Dionne Christian is the NZ Herald’s arts and books editor

WOW: There's nothing else like it in the world

Michael Mizrahi (pictured) and partner Marie Adams have created events all over the world, but he says there's nothing like our own World of WearableArt Awards Show.
Michael Mizrahi (pictured) and partner Marie Adams have created events all over the world, but he says there's nothing like our own World of WearableArt Awards Show.

Let's start with some numbers: a 28-year-old Event - yes, it deserves a capital E - involving 350 cast, crew and 163 garments made by 133 designers competing for a share of $165,000 of prize money and attracting an audience of 58,000 during three weeks in Wellington, which will reap about $30 million, thanks to the internationally recognised design competition.

The World of WearableArt Awards Show (WOW) is New Zealand's largest and most technically challenging theatrical production and, after the show, the winning garments are displayed at the World of WearableArt and Classic Car Museum in Nelson to be seen by a further 40,000 people. In addition, WOW's first international travelling exhibition is showcasing 32 award-winning garments around the world and is currently in the United States.

No pressure, then, for the people who put together the show. You could easily get that impression when you talk to Inside Out Productions' Mike Mizrahi.

Two weeks out from WOW, which opened this week, he sounded relaxed, jovial and excited; if he was feeling a tad overwrought about having the weight of a world on his shoulders, he didn't let on.

Then again, he and partner Marie Adams have staged some of the most spectacular theatrical productions for some of the world's biggest brands, including Louis Vuitton, David Jones, and the Rugby World Cup.

But even Mizrahi acknowledges they had little idea of the scale of WOW before they signed up two years ago to devise and produce the 2015 and 2016 shows. They'd seen WOW years before in Nelson, where it started in 1987 to promote the Williams Higgins Gallery, a small art space in the rural hinterland run by painter and sculptor Suzie Moncrieff.

That first show was seen by about 200 spectators, but Moncrieff kept developing it. By 2005, she was on her way to becoming Dame Suzie Moncrieff, WOW had won major tourism awards and the show was so big, it moved to Wellington.

"When we first saw it, we thought it was crazy and rather fabulous and when we heard it had moved to Wellington, we were sad for Nelson," Mizrahi muses, "but then we went, saw one in Wellington and could understand why it needed to be taken to the next level."

When Moncrieff asked the duo to take the reins for 2015, they didn't hesitate. After all, why would they pass up the chance to oversee the biggest show in New Zealand? They've always relished a challenge, so went to see a production.

Flow Of Creation, Kirsten Fletcher, United Kingdom. World of WearableArt Ltd.
Flow Of Creation, Kirsten Fletcher, United Kingdom. World of WearableArt Ltd.

"And I was gobsmacked! I had no idea how truly magnificent it had become. It is world class and I am not just saying that," Mizrahi says. "I had never seen anything like it, anywhere in the world and we've lived our entire adult lives - spent every penny we've earned - travelling and working around the world, just drinking in arts and culture and being part of that world.

"WOW is not fashion, it's not theatre, it's not cirque; it crosses all those boundaries and yet remains something that ordinary people - who wouldn't normally go to, say, the opera or theatre - flock to and absolutely love."

Mizrahi acknowledges a certain amount of trepidation when approaching last year's show; he and Adams did not want to upstage the garments. Inspired by New York-based fine art photographers Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison, they created a sepia-toned and slightly mournful world where, among scenes of abandonment and devastation, strange magic seemed to be afoot.

"We called them up and said, 'we want to bring your images to life' and they were very enthusiastic; in fact, they ended up being guest jurors and, you know what, they couldn't believe how fabulous WOW was, either."

Having tread cautiously last year, Mizrahi and Adams have opted for a totally different approach this year. They're working with artist Reuben Paterson, noted for colourful creations in glitter and diamond dust, as well as choreographer Ross McCormack and musicians Don McGlashan, Annie Crummer, Anika Moa and SJD. Kiwi film star Jemaine Clement also performs in this year's show as the voice of the animatronic tiger created by Sir Richard Taylor and the team at Weta Workshop.

The competition's seven categories - the worlds of WOW - have set the template for this year's show. He says it's humorous, sexy, sassy and fun.

"It couldn't be more different to last year!"

- NZ Herald

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