaty and disheveled, he seems at first smaller and weaker than his creation.

Richard Cordoba’s wild and apt music, played live by an ensemble of three, colors a nonlinear series of scenes suggesting dreams, memories, and violent encounters in New York (the dramaturgy is often cloudy). These include a video of the flesh-and-blood Restrepo opening and eating a mamey, a man dementedly and silently screaming into a cell phone, and a sword-wielding body-puppet conquistador on horseback. Galloping.