Key Points:

Wellington is about to play host to a wildly eclectic mix of theatre, dance, music and opera, as the New Zealand International Arts Festival opens on Friday.

A dawn ceremony will mark the start of the festival with a full powhiri performed and a response from some of the overseas artists.

With over 800 performers from 29 countries, the festival runs until March 16 throughout varied venues in the capital with the central hub located on the waterfront.

The programme will also extend out into the greater Wellington region with some travelling shows.

Festival artistic director, Lissa Twomey said the opening weekend would showcase the critically acclaimed Black Watch, a play about the Scottish regiment's experiences in Iraq.

Chekhov's Three Sisters, arguably the greatest play of the 20th century, would also be showing.

Oscar-winning actress Cate Blanchett directs the Sydney Theatre Company's production of Blackbird, which scooped a 2007 Olivier Award for Best New Play.

New Zealand classical music highlights include Jenny McLeod's new work The Poet, commemorating Janet Frame's status at the cornerstone of New Zealand literature.

"Keep an eye out for From Score to Screen on February 24 in Waitangi Park - a fantastic free concert celebrating the sheer diversity of film music, hosted by Oscar Kightley," Ms Twomey said.