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Along came a spider...

Vinny Lawrenson Woods is captivated by the female of the species spinning her weekend web of intrigue

Published on September 9th 2008.

Along came a spider...

AFTER all the rumours and the speculation, the flagship event of 08 arrived in Liverpool last week. Although not the best kept secret, the sheer magnificence of the leading lady still took everybody by surprise.

At 37-tonnes and made from steel and reclaimed poplar wood, the 50-ft mechanical spider La Princesse first appeared on the city centre streets in the early hours of Wednesday morning, hanging from the Concourse Tower at Lime Street, marking the beginning of the largest free theatre event ever staged in the UK.

There was a tinge of real sadness when La Princesse escaped the city like a lost and frightened child into the safety of the tunnel and back to depths of the earth

The Liverpool Culture Company-commissioned Les Mecaniques Savants was produced by the London-based Artichoke and created by French company La Machine. Appearing in the UK for the first time, La Machine was led by François Delarozière, the genius engineer who built the giant 42-tonne Sultan’s Elephant that brought London to a standstill in 2006. Costing a reported £1.8m, Les Mecaniques Savants was funded by Liverpool City Council, the Northwest Regional Development Agency and the Arts Council.

From the moment the giant arachnid appeared, the city’s curiosity grew. A limited narrative filtered through that described the creature as a subterranean spider brought to the surface after being disturbed by the Big Dig. The following day, “scientists” took the hydraulic monster to the research centre at the Kings Dock Arena where she stayed overnight before experiments were performed, waking La Princesse from her slumber.

The atrocious weather conditions couldn’t quell the crowds or the anticipation as La Princesse stirred into life. Firecrackers and special effects helped lift the gloom as the rain crashed down outside the arena before snow gently coaxed her back to sleep.

Sitting on a forklift truck, and manipulated by 12 operators, each controlling a body part of this unique creation, La Princesse headed to the Salthouse Dock for a bath later on Friday evening before resting in front of the Cunard Building for the night.

The choreography of the movement was sublime and hypnotic, which gave La Princesse her own personality as she crawled through the crowds spraying huge jets of water from her abdomen and jaws.

Following the spider were 20 British musicians housed under plastic sheeting on cherry pickers, performing beautiful and mesmerising live music composed by Dominique Malan.

The composition was wonderful but didn’t give any clues about La Princesse’s story. Regular newsflashes and updates on the growing number of the city's screens could have helped build the suspense or fear surrounding the arrival of our alien visitor as well as providing up-to-date general information. Was the web in Exchange Flags meant to be part of event?

Saturday brought much of same, in a route that included Water St, Castle St, Lord St and Church St and involved a water ballet and a showdown with a mechanical digger. Starting four hours later than advertised, Artichoke said cultural differences caused the mix-up, as the French artists never intended to stick to a schedule, according to the BBC’s News website.

Apparently not communicating with the stewards must also be a cultural difference since the stewards were informing the crowd that technical problems were responsible and one guy was even blaming the local media for publicising the wrong information.

When the proceedings did start, the city streets were bursting with people waiting to get a glimpse of this spectacular machine. With a speed of just 2mph patience was required, but this left plenty of time for La Princesse to play with the crowd.

The final scenes of this promenade theatre took place on Sunday night in front of the Queensway Tunnel and were completely captivating; the music was majestic and our heroine spellbinding. There was a tinge of real sadness when La Princesse escaped the city like a lost and frightened child into the safety of the tunnel and back to depths of the earth.

People will forget the bad weather, the technical problems, the schedule changes and the waiting, but they won’t forget La Princesse and her short but memorable visit to our city, for a very long time.

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27 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

AnonymousSeptember 8th 2008.

My friend from Baltimore USA just sent me photos of the Spider which were in their newspapers....so it did make press outside the River Alt....

DigSeptember 8th 2008.

I should have expected as much from you. Seriously, does anybody know?

William Brown-StreetSeptember 8th 2008.

The Central Libraries have gone downhill too, the former music library now loans DVDs of violent American films, the place is overrun with shouting children running amok and even the quieter departments are ruined by the constant chatter of people playing on the Internet (and leaving the keyboards greasy from their junk food). God knows where people who actually want to read and study have to go to find peace and quiet.

DigSeptember 8th 2008.

He is the Town Hall burgler. He looks like John Turturro in O' Brother Where Art Thou? Boy can he dance, drink and play the banjo. Sounds like your dream man Nadia.

AdminsSeptember 8th 2008.

No, Queen of the Drive. You left your comments under "Have Your Say". Do not worry. It is still there.

AnonymousSeptember 8th 2008.

I would suggest that La Princesse (like other Capital of Culture events) has been kept a secret because well publicised events e.g. the homecoming of the 2005 Champions' League winners, the People's Opening, have caused had major challenges to public safety and crowd management.Having said that, my family in London were fascinated by the footage that they saw on the national news.

ac hottiesSeptember 8th 2008.

