Squonk at the Kennedy Center. Photo by John Altdorfer.

Progressive rock and enormous purple puppets combine in Squonk Opera’s latest eye-popping work, “Hand to Hand.”

During the show, members of the group play their instruments alongside inflatable, violet hand-shaped puppets about the size of a house. A team of technicians and puppeteers — and volunteers from the audience — manipulate the giant digits during a performance that Squonk describes as “spectacular, plaintive and comic.”

The established Pittsburgh arts company is currently taking the show on a national tour after staging a local premiere at PPG Place in August. It will return to Pittsburgh on Oct. 20 before the project’s international debut in 2020.

“I don’t know if there’s another company quite like them in the U.S. that does these outdoor shows that work for parades, or work for multisensory environments, in such a dynamic way,” said David Kilpatrick, Director of Education Programs and Productions at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., where the Squonkers helped christen a new performance art wing on Sept. 15. “Basically, when you work outside in a public space, you’re accessible to everyone. And so that sort of inclusiveness of their work is really exciting.”

The Kennedy Center was among the organizations that co-commissioned “Hand to Hand,” along with the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership and arts organizations in several other cities — Baltimore’s Artscape, Chicago’s Moraine Valley Community College Fine & Performing Arts Center, Houston’s Discovery Green and FirstWorks in Providence, Rhode Island.

Squonk performing in PPG place. Photo by John Altdorfer.

Upcoming shows include performances in Oswego, N.Y., this weekend and then a series of shows in El Paso, Texas. From there, the Squonkers will make their triumphant return home with a performance at the University of Pittsburgh on Oct. 20, followed by workshops at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh’s STEAM Carnival on Nov. 22 and 23. (We’re told details about the show at Pitt will be posted here soon.)

Additionally, longtime Squonk leader Jackie Dempsey told NEXTpittsburgh that the group has been invited to perform “Hand to Hand” at the Sziget arts festival in Budapest next August.

Volunteers from the audience help the Squonkers move the giant hands. Photo by John Altdorfer.

“We are grateful for all of the support we receive here at home in Pittsburgh,” said Dempsey and co-founder Steve O’Hearn in a joint statement, “that allows us to do our work as ambassadors of Pittsburgh culture!”

Check out the show:

Bill O'Toole was a full-time reporter for NEXTpittsburgh until October, 2019. He previously reported in Myanmar.