It’s described as street theater, but the actors are far from ordinary. La Machine made its North American debut in Ottawa this weekend. It was the latest special event to celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary in the capital. La Machine comes from France and features a giant mechanical spider named Kumo and an even larger dragon-horse called Long Ma. From Thursday to Sunday, they roamed the downtown streets, attracting thousands of people and causing traffic gridlock.
Before the Friday evening show began, Kumo was “resting” downtown, next to the Rideau Canal by the convention centre. Long Ma was in front of City Hall on Laurier Avenue. Soon after 8:00 pm, they each “woke up” and amazed the crowd. The view from the Mackenzie King Bridge gave the opportunity to see both machines in action, walking through city streets and towering over people, cars, and buildings. I had vague images of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, or on a more lowbrow level, those low-budget science fiction movies that TV stations used to show as cheap filler programming. La Machine was overall entertaining and intriguing.
La Machine is theater, so there was a story behind the Ottawa performances, titled The Spirit of the Dragon-Horse with Stolen Wings. It’s a story of fantasy in a buttoned-down political town. Long Ma is supposedly from the ninth level of heaven and is a cosmic, half-horse, half dragon who watches over humanity. However, the giant Spider Kumo has burned his wings while he slept and robbed his temple. Even the ninth level of heaven has a violent crime problem. Kumo fled to Ottawa, which is supposed to be the “mother-city of all spiders,” and lived underground. However, construction on the underground tunnel for the new rail transit line disturbed Kumo, forcing her above ground in a rather desperate state under the threat of losing Long Ma’s temple. Long Ma heard he may be able to get the temple back and set out for Ottawa using the route taken by early French explorer Samuel de Champlain. The two creatures encountered each other and occasionally had visible disagreement on their travels through downtown streets.