Montana World of Wearableart Awards Show

TSB Arena, Queens Wharf, Wellington

20/09/2007 - 30/09/2007

Production Details

SUZIE MONCRIEFF – Creative Director, script writer, music compilation

EMMA MONCRIEFF – Scripts & music compilation, props & character make-up

MALIA JOHNSTON – Principal choreographer

MORAG BROWNLIE – ‘Man Unleashed’ director, choreographer, script/ music/ visuals

DAVID EVERSFIELD – Lighting designer

SHANE CLAYTON – Sound designer

LETTY MACPHEDRAN – Costume designer

HEATHER PALMER – Backstage/ wardrobe manager

Step into a world where art and the human form combine, where dance, music and lighting tell a story of the body as a canvas; where the lines of fashion and art blur and merge as one…

A Montana WOW® Awards Show can be difficult to describe, hard to define and utterly impossible to forget. A montage of theatre, dance, colour, movement and art, simply put, the Montana WOW® Awards Shows are theatrical spectaculars.

WOW® is a two hour show held annually in September in Wellington, New Zealand, to an audience of 30,000 per season. First shown in 1987, World of WearableArt originally began as a promotion for a rural art gallery in Nelson. Nelson sculptor Suzie Moncrieff had the vision to exhibit art in the form of a live theatrical show – and WOW® has since grown to receive international acclaim. For further information on the development of WOW® click here.

Theatre , Dance , Multi-discipline ,

2 hrs 15 mins, no interval

Spectacular celebration of creative ingenuity

Review by John Smythe 23rd Sep 2007

The WOW phenomenon continues into its 19th incarnation with a super-sophisticated, high quality show that has lost all traces of its small town community origins.

On opening night first impressions are not entirely promising with the pre-show roving performance artists lacking true connection with arriving audience members. In my necessarily limited observation there is an auto-pilot feel about their random activities which hopefully will not last.   

On stage, violinist extraordinaire Elena, with the Simply Fantastic combo, warms up the atmosphere well. The ‘official’ welcome is staged as a wacky airline safety procedure from hostesses Stacey and Tracey (Eloise Green and Katie Wright), whose phenomenal skills with hula hoops are a hoot.

The stage is configured as three runways converging at a central dais ’roundabout’ then extending to a small revolve downstage centre with two other jutting cul-de-sacs on either side (a gingerbread man with three long legs and short stump arms pretty well describes the shape.) And the airspace above proves to be almost as much of a performance space as the stage itself.

A classic brass bedstead takes centre stage, a mother reads her child a Monsters’ Birthday Party story and a dream sequence ensues, the bed rising high as the ‘h p invent’ Children’s Section entries parade a surreal world of dreams and nightmares. Monsters and demons under, above and in the bed, mix with phobias about vacuum cleaners and worm-ridden sandwiches, with whimsy adding less fearful touches. A pink marching team, a small brass band, surf lifesavers and birthday cakes ensure the nightmares end in a party atmosphere.

Lunchbox Nightmare (Lyndal Linton, Wellington) captures the ‘worm sandwich’ nightmare.  There’s a Bed on my Monster (Tracey Smith, Auckland) cleverly inverts the monster-under-the-bed syndrome. The section winner is Grimm Furry Tales (Linda Darby-Coring, Auckland) with a scary pile of old books sprouting fur, claws, paws and teeth, bright eyes gleaming from their darkest depths as a wide-eyed boy is trapped within and loving it.  

The American Express Open Section, with no thematic boundaries, attracts 32 entries (and one exhibition piece), with India dancer Vivek Kindra as the multi-armed centrepiece who lights up like a Christmas tree at the end (to mix my festive images).

Dreams of the Alchemist (Rodney Leong, Auckland) swathes – or entraps? – a woman in curving, curling, coiling sheets of gold. A Cosmic Couple (Margaret Palz, Germany) is encased in voluminous loops and curls of light-reflecting colour, sculpted from hi-gloss photopaper sewn onto textiles. The section winner – and Nelson Runner Up to the Supreme Award – is Motion and Stillness (Mandi Kingsbury, Dubai) in which a good-looking trio are skewered by javelin-like spears in abstract depiction of multiple sclerosis.

The Air New Zealand South Pacific Section is introduced with a stylised staging of Settlers arriving to be challenged by the Tangata Whenua, who then adopt the accoutrements of ‘civilisation’ to be photographed in classic Victorian poses. Dancers in dark crinolines are choreographed so that the freely billowing fabric falls to press down on geometric crinolines: a superb juxtaposition. 

Here the 30 entries mostly use natural fibres and materials, although some wittily use modern synthetics to reconfigure tradition. Into the Blue: Living in a Thermoplastic World (Marie Roxburgh, Christchurch) seeks to despair at the abuse of plastics in modern life by using them to stylise traditional garb – although I wonder if the designer also intends to abuse the positive / negative essence of koru designs by using solid circles.

Te Ahua Whenua – Earth Forms (Wendy Burton & Patrick Duffy, Christchurch) also uses mostly synthetic materials to create a white-on-black taniwha that comes to life by being worn (and I have long held this should be a major factor in defining what is wearable art).

