A selfie session with 'the tall people' in Jakarta's Old Town, or Kota Tua, on Thursday (13/07). (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)

The Tall People Take Over Jakarta's Old Town


JULY 14, 2017

Jakarta. Kota Tua, the old town and the center of Jakarta's heritage, never runs out of entertainment. On Thursday (13/07), it welcomed Les Grandes Personnes, a troupe of gigantic theater puppets from France, which strolled along the district's main streets.

Les Grandes Personnes, "the tall people," took Fatahillah Square as the stage for their main performance.

The four-meter-high puppets, similar to Jakarta's indigenous ondel-ondel, or to Balinese ogoh-ogoh, one by one greeted the audience before the show. Director Pauline de Coulhac said each of them was modeled to resemble those who had cooperated with the theater, and each was made by artists from around the world.

The first character, Eli, is an old man from a small town not far from Lyon. He wears a plaid vest and matching trousers.

Eli was followed by Mao, a freckled Italian teenager carrying a golf stick. Bonaventure, a black man from Haiti, wears the jersey of Brazil's national football team. His name means "good fortune."

The last character, Flora, a girl from the outskirts of Paris, appears to be fencing. Pauline said she was made by artists and refugees in France.

The puppets danced, made fun of each other and, much to the audience's delight, pretended to be playing football, golf and fencing.

Sports was the main theme of the show. It was chosen by the French Embassy as Paris bids to host the 2024 Olympics.

The puppets, with their diverse features, tried to convey a message that sports is more than just competition — it is bringing together people of various backgrounds.

"The idea is also to show that sports is a universal activity, which everyone can do, not just athletes, [and regardless of] whether you're men or a women, young or old," Pauline said.

On July 9, the group staged the same performance during car-free-day in Jalan Thamrin, Central Jakarta.

Puppet Making 

One puppet weighs 25 kilograms on average and takes around two weeks to make.

Papier-mache, a material made from paper pulp or shreds is the main substance, especially for the puppet's head. Parts of the body are often made of wires and even plastic bottles.

Les Grandes Personnes choose to rely on the traditional puppet-making handicraft, instead of opting for high-tech solutions to keep up with the times. Their priority is to make the puppets light, to be able to carry them around the streets, to take them on tours.

Sometimes they perform with futuristic, electrified dolls, but they seem to prefer their simple traditional puppets, also because the characters are created in places where artisans not always have access to technologically advanced materials.

"What's important is not how sophisticated our creation is, but the sense of togetherness and collaboration ... We also have our puppets made outside France, where sophisticated machinery isn't always available," Pauline said.

Taking Arts to the Streets

Established in 1998, in Aubervilliers, in the north-eastern suburbs of Paris, the theater aims to bring arts to the streets, for everyone to enjoy. Having more than 30 artists onboard, the group transcends the boundaries between visual and performing arts, craftsmanship, tradition and the modern.

Their repertoire ranges from folk tales to the plays of William Shakespeare.

"Art doesn't only belong in theaters, but also the streets. The puppets are deliberately made enormous so that everyone, even from afar, can see them," Pauline said.

Flora shows her fencing skills on Fatahillah Square in Jakarta's Old Town, on Thursday (13/07). (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)

The group earlier collaborated with Bali-based art community Yasa Putra Sedana to stage "Les Touristes" at the Bali Arts Festival on July 6, combining the giant puppets with barong ket —  a dance of huge, lion-like creatures from Balinese mythology.

It was not the first time Les Grandes Personnes partook in the festival. During the last year's edition, they performed along Balinese dalang (puppeteer) I Made Sidia from Paripurna Studio and ogoh-ogoh maker Wayang Candra from Gajah Sesetan Bali Studio.

Their next stop is the Cross Culture Festival in Surabaya, East Java, on July 16.

"Indonesia is the center of puppetry and mask-making. We admire barong ket for its moves and expressions. It was important for us to work together with other puppet troupes and inspire each other," Pauline added.

Besides having participated in arts festivals in France and abroad, the group also helped establish several puppet theater troupes, including Boromo in Burkina Faso, Suenos de Mach in Chile, Giant Match in South Africa, and Marionetas Gigantes in Mozambique.