La Machine (production company)
The group was formed by artists, designers, fabricators and technicians in early 1990s and is currently led by François Delarozière, Artistic Director and creator of La Princesse. They are known by its extraordinary theatrical machines, permanent installations, and also its own theatrical productions.
- Symphonie Mécanique
- A classical live performance in collaboration with industrial machines. Scores were composed by Dominique Malan.
- Le Grand Répertoire
- Exhibition of machines created to be shown in public places. Has visited Nantes, Calais, Antwerp, Toulouse, and Marseille, as well as Paris in 2006, where it was seen by over 50,000 people.
- Les Machines de l'Île
- A gallery containing Le Grand Éléphant, as well as other creations by La Machine, which the public can visit. It is at the edge of the River Loire, in an old shipyard. Other productions are expected to appear there, with Le Carrousel du Monde Marins, a merry-go-round, opened to the public in 2012 but also La Galerie des Machines, a place where new productions are exposed to be tested by the audience.
- Le Manège Carré Sénart
- A square merry-go-round, which showed off insects and buffalo, appeared just outside Paris. It is scheduled to visit Madrid in late 2008, and St Petersburg in 2009.
- La Princesse
- A huge 60-foot mechanical spider named La Princesse, visited Liverpool in early September 2008, as one of the main parts of the city's Capital of Culture 2008 celebrations. This spider was operated by a number of operators, controlling the 8 legs and other movements of the spider. It investigated the city, visiting landmarks such as St George's Hall and the Albert Dock, and walking down streets and climbing onto the side of a derelict tower block at the end of each performance, and was met with a very positive response, with seemingly all of Liverpool turning out to see it, as well as tourists visiting the city to see La Princesse.
The Journey Begins
On Friday evening the show proper started as the spider 'stood up' to its full height and began to walk away from the arena. A huge crowd turned out, despite the heavy rain, to see this impressive sight. It walked around the Albert Dock area and proceeded onto the Strand main road, which was closed for the evening. A moving cordon of stewards surrounded the spider as it moved through the big crowd, which made for an interesting crowd control challenge at times. The spider sprayed water onto the crowds and touched various objects at the roadside, including the odd umbrella of a member of the public. At all times it was followed by a full live band, housed in their own platforms on top of fortlift trucks and skylifts. This provided the event with its own impressive soundtrack as the beast moved along.
It then turned off the Strand and back into the Albert Dock complex. Here it paused and was lifted from its traction body by a huge crane and into Salthouse Dock, where it was sprayed (along with the crowd) by huge water cannons. After its 'bath' it returned to its traction body and walked along the stand to its resting place for the night next to the Liver Building.
City Centre Rampage
On Saturday the show was listed to start at 11:30 am, with an hours performance taking place at its location outside the Liver Building. However the crowd were to be disappointed as music played but the spider did not move. This misunderstanding was put down to the production company wishing to maintain the mystery of what was going to take place and culture differences.
At 2:30 pm the show did get underway as planned with the spider awakening and starting to walk up Water Street towards the city centre. Liverpool at this point was brimming with its usual Saturday afternoon shopping crowd and the tens of thousands who had turned out to see the spider. The streets around the route and of the actual route itself were crammed full of people.
Many people would have considered it insane for the huge 60ft spider to walk right through the middle of this crowd, up through the city centre's streets, and right into the heart of the city's shopping district. However this is exactly what occurred, with the crowd dispersed by the moving cordon around the spider. Local media reported that the scene was more representative of a victory parade of a football team or the crowds attracted by the Beatles to the city centre in their heyday.
The crowd fought for position to get close to the huge spider and to gain the best viewing points as it moved through the city centre. The more knowledgeable members of the crowd dived from one side street to another to gain the best viewing points as the spider moved from one location to another. Famously one bride could not get through the crowds to her wedding at the Town Hall and had to be helped through the crowd on foot by the police. The spider's musicians played an impromptu wedding march as they fought through the crowd.
Various set pieces took place along the spider's route, involving smoke, fireworks and water cannon. The spider worked its way towards the main shopping area, passing the new Liverpool One shopping development. The sight of seeing this huge spider walking down the main shopping street of Liverpool was truly a once-in-a-lifetime sight, compared by some to being in the blockbuster film War of the Worlds. When the spider reached the centre of the main shopping street, it was covered by a snow shower from above to make it go to sleep. It came to a rest at around 5 pm, taking a break before its further exploits that evening.
The City Fights Back
The next chapter of the story involved the city fighting back and attempting to halt the path of the invading spider. At 7:30 pm it awoke and continued to move up the main shopping street, Church Street. When it reached the top of the street it was met by a barrage of flame cannons. These consisted of long copper pipes, fired with high pressure gas. The heat and noise produced by this halted the spider in its tracks, while a mechanical digger moved in to attempt to fell the beast. The spider then changed its path to escape this and moved upwards towards Lime Street.
Upon reaching Lime Street it was met by huge air fans, which attempted to hold it back, but to no avail. It continued onwards towards Lime Street Station and the empty Concourse Tower, where it had first been sighted on Wednesday. A further barrage of flames stopped the spider from moving on any further and it turned towards the station.
Cranes then moved in to lift it from its traction body and, with operators still on board, it started to moved into a vertical position. The spider then moved from one crane to another and amazingly attached itself to the side of the tower. This proved to be quite a spectacle for the huge crowd watching from St Georges Plateau. A snow shower then engulfed the spider and it went to sleep for the evening.
The Creature Departs
On Sunday the spider was lifted down from the tower ready for its departure. It moved across St Georges Plateau amongst a huge crowd and moved down towards the Queensway Tunnel. Fireworks erupted from surrounding buildings as it passed. The spider then turned to its adoring crowd and moved backwards, facing the crowd as it disappeared in a cloud of smoke into the tunnel entrance. After this the operators returned to meet the many ovations of the crowd.
The people of Liverpool took the great spider to their hearts and many thousands turned out to see the spectacle, regardless of the poor weather. Some estimates put the crowd at 150,000 over the weekend. This event therefore could be considered the jewel in the crown of the Capital of Culture celebrations. The crowds had experienced a once in a lifetime spectacle. Its £1.8 million price tag was criticised by some, however the event undoubtedly brought much more than this into the city in tourism. The city also received worldwide media attention from the event and many international visitors.
- Royal de Luxe - a similar French mechanical marionette street theatre company
- La Machine's home page
- La Machine's webpage on the Liverpool event
- Liverpool City of European Culture webpage on the event
- Main BBC webpage (portal) about the event
- BBC Liverpool 08 portal with many videos
- BBC video about preparations for the event
- BBC webpage about the event
- BBC webpage about the event; Friday 5 September the spider wakes up
- BBC video about the event; Friday 5 September early morning
- BBC video about the event; Friday 5 September the spider wakes up
- BBC video about the event; Friday 5 September the spider performs
- Blog post containing videos of La Princesse