The Sultan’s elephant in Antwerp

The Sultan’s Elephant was a street theater performance by Royal de Luxe, a theatre company. It was originally performed in Nantes and Amiens to commemorate the death of Jules Verne a hundred years earlier. After that, the show was performed in London, Antwerp, and other places. In all cases it drew huge crowds.The story and characters of the show were very loosely based on Jules Vernes’ books. The central character of the show was a huge mechanical elephant built from wood and steel. The elephant could walk by the efforts of over 30 puppeteers who each controlled a small aspect of the elephant.  Sadly, Royal de Luxe got so fed up with performing the show that they destroyed the elephant.

I visited the performance in Antwerp, and I made the photos there. Unfortunately, I only very late in the day realised that there was something else going on apart from the elephant walking around, so I only have very few photos of the little giant, and only when she was already in bed. I arrived at the place of the show when the elephant was resting, and the sultan was having lunch in the nearby town hall of Antwerp. After a while, the sultan and his followers emerged from the town hall, climbed on the elephant, and made a tour of the city.

The tour was a spectacular sight. The design of the elephant did not try to hide the internal construction of the elephant, or the fact that an entire crew of puppeteers was controlling it. Nevertheless, the elephant walked in a very convincing way, and somehow looked like a real animal. (This is not easy to achieve: making four-legged robots walk is still an area of academic research!) And then there was an entire crew of exotic characters that inhabited the elephant, and acted out their own role. All in all it was a unique experience.

See on: Google maps OpenStreetMap

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