A Giant Awakes in Nantes

Nantes, the home town of Jules Verne, is situated in western France.  Here, near the river Loire a giant deep-sea diver sleeps gently, waiting for his task to begin.  Sadness marks his face even as he sleeps.  He has been searching the world over for his missing niece and although he may not know it, the end of his search is coming.  The diver or scaphandrier as he is known in French will be paraded through the streets of this historic city at the beginning of the Estuary 2009 arts festival.  The biannual festival gives the French mechanical marionette street theater company Royale de Luxe the opportunity to unveil their latest creation.

He wakes and his helmet is placed on his head by his human helpers. This would well be considered a little too high for many but the performers seem oblivious to the height.  Royale de Luxe was founded in 1979 and is actually based in Nantes, making this a return to the city that bore the company.  They have, however, performed all over the world, as far away as Chile and Australia.  You may remember the Sultan’s Elephant strolling through the streets of London in 2006.  An associate company, La Machine created last year’s spectacular ‘Princesse’ a massive visiting spider in Liverpool when in was European City of Culture.  Here, however, a giant returns home.

He rises, perhaps in the hope that his long quest will soon be over. The Giant, now equipped in deep sea diving gear and his little niece, the Little Giantess have featured in the works of the theatre company before.  However, they have been away for a while with some information about which the world had previously been unaware.  As with any Royale de Luxe performance there is a long and some would said drawn out back story.  In 1912 the Titanic went down to the bottom of the ocean.  Unknown to us, however, was that in its hold a giantess was held captive, the mother of the Little Giantess.

From a distance he looks small, but only if he were an ordinary person paying a visit to a Lego theme park.  As he steadies himself he can resume his long search.  The enormous diver is the scouring the earth for the Little Giantesse.  She was captured in Iceland which was at the time the home of the giants, each having his or her own particular task.  The Little Giantess was to wake up the geysers of Iceland when a message needed to be sent.  You may wonder what on earth geysers and messages have in common but little known to the outside world the geysers were used to transmit signals between the giants, much like the smoke signals of American natives.

The mechanics behind this piece of street art are staggering and more than a little scary.  How much the gentlemen forty meters above the ground are being paid is unknown but whatever it is, it is not enough.  But where does the deep-sea diver properly come in to the story?  He is the brother of the giantess who drowned on the Titanic.  Originally he had been busy doing his own job – sawing up icebergs – to realize that his sister and her daughter were missing.  His statistics are something extraordinary as well.  He stands at nine and a half meters and a width of almost three.  Weighing in at two and a half tones it takes thirty operators to control his movements.

In his past he has travelled the seabed for years and eventually he found the wreck of the Titanic.  He buried his sister near the sunken ship.  While there he discovered a mysterious box full of mail from the Titanic.  He now had two new goals in life – the task of finding his niece and to deliver the mail.  Since then he has wandered the earth in search of the Little Giantess.  Still wearing the diving outfit he used to search the bed of the ocean, this festival marks the end of his search.

The momentum of his stride is enough to pick up two grown men off their feet and dangle them through the air.  As with all of the Royale de Luxe open air spectacles little was given away before the day of the event, in this case Friday 5 June.  All anyone knew was that the giant would wake up at 1.30 in the afternoon on the Tblisi Deck of the town.  He made his way, astonishing the crowds on the way with his sheer scale.  He was forced to stop twice on his route, however, not far from the hospital.  However, a huge crowd waited for him at the Place Gloriette and he did eventually make it.

Will he ever find his niece? Well, tomorrow is another day, after all.  However, this spectacle represents altogether another wonderful performance by the massed ranks of Royale de Luxe and a wonderful start to the Estuary 2009 Festival in Nantes.

Postscript.  The good people of Nantes and the world had to wait until the day after to see whether or not the giant was reunited with his niece.  It seems, now that it has happened, only fair to share with you the end result of his epic search.  The picture below speaks for itself.

The author would like to thank Flickr user misterstf for permission to use the wonderful photographs contained in this article.

L’auteur voudrait remercier misterstf sur Flickr pour la permission d’employer les photographies merveilleuses contenues en cet article.