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Thursday, September 26, 2019

World Of WearableArts 2019 - Another fantastical night out!

Banshee of the Bike Lane by Grace DuVal (Chicago, United States) / Winner: Mythology Section
I can't remember how many WOW shows I've seen over the years but every year they seem to outdo the last.  I was privileged to talk to Musical Director Paul McLaney, who gave me a small insight into what was planned for this season.  But nothing prepared me for what I encountered at last night's Preview!

I don't want to give too much away, so I'll have to be a bit of a generalist.  What I can say is that I was totally blown away by the massive projection screen that opens up across the entire back of the stage - as wide at the TSB arena itself!  The imagery moves from Ice Caves to huge animated eyes to steam punk industrial scenes. 

Director of Choreography Sarah Foster-Sproull has done a superb job conveying Artistic Andy Packer's futuristic dystopian muddle.  As always, models decide how to 'move' in their individual costumes - some with little movement, some with great dramatic flourishes.  Then there's the circus performers and rope artists, who melt with the regular ensemble who carry the themes between each bracket.  One of the most memorable was a reinterpretation of the barricades of Les Miserables.   She included deep sea divers, urchins, a crazy violinist, drummers and a jazz band. Another amazing moment includes a large group of children and all other ages carrying inflated 'worms' on sticks like they do during the dragon festivals.  What the actual purpose was, I cannot say.  Did it matter?

I am very jealous of Chris Petridis's lighting.  As a budding lighting operator myself, I don't think I'll get to play with the massive bank of ultra-cool LED's that cut between colours and washes with split second precision.  The tandem effort between the lighting and John Strang's AV animations was near perfect.  Only twice (for only a second) was there a tiny misfit.  Together they created some fantastic atmospheres for the costumes.  Sometimes there was a bit of a visual clash as the eyes are over demanded by such an explosion.  But this has always been part of the WOW experience.

As far as the costumes go.  Well, what can I say.  To lead the design themes, the competition asked for entries loosely based around 6 themes, which all show up in surprising ways: Elizabethan, Architecture,  Monochromatic, Avant-Garde, Open and Aotearoa.  From the entries they are shown in to six distinct categories for the competition.  We got to see all the finalist's work last night, with photos of the costumes clearly printed in the programme (a must to get if you're going!)

The first is 'Blindingly Beautiful', where all the costumes are pure white.  Many this year incorporated variations on lacework, and one by India' s Akhilesh Gupta ('The Blomar') reminded me of those elaborate paper cards you see in shopping mall stalls, with their intricate details cut with scalpel precision.  Her's was also mechanical, opening like an impossibly fragile infrastructure.

'Connections Run Deep' was the Aotearoa section.  As with last year, there were plenty of references to our Colonial past.  Kayla Christensen's Waka Huia carried on an idea I saw last year of huge wearable paintings with portraits of wahine on each.  Lynne Dunphy played with our dubious land trading heritage, making three sets of clothes (with colonial themes) out of woolen blankets (get it muskets and blankets traded for lands?)

The open section this year had a new name, too.  'Wonder Has No Bounds'.  A chance to really experiment.Jack Irving did just that.  The UK designer gave up a life sized 50s atomic illustration made of inflatable plastics.  It was kitsch like a lilo, or a blow up cactus.  Hi second piece was completely bizarre, as if the model ha fallen into a spiked blow up paddling pool.  Her upper torso was completely covered by a large clear inflated sphere.  You had to wonder how she breathed. 

Mythology gave designers a real go at exploring the lurking elephant in the  WOW room: Cosplay.  Ever since its conception, the competition has straddled a fine line between Halloween party costumes and art.  'Where Stories Begin' is a chance to embrace that.  Works varied between birds and superhero villains.  One, aptly named 'Banshee of the Fallen Bike Lane' (by US' Grace DuVal, was made of bicycle tyres and parts.  This one stood out as a 'howling spectre to fallen cyclists'.

The Transform section ('Nothing is at it seems') features costumes that move or transform into other shapes, lights or colours.  The orange inflatable sea urchin (by Jack irving) and Anna Baines' multi layered flower ('Bloom') were clear standouts in this category.

Aptly titled 'Blurring The Lines', the avant-garde section offers a chance to really get crazy,  Yet most of the entries this year were pretty conservative.  Some were more like theatrical period costumes or even real fashion.  There was an emphasis on care and detail, which didn't necessarily come through unless you were up close to the garments.  China's Lyu Lu and Gu Yiheng gave us "Faceless" - an entirely black, faceless anonymous character inspired by an origami method called RES that transforms 2D into 3D.  'Dearth Extern' by Aussie Nicola Rule made a strong female witch character that would feel right at home in 'Lord Of The Rings' or a Harry Potter film.

There were a number of returning designers, including Ian Bernhard, whose had winning entries in 2013, 2014, 2016, and last year.  He's back this year with a colourful costume called 'Joan', with it's sleek aviation helmet and and spiky shoulder pads.  It reminded me of the evil queen in Snow White.

Sadly, one category was missing.  The amazing and fantastically whimsical bra section was not there this year.  It seemed like a bit of  a hole.  With that section gone, the humour and fancifulness of the competition was missing - absent but returning we hope.

There is plenty more to see in this year's show.  But I don't want to spoil it for you.  Once again the star shaped set is set and the costumes, dancer, musicians and lighting are ready.  Dress flashy, buy bubbles at the bar and soak it all up.  An amazing show.  Well down everybody!

CoffeeBar Kid


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