Sunday, September 7, 2008

Royal de Luxe

From my first memories of puppets "coming alive" (probably the hand puppets Casey and Finnegan on CBC Television's Mr. Dress Up, and/or the hand puppets Jerome and Rusty of The Friendly Giant, which also aired on CBC), to my own efforts as a professional stop motion animator, to my teaching of the newly minted stop motion animation class at Sheridan, puppets represent something very complex for me.

I know it has something to do with the powerful and undeniable reality that something lifeless, something we know is nothing more that cloth, metal, clay, or plastic (or any number of other materials, of course), can suddenly come alive (either in a live performance as is the case with hand puppets or marionettes, or with the aid of motion picture apparatus, as is the case with stop motion). Puppets coming alive is as close to real magic as I've known so far.

Having my baby was wonderous, but that's something very natural. A puppet is something very unnatural, which is part of its almost supernatural attraction.

This "power of the puppet" also has something to do with the emotional connection between the audience and the puppet that follows that intense instant when the lifeless becomes living. A performance through a puppet can be as moving as any performed by a living actor on stage or screen. In some ways, I personally feel there's even a greater opportunity for an emotional connection with puppet performances. And I think it's partly because our logical mind knows the puppet is not alive, but our emotional mind wants the puppet to be alive. And as the emotional mind beats down the logical mind (if only for the length of the given performance), our hearts are able to be truly child-like again.

And anything that helps beat down the logical mind is a worthy area to dedicate oneself to.

Royal de Luxe is a French street performance troupe that specializes in the emotional doing battle with the logical, via big puppets. And by big, I mean huge. Recently the troupe, led by Jean Luc Courcoult, mounted a piece called The Sultan's Elephant. It features a very large elephant, and a very large little girl. They have taken the show throughout the world, including London (where the video clips below were shot). I've never had the pleasure of seeing them live. But I hope to, one day.

I think these clips move quite closely to heart of this idea of the emotional mind beating out the logical mind. The design and execution of the puppet performances make no effort to hide the mechanics. In fact, the mechanics are very much an explicit part of the designs and performances.

I find as I watch the clips, I shift constantly between seeing the puppets as living things (an elephant, and a girl), and seeing the puppets as miracles of engineering and mechanics. My logical mind and emotional mind do some pretty serious tussling. And it's an extremely invigorating experience.

I can only imagine the impact, live.

There a many clips online, but I've embedded a few that are very strong. This first one features a mix of the giant girl and the elephant:

While this clip features only the elephant. The video allows the entire puppet to move through the frame, and you can see the entire complexity of the creature:

It only makes sense to give the last word to the magician who is responsible for these wonderful creations. In speaking of one of his earlier show, Courcoult told Jean-Christophe Planche:

"I have seen adults crying as the giant leaves. They have obviously lived other things, sometimes difficult, and yet this makes them cry. I don't believe they are crying because he is leaving but because of the loss of their imagination. Over several days, they have dreamt as adults and now it's finished. Most adults have difficulty dreaming. When you are a grown-up, you weigh things up, you don't dream."
- Le Cahiers du Charnel Number 19 April 2005

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