Compagnie Archibald Caramantran, a French circus company which creates giant marionettes is coming to Australia for WOMADelaide in March. A few weeks ago, we spoke with Olivier Hagenloch, the founder of Compagnie Archibald Caramantran.
You’re coming to Adelaide for WOMADelaide. Have you been before?
No. We’ve never been. It’s the first time that the company has been to Australia to perform.
Tell us about the marionettes that Compagnie Archibald Caramantran is bringing to WOMADelaide.
Yes, they are marionettes, but giant marionettes. They are 4-5 metres high.
Yes. They are very big. Very voluminous. Everything moves, the hands, the arms, the body. The body is a bit like an exoskeleton. Everything that we do with our own bodies is replicated in the marionette.
When we move a little, if we start dancing, the hands and the arms will react the same way as us. So the operator is visible – he or she is underneath. And when see the manipulator move, we see the operator move. It’s the same image.
Who designs and makes the marionettes and what are they made from?
So I am the founder of the company and I am the director of the team. And I’ve been doing this since 1998. In France, for the World Cup for soccer, we were asked to make giant people for the opening parade for the World Cup in 1998.
But of course, our marionettes have evolved a lot. We’ve done a lot of research. Today we are installed in Carpentras, in Provence in the South East of France, not far from Avignon. In France, Avignon is the theatre city.
So all Compagnie Archibald Caramantran’s marionettes are made in the city of Carpentras.
That’s right, we have a large factory where we make our marionettes. There are twenty or so people in the company who work on their construction. Sometimes we put on more people when we have a number of shows.
But otherwise, we are twenty odd and we all have different professions. There are sculptors, painters, costume designers… we have all of these people all of the time. It’s a job. It’s a passion.
They are true artists.
Yes. Everything is made by hand. There are no machines.
It’s a bit of a lost art. It’s rare to still find anything hand-made.
Yes, we build our marionettes based on very old technique. Paper mâché for example. In France there is a large carnival tradition and we make large paper mâché heads. In Spain, they make falles, large characters that are burnt.
At Caramantran, the Caramantran character is the King of the carnival. That’s what we burn.
So you make them and then you burnt them!
Yes, we create giants that we burn to celebrate at the end of carnival. These are very unique pieces that we make together. It’s special. Today we are working a lot more with modern materials like aluminium or resin –which allows them to be light and solid.
Actually I was going to ask you how heavy they are given that you carry them on your shoulders.
Yes, they are quite heavy – between 20 and 30 kilos. A good backpack! But our team is all quite sporty and we have practiced a lot. And once it’s up on your shoulders, you don’t think any more about it because you’re really into the dance and into the interaction with the audience.
Where does Compagnie Archibald Caramantran get its ideas for its marionette characters from?
That’s done in the group. We think about them in the context of what we have as a new show. We make marionettes each year. And for the last few years, we have also been on stage, we do marionette theatre on a large scale including aerial performance and vertical dancers. Sometimes there are pyrotechnics and we burn the caramantrans.
Are we going to see pyrotechnics in Adelaide?
No, it will be the show that we did in 2007, the company has travelled to Africa a lot, to Burkina Faso. We have a sister company – we set up a place to make giant marionettes. So there’s a little town next to Burkina Faso. We have another giant marionettes company that works in Burkina Faso a lot.
So with them, we created giant marionettes around a wild animal text. We created 8 characters –a lion, a zebra, an antelope, a giraffe… so we have a whole series of characters. So we will be coming to Adelaide with a large lion, Madame Antelope and other characters that we made in Morocco – including a woman called Soumaya and a traditional Moroccan man.
What are the challenges in transporting your marionettes? Especially given their size.
We make our marionettes so that they are dis-mountable. So everything comes apart. We often travel by plane and our marionettes can come on board with us. We have large aluminium cases and we put our marionettes in there piece by piece. It’s not very complicated. But they are quite voluminous and do take up a lot of room.
Fortunately you’re coming in summer so you won’t have to worry about also packing heavy clothing!
We are absolutely delighted to have been invited to the festival. We met the festival programmer in Hungary. The programmer saw these marionette there. We are really very happy to be able to come. Only some of us are able to come to the festival. I won’t hide from you that the entire company wanted to come!
What can audiences expect from Compagnie Archibald Caramantran’s performances at WOMADelaide? Will you be bringing music with you? Is everything choreographed?
In fact, we are coming to Australia for the first time and we hope that it will please Adelaide and that we will have success over there. We have different types of shows. We have shows with musicians and lit-up, luminous marionettes. In this case, we don’t have marionettes that are luminous and we come without musicians. We will dance to the music that we find there. I think that WOMADelaide will have what we need in music. As a result, this time we are just coming with our giant marionettes.
And it’s not a show – that is to say we have shows that have a story, that have characters, that have actors and in which a message is transmitted. Here, these are giant marionettes which wander, which dance, and which play with the public and with which you can take a photo, etc. So there’s not a story as such. But the characters that we are bringing all tell you something. That is that even so, Africa, the animals and in the way in which we have built our characters, there is something about humanity and territory and the Earth and preserving the living. It’s not a message in a text or in theatrical words, but it’s a message carried by the characters that we bring to life.
And you come from a family of street artists, don’t you?
I do, yes. I am a street performer. Ever since I was little, I’ve been to street theatre festivals…
So you performed in shows as a child?
No, but I was part of that world because France has a large street theatre tradition which was born in the 1980s. So I didn’t necessarily participate in the shows but I was used to rehearsals, preparations, travelling – because we spent a lot of time in a truck going from one town to the next. And the make-up and the costumes…
I started work as a sculptor and a painter. Before discovering marionettes, I was more so working with plastic. And then, little by little, I went to India once and trained in marionette making. All of the characters come from somewhere.
You could say that your path was destined with a family already in the arts!
Haha! It’s lucky encounters, lucky shows. I’ve been making giant marionettes for more than 20 years. We have also done operas. But we really do like street theatre, we like contact with the public, and we like to start with little things that build progressively in the parade, elements, marionettes, music etc. to finish with a show like with the last creation, called La Volière, in which birds are suspended from cords. That’s the aerial show.
I can’t wait to see the Compagnie Archibald Caramantran giant marionettes as they are already impressive in photos so I can only imagine they will be even more impressive in person.
You can see Compagnie Archibald Caramantran’s giant marionettes every day at WOMADelaide this March.
If you could create a giant marionnette, what character would it be?