From Junk to Giants: Berlin Hosts a Massive Puppet Show

If you had to describe Jean-Luc Courcoult, you might say he is a cross between a circus clown and musician Elton John. He wears a bright yellow shirt, a pink jacket, shoes in colors a parrot would be proud of and oversized, square-framed glasses with orange lenses. In other words, he looks a lot like your stereotypical artist.

Courcoult, 55, is the creative head of Royal de Luxe, the French cult contemporary street theater company that makes extraordinary things out of everyday junk. Taking its inspiration from Jonathan Swift's classic tale "Gulliver's Travels," it catapults old-fashioned puppet theater into a new dimension. Working with high-tech puppets that are meters high and weigh tons, the company can turn any city into a stage for another chapter of its "giant saga," which started in 1993.

From Oct. 1-4, the company will be bringing this spectacle to Berlin as part of the celebrations surrounding the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. This chapter -- named "The Giants Arrive - a Fairy Tale for Berlin" -- will cost around €1.6 million ($2.3 million). Organizers are hoping to charm about a million spectators.

The Royal de Luxe is part of a renaissance in folk theater. Courcoult likens it to the wandering minstrels of the Middle Ages -- except, instead of moving from village to village, his troupe travels from metropolis to metropolis. The giant puppets have danced in Nantes, France, Santiago, Chile, and London. In the latter city, the puppets rode around in double-decker buses and had children swinging from their arms. An elephant puppet even sprayed water over the crowds.

The company is bringing two puppets to Berlin. One is 9.5 meters (31 feet) tall and weighs 2.5 tons. It is a deep-sea diver and will be wearing an atmospheric diving suit made out of truck tarpaulins as it makes its way through the city and its waterways, aided by 31 helpers decked out in red livery. The helpers are called the "Lilliputians," after the little people in Swift's book. The smaller puppet -- at 5.5 meters (18 feet) and 800 kilograms (1,750 pounds) -- won't just be walking around; it will also be driving a scooter and a boat with the help of 22 Lilliputians.

Secrecy Preserves the Magic

"It's a family story; it won't be political," Courcoult said during a recent press conference in Berlin's now-decommissioned Tempelhof airport. As he went on to explain, his company will be telling a fairy tale about a long separation with the following plot: Terrible events have torn a city in two and caused one part of the city to be walled in. The big puppet is stuck in the west of the city, and the smaller one in the east. The big puppet drags a dormant geyser along the riverbed and places it under a wall. Then it wakes up the geyser to let it break down the city's barrier and allow the puppets to reunite.

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