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Clash of the Titans - Chinese style

The huge mechanical creature rears up, its eyes glowing red, smoke billowing from its dragon's snout and its primeval howl echoing in the Beijing night as it approaches its arachnid adversary.

The robot horse-dragon, or Long Ma, is 12m high and weighs 45 tonnes - as much as eight adult African elephants. For its part, the yellow spider - dubbed The Princess - has a 20m leg span and can froth at the mouth.

Part ballet, part epic combat against a backdrop of streams of water, sparks, sound and light, the performance is very loosely based on the Chinese creation myth of the goddess Nuwa.

She made people out of yellow mud and saved humanity from apocalypse after one of the pillars holding up heaven collapsed.

Nuwa sealed the breach in the sky, bringing order to the chaos in the world. The horse-dragon was conceived by the organisers as her envoy on earth - although it does not appear in the original legend.

The two robots are controlled by operators perched on board and running alongside. But even so, their movements are fluid, almost natural. The Long Ma can also express himself facially, fluttering his eyelashes among other gestures.

"It's puppetry on a grand scale," said a crew member.

'REAL DRAGON'

Said Mr Francois Delaroziere, artistic director of the French firm that developed the tribute to Chinese mythology: "The Long Ma can stand on its hind legs, its tail moves, it can gallop, and fire comes from its mouth: it's a real dragon."

He added: "In this mythical universe, the horse-dragon combines equine speed and vitality with the supreme power of the dragon: it embodies the spirits of vigour and perseverance that Chinese schoolchildren are still taught today."

The event over the weekend took place outside the Bird's Nest Stadium in Beijing that hosted the 2008 Olympics and was part of the commemorations of the 50th anniversary of diplomatic ties between Paris and Beijing.

"Relations between our two countries are largely based on a very ancient cultural affinity, a mutual attraction," said France's new ambassador to Beijing, Ms Maurice Gourdault-Montagne, adding that the show embodies "the spirit of China". - AFP.

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