Watching Kumo take to the streets is like the live-action version of a CGI flick: A giant alien spider lands in a historic city, its eight legs weaving around buildings as it spews venom into the crowds. Dreamt up by street theater company La Machine, Kumo has since toured Yokohama, Beijing, Reims, and Calais. Earlier this month, it was finally left to roam the French city of Nantes, where La Machine is based, and where the spider was “born” in 2009.
Kumo’s technical data sheet is staggering: At rest, it is 19′ high, but can attain a height of 43′ once it’s up and walking. When it rolls up into a ball for a nap, it measures 20′ in diameter. When it sprawls its legs out, that “legspan” grows to 65′. It can spit out venom (in reality, a fine water mist) and breathe out clouds of fog, all while regarding the crowd suspiciously with its moving eyes. A team of 35 to 40 people worked on its construction for nearly a year—first drafting it, then bringing it to life the 38-ton structure of wood and steel.
“We wanted to use its eight legs to turn it into a dancer,” says François Delarozière, the founder and artistic director of La Machine. “This is why we made a base on wheels, so it could move quickly and have the ability to communicate, and be expressive, through movement.” During a performance, 16 people are required to activate the hydraulic and mechanical framework that helps Kumo walk through narrow city streets, wriggling around trees and lampposts. Most are seated aboard the giant, controlling the motion of its legs, eyes, head, and abdomen, and setting off the fog and water effects. Down on the ground, a conductor walks alongside Kumo and directs the whole theatrical team.