ander throughBrussels’ crowdedPlace Sainte-Catherine this monthand, amidst the fairy lights, mulled winedrinkers and cheery chaos of the ice rink,something rather odd might catch your eye.It could be a giant octopus, its articulatedwooden tentacles quivering as it rises andfalls; a glossy black stag beetle rearing upwith a small rider clinging to its back; or abulbous eyed, jewel-green chameleon, headmoving jerkily from side to side. Look downtowards Place Sainctelette at the rightmoment and you might even spot a shiny tinSoviet-era rocket rising bravely througha red canopy, up into the sky and abovethe crowds, then down again, watched bya queue of aspiring junior astronauts.What are these dreamlike objects?Any Brussels child could tell you: theyare the Christmas market carousels –playful, intricate and hauntingly strange.The Manège Magique (with its pterodactyl,grasshopper and hot-air balloon) and theManège d’Andrea (featuring an airbornewinged horse, stag beetle and ostrich) haveappeared here every year since the firstChristmas market in 2002, and are well ontheir way to becoming Brussels institutions– a moment of pure fantasy for
2 a ticket.But where do they come from, and whodreamed them up?
The answer lies in Brittany, in the ancientestuary city of Nantes, where an ambitiousurban regeneration project, Les Machinesde l’île, is dedicated to bringing fantasticalvisions to life. Here, in a complex ofrepurposed early-20th-century shipyards,a team of craftsmen and technicians workunder the direction of Pierre Oreficeand François Delarozière to revive andtransform fairground crafts – withextraordinary results. The two men metat Nantes street-theatre company Royal deLuxe in the 1980s (Orefice was producerand administrator; Delarozière, a fine-artgraduate, the set designer) and formed alasting friendship: they have been creatingstreet theatre and art ever since.The two Christmas market carouselswere Royal de Luxe productions: the ManègeMagique was constructed in 1992 and theManège d’Andrea in 1999. Both combinetraditional materials – brass, wood, zinc andcopper – with extraordinary imaginationand intricate detail. The carousels now tourFrance, Spain and Belgium, spending eachsummer back in Nantes with their creators.The site also houses the 12-metre,50-tonne wooden elephant created andtaken across Europe by Royal de Luxein 2005 and 2006, and a host of futureprojects in various stages of completion.Visitors can watch the craftsmen at work,or take a ponderous 45-minute elephantride along the riverbank. The bravest can
A glorious highlight of Brussels’ annual Christmas market, these fantastical carouselsare the result of an ambitious urban regeneration project in France.
meets the men behind these mechanical marvels
Tim E White