Next month, the Hong Kong Arts Festival will bring more than 100 of the prize-winning walking sculptures to town, staging a 70-minute visual feast of colour, fantasy and creativity.
The fabulous event, which goes by the fitting acronym WOW, began in 1987 to promote a rural art gallery in Nelson on the South Island and quickly attracted entries from across the country and then across the globe. Each year, about 160 finalists compete for nearly HK$910,000 worth of prize money. In 2005, the show moved to the capital city of Wellington and now attracts 50,000 visitors every year.
Founder and director Suzie Moncrieff's inspiration is to "take art off the wall and onto the body in wildly wonderful ways". She says this creates many possibilities from walking paintings, sculptural pieces and wooden masterpieces to sumptuous silks. Unlike a catwalk where models stride down a narrow platform with hands on hips, Moncrieff says WOW is a "theatrical stage extravaganza of many layers".
Principal choreographer and artistic director Malia Johnston individually choreographs each costume - some are danced in, others performed in. Light and sound support the movements to reflect each piece's story. "It is completely visual, therefore it can cross any language - everyone can enjoy this show," Johnston says. "It is universal."
Hong Kong's show is a condensed version of the two-hour New Zealand spectacle, but Moncrieff guarantees none of the original's magic and energy will be lost.
The extravaganza kicks off celebrating indigenous Maori culture and then moves into a fantasy world of children. From there, the audience enters a surreal dimension where everything glows under the magic of ultraviolet light. Then a procession of extraordinary and enormous costumes follows. Finally the stage is transformed into a sparkling, innovative universe.
The 124 costumes on show are handpicked by Moncrieff from the collection of 500 at the WOW museum. Each piece is made by artists and designers from all over the world, including Hong Kong's Design Institute - many have taken up to a year to make.
WOW designers challenge viewers' expectations. The most unfathomable themes are steamer baskets, ear plugs and venetian blinds. Vibrant colours and animals are the choice of many entrants. They may make you feel as if you have just stepped into Alice in Wonderland.
Highlights of the night will include a giant pin cushion and thimble from the 2008 show, a bunch of roses from 2010 and a big funky food pyramid from this year.
Moncrieff's personal favourite is Super Minx - the supreme award winner in 1999. The wearable chairs were designed by New Zealander Simon Hames who was prop-maker for the Lord of the Rings film trilogy.
"The surreal, magical pair of walking furry chairs [are] out of this world," she says.
WOW will stage seven shows at Kitec from January 29 to February 5. Tickets range from HK$80 to HK$350. For more details, go to www.hk.artsfestival.org