Little puppets, big world

Barry C Chung

Paris comes to Hong Kong thanks to master puppeteer Jean-Claude Dehix

Barry C Chung |

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Jean-Claude Dehix designed a French-themed display for PuppetLand at The Landmark in Central, one of four locations.
Jean-Claude Dehix's first memory of puppets was as a seven-year-old boy in France. It was a scene created by his puppeteer father.

"There were two dogs, and they were both playing on swings, one pushing the other," he recalls.

"That scene remains in my mind. It's something that strikes me even today."

Now Dehix is a grandfather, and the tables have turned somewhat.

He's the master puppet creator, and his grandson and relatives help out. His enchanted displays adorn the windows of Paris department stores, where thousands of people come for a glimpse of his creations, and walk away in awe.

Luckily for those of us who aren't planning a Parisian getaway this Lunar New Year, Dehix has brought his imaginative scenes to Hong Kong for PuppetLand, part of The Landmark's Lunar New Year celebrations. Four of his mechanically-operated installations will be on display until February 4: two at The Landmark mall, one at Chater House and one at Alexandra House.

The huge displays operate with string and motors, and they are set to music. Motors and string also make the characters move. Dehix took months designing the sets, and then several days just to put them up.

For this project, Dehix wanted to give the people of Hong Kong a taste of his homeland. The displays feature a dragon leading us on a journey through Paris, visiting the places dear to Dehix's heart. The dragon, of course, represents the Chinese zodiac animal for this coming Lunar New Year.

Dehix designs every set from an emotional place. He wants his audience to feel something when looking at his work, so he puts himself, in a sense, in the shoes of every character.

"If I were, say, a dog in this scene, what would I do?" he explains. "What would I do to create emotions? I always want to create emotions - either have people laugh or be moved in some way.

"Each scene has many emotions," he says.

Dehix believes that, if he enjoys his work, others will, too. Overall, he thinks people will feel happy with his Hong Kong displays.

Dehix learned the trade from his father, who gave up his career as an engineer for puppetry.

"Mad! We thought he was mad," Dehix says. But looking back, he says it was the right thing for his father to do. The Dehix name became legendary in France. The son's work has been displayed in the windows of famous Paris department stores, Les Galeries Lafayette and Printemps, for more than 38 years. He has even created shows for former French presidents Valery Giscard d'Estaing and Georges Pompidou.

Like Geppetto, the Italian puppet-maker in the story of Pinocchio, Dehix breathes life into his creations. At times, his puppets seem to him to be far more than mere dolls.

"Sometimes I think, maybe it's the puppet that's alive and directing me on what they want to do!"