This section’s winner – Rattle Your Dags (Paula Coulthard & Ursula Dixon, Auckland) – is made of recycled wool fadges, wool, a cycle helmet with merino horns, hemp rope and dangling crystals for the dags. Described in the programme as "A rallying cry for the fashion victim", it is also the Turners & Growers First Time Entrant Award Winner and the 2007 Montana Supreme WOW Award Winner.

A vastly white-frocked snow queen introduces the CentrePort Wellington Shades of White Section (20 entries plus two exhibition pieces) with white-finned dancers in attendance. All distils to a column of white fabric as the section entries parade then the fabric falls to reveal a spinning figure: magic.

Because all are necessarily shades of white, the designers use shape, texture, luminosity and degrees of translucence to distinguish their entries.  Christine Heaney (Napier) uses taffeta, feathers, sequins, plastic milk bottles and wire to gives us a skirtless Queen Elizabeth 1st, ‘The Virgin Queen’, entitled A Thousand Eyes See All I Do.

Blending the kina (sea egg) with a puffer fish, Heather Wallace (Wellington) gives us a spike-deploying Kin(d)a Puffer made of MDF, fibreglass rod, lycra, foam, buttons, aluminium tube and cotton. And the section winner is Aurora Australis (Sharon Reid, Auckland) who uses 550 metres of plastic corded strapping, acrylic drops & bead and fabric to create a frayed up-curling bouncing skirt that, when worn, suggests the play of light in the frigid air of an Antarctic winter.

The Scenic Circle Hotels Man Unleashed Section (18 entries plus 6 exhibition pieces) – directed and choreographed by Morag Brownlie – blends hot weather warnings, backed up with a trio of Weather Girl Singers (Bella Kalolo, Ria Hall & Stephanie Hearfield), with the more volatile elements of Buster Keaton’s silent movie classic Steamboat Bill Jr (strangely unaccredited in the programme)*[see comment, below], where he battles a hurricane to great comic effect, then appears live on stage clutching an airborne tree with performer Luke Devrey in the poker-faced role. The through-story here, of a man looking for love, gives particular strength to this sequence.

In this section Wooden Be Seen Dead (Dinah & Mark Winter, Auckland) uses fibreglass over polystyrene, vinyl, silk, beads, chrome on copper, perfume bottle and door handles to encase a pearly-suited man in a rooted coffin. Quite the Suitable Address (Simon Hames, Wellington) wittily houses a man in a suit of laminated woven & carved pinus radiata, brass, polypropylene and possum fur.

The winner, Allan Gale (South Hokianga) seeks to raise the profile of a baggage handler by encasing him in a Ten Breasted Suitcase made of suitcase leather, hardboard, wood, elastic and rivets.

A parade of past Supreme Award winners is followed by the AT&T Illuminate Illusion Section (13 entries), introduced by aerialists who swing and swoop as dancers twirl. Inside Out (Jenny Proffitt, New Plymouth) x-rays a couple through to their major blood vessels and nervous systems. The WOW’s Fastest Idiots (Cassandra, Coral and Paul Bowe, Nelson) parodies The World’s Fastest Indian by putting three traffic-light-coloured figures on motorbikes, but as stuffed miniature figures on poles I question whether they are ‘wearable’ art.

Cheryl Linklater (Australia) is the section winner with Flowers of the Sea, making her exquisite tropical sea anemones from willow sticks, springs, foam, sikaflex and paint.

Missing this year, probably because it has gone about as far at it can go, is the Bizarre Bra section. Perhaps this inspired Georgina Santi (UK) to create a Burn the Bra frock, from burnt, waxed and stitched-together bras, which doubtless has more impact close-up than viewed from the stage.

The show ends (apart from the Award winners’ parade on all but the opening night) with the Tourism New Zealand Avante Garde Section, disported around a decadent Restoration dinner party with performance artists in reflective costumes and wigs that change wondrously with the lighting. Operatic singing accompanies the promenade of 29 entries and 9 exhibition pieces the celebrate the exquisite creativity of Claire Prebble (who has been creating WOW garments for 13 years and is now just 21).

With Queen of Hearts, Annah Stretton (Morrinsville) uses PVC to make a playing card gown for her "confident & in love" queen. David Walker (Alaska, USA) uses cherry wood veneer, cedar shims and felt lining to create Prehistoric Princess, a wedding dress inspired by the dinosaur Stegosaurus, which also wins him the coveted WETA Award.

The Avante Garde winner is Equus: Behind Closed Doors (Gillian Saunders, Nelson) which uses leather, eyelets, saddle & bridle buckles, fabric, paint, aluminium drink cans and pain to reveal "an equine fantasy" – possibly related to bondage and discipline. 

Silver dancers, spinning aerialists and a wall of golden fire, accompanied by Vivaldi’s ‘Gloria’, bring the performance to an exhilarating climax. To view the full list of awards and winners, click here.

The WOW World of WearableArt Awards Show is a spectacular celebration of creative ingenuity that clearly inspires artisans, performers, paid and volunteer workers alike. With nine shows sold out in all but a few impaired view seats, it has clearly found, sustained and built its audience too.

Its Nelson origins remain relevant because that’s where the WOW museum is, and that’s where you must go to fully appreciate the detailed craft and artistry that goes into making these wearable works.


John Smythe November 11th, 2007

My mistake - the Buster Keaton film Steam Boat Bill Jr is acknowledged, under the visuals credits for Manunleashed along with Tourism Wellington and TVNZ.

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