It was fab! What a great event for COCThe crowds it pulled in (despite trying to keep it a secret) was brilliant. It is a shame that a clear itenary was not provided as on fri pm, most people seemed to think the show was over after the 'bath' at the Dock and missed the tremendous walk to the Cunard Building and the dazzle of 'snow' sending La Princess to sleep.Anyway, it meant we could all see more unlike the Sun ending when the streets were crammed!Let us all be thankful and hopefully other artists will consider Liverpool as an appreciative crowd and a worthy destination to show piece there art!

queen of the driveSeptember 8th 2008.

where is my rant about la princess,has it been censored at all!

NadiaSeptember 8th 2008.

I have better things to do in Liverpool than watch spider with legs open wide on side of building in Lime Street on cold Saturday night. I look for rich man to show good time to me in warm place with vodka and dancing, instead of waste of money. Who is this man who gets lot of money from your town hall to go away from city?

Peter StreetSeptember 8th 2008.

Families are disgusting. They've already turned the former Liverpool Museums into an 'interactive playground for toddlers (complete with lethal, 1980s-style atrium). Is the Walker going to go the same way?

Professor ChucklebuttySeptember 8th 2008.

It was music from weber and Saint-Sans Tarantella. Played by the Iraq New phonia orchestra.

DigSeptember 8th 2008.

I read somewhere that the Tate is raising £400,000 to construct a big crystalline spiders web above The Albert Dock. Should be interesting.

DigSeptember 8th 2008.

I can speak Esterantzen and I didn't learn it by linguaphone. You shouldn't waste your money on linguaphone to learn a language! You can learn any language just by watching tv! I even learned how to count to 10 in Welsh just by watching Sgorio on S4C. I evin learned ow ter speakk Inglish by watchin Brukky intha like.

DigSeptember 8th 2008.

I thought Incey Wincey was magnificent and the music was fantastic. I watched in awe, sometimes thru the lens of my camera and video on my mobile to show some friends and family what they missed. An event I am very happy to have witnessed. If anybody could help I would love to know who/what the musicians/music was. You must know somebody who could help out on that one Prof.

AnonymousSeptember 8th 2008.

La Machine delivered an absolutely spectacular event, despite holding down a busy job,I managed to catch up with her every day, on different occasions, and totally mesmerized each time. The music was spectacular, to see musicians moving along the strand playing harps, cellos etc was an unforgettable site...the disappearance in a puff of smoke at the end was spellbinding...our William Brown street is turning into a thoroughly well used family space. Long may it continue

JaseSeptember 8th 2008.

what was the big news then? Almost £2million spent on big metal thing. Lots of people came out to look at it....?

WappingSeptember 8th 2008.

BBC is broadcasting a special programme about la visite de La Princesse. It's being shown in the Northwest only, that'll really put us on the map eh? The supposed centrepiece of our glorious year as European Capital of Culture and it's deemed as "local interest" only. Thanks Beeb.

AnonymousSeptember 8th 2008.

I thought the music was fantastic and complimented the slow majestic movement of the spider. Well worth waiting the crowds to see.

NadiaSeptember 8th 2008.

Ah, so you are a cannylinguist then, a bit like Nadia, no?

HarvestmanSeptember 8th 2008.

The BBC film wasn't that impressive, there are more atmospheric fillums of La Princesse on YouthTube!

Farley's RusskySeptember 8th 2008.

Здравствулте снова Нaдя! Чего моргать сальто вы делает?

профессора ChucklebuttskyiSeptember 8th 2008.

Я думаю что мы должно поговорить эсперанто

rire étouffé de professeur buttySeptember 8th 2008.

Frank,Il aurait été comme intervenir et manger la merde pour elle. L'avez-vous souhaitée pour vomir sur la foule ?

ARTSeptember 8th 2008.

The web in Exchange Flags is a new commission for this year's Liverpool Biennial. Created by Ai Weiwei, consultant artist for Beijing's Birdsnest Olympic Stadium, a beautiful sparkling spider will also arrive soon!

ProfesseurSeptember 8th 2008.

It's mainly tongue in cheek with me, unlike my financial expert friend Phil Haltio.

CorneiliusSeptember 8th 2008.

Remember the Sultans Elephant from 2006, it appeared in London by the same company and was all over the National news. I have not seen any National News programme give anything other than a passing mention to La Princess, and none have covered La Princess tour of the city centre.The South China Post had it on its front page, but the media in this country just can't be bothered sending Hacks up to Liverpool to cover a good news story. I bet they wouldn't have any trouble if the big crowds on Saturday had rioted though.This is the really annoying thing, most people who went know how positive this story was, but the BBC, ITV at al just can't accept that anything worthwhile in this country happens outside of the M25.

WappingSeptember 8th 2008.

The show I saw on Saturday evening was quite spectacular but I'm really not sure the ephemeral street theatre of Mlle La Machine is going to do a £couple of million's worth of good for the city and I'm especially intrigued to know how keeping it a close secret was the best way to promote the weekend.

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