The word marionette - a puppet with jointed limbs, usually operated by strings - derives from Middle French in 1556, and it is the French who have brought this form of puppetry to the heights (literally) that are shown in these fascinating photographs. The troupe Royal de Luxe was founded in Nantes in 1979 and has performed all over the world (France, England, Belgium, Germany, Iceland, Chile, and Australia), but is little known in the United States. The female puppet ("Little Giantess") is 25' tall and the male puppet ("Big Giant") is 49' tall, and together they require 100 handlers. Another marionette, the Sultan's Elephant, was commissioned to mark the centenary of the death of Jules Verne (1828-1905), and weighed 50 tons and required 22 manipulators. Most recently, Royal de Luxe performed in Berlin to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the reunification of Germany. The performance over several days was watched by 1.5 million people in the streets of Berlin. The driving force behind these magical performances is described by founder Jean Luc Courcoult:
"So often the show is born by chance...it all comes from a vision I experience and which gives me a strong sensation and everything springs from there....Royal de Luxe uses a multitude of personalities who all play an important part in creating the shows....The company evolves like a living organism. I assure the spirit of Royal de Luxe. I give it its direction, its impetus but each show is a collective adventure....I try to move people and this ambition will not be restricted by financial means or the audience's culture. Therefore, I make attempts at popular theatre in the sense that I seek to gather together these people to tell them something poetic. 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....I am very keen on the element of surprise. You can see this throughout my productions. In an open-air show, if I want to make a strong image appear on the right, I distract the public's attention to the left. I hypnotize them so that nobody, even when it is in the open, understands how an enormous machine could appear from the left so suddenly....I hold the theatre in my arms and wish to offer it to people just at the right moment."Here is the man responsible for such wonderful things.