Things were running smoothly until a 12-foot aluminum tree collapsed and 30 colored orbs the size of bowling balls rolled toward the edge of the stage that had been erected a mere 10 hours earlier.
No one on the crew batted an eye. Within minutes it was back up.
This rapid-fire construction effort was the latest project by Elrow, a roaming celebration that is part Cirque du Soleil, part Alice In Wonderland. The event relies on flamboyant visuals, music, performers and audience participation to transform spaces around the globe — including 80 cities in 45 countries — into new experiential environments.
The latest environment to come to life was “Kaos Garden,” at the Avant Gardner warehouse in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Construction started early on Dec. 14 and would continue until seconds before the doors were scheduled to open later that night at 7. The crew had 13 hours to create an immersive, multi-sensory experience for thousands of people.
Here’s how they pulled it off.
Two eighteen-wheeler trucks containing 35 massive crates and boxes pull up to Avant Gardner, an event space on the border of Brooklyn and Queens.
The trucks, holding everything to produce the show, including the stage, a 15-foot skull, 20 silk-screened fabrics,, 10 hanging sculptures — including a flying pig and unicorns with mermaid tails — are unloaded and unpacked.
This edition of Elrow, called Elrow’art — the eighth event in New York over the past two years — will be the first time the company has collaborated with an artist. Okuda San Miguel, a Spanish painter and sculptor, designed every piece of “Kaos Garden,” down to the confetti.
A crew of more than 50 people start to build. Scaffolding goes up. Scissor lifts are in constant motion, zipping around the 80,000-square-foot warehouse. Hot glue guns are everywhere. Sound checks are happening in three different rooms.
“Everything is preplanned, sometimes a year in advance, because we have to transform the venue in half a day,” said Michael Julian, 41, head of Elrow North America. “Then we do everything at once.”
The concept for Elrow was created in 2010 by Juan Arnau, Jr., 37. He is the sixth generation of a family-owned, Barcelona-based entertainment company that dates back to the late 1800s.
“My great, great-grandfather owned a cabaret, then a casino, then a black-and-white movie theater,” he said. “In 1942 my grandfather opened the first salon for people to dance. That’s still open.”
At least 70 percent of the work in the main room has been completed. Still, a lengthy to-do list remains. Confetti is still in the boxes. The 200 handmade pieces of inflatable art are still flat. Packing supplies need to be removed. And the 32 actors, puppeteers and stilt-walkers have yet to arrive.
Also missing are 16 house music D.J.s., the most notable of which is Paco Osuna, the music curator for Elrow’art.
These D.J.’s will be spread out between the main room, The Lost Circus room, which will resemble a life-size carousel in just a few hours, and Kings Hall, which will have couches and disco balls hanging from the ceiling.
Mr. Miguel, 39, the visionary behind the show, arrives.
“Kaos Garden” was inspired by the “The Garden of Earthly Delights,” the triptych painting by Hieronymus Bosch.
Mr. Miguel, who looks like a cross between Alan Cumming and Elton John, reinterpreted the painting using geometric patterns, creating a romp though paradise and hell; darkness and ecstasy.
“I wanted to recreate the painting in 3-D, and make it feel like the public were dancing inside my head,” he said. “Like a dream, the public becomes part of the painting.”
Craig Jacobson, director of operations for Avant Gardner, reviews last-minute details and possible trouble spots with the crew and staff.
The doors open at 7:30 p.m., a half-hour behind schedule. Pretty Gary, 25, a rapper from the Bronx, is one of the first to arrive.
“I’d seen this on my newsfeed,” he said. “It looked interesting. I love music and art. I came to see some beautiful things.”
By 9 p.m. the space has morphed into a full-blown dance party, with SantaCon adding an unexpected level of color; a pair of Santas kiss passionately on the dance floor. A man dressed as Charlie Brown stays true to his character and dances by himself. Some partygoers wear LED-powered glasses; others are dressed as a leopard, a rainbow man, assorted medieval characters. Mr. Gary, the rapper, is hoisting an inflatable bear head created by Mr. Miguel into the air while dancing.
Actors on stilts, costumed as larger-than-life animals — ducks, peacocks, giraffes — infiltrate the dance floor and are enveloped by the crowd. The first of four timed confetti cannons explode, shooting handmade pieces of yellow and green paper into the air before falling like snow, creating the dreamlike experience Mr. Miguel had wanted. The inflatables are then tossed into the audience by crew members.
“Once the first confetti goes off without a problem we’re O.K.,” Mr. Arnau said. “It makes me proud to see my ideas come to life. Everyone understands this. It’s the same language for everyone.”
Front and center in the crowd is Erica Miller, 34, a consultant for a boutique firm in Philadelphia, who is with a group of friends.
“We got here ridiculously early and got inflatables,” she said. “We like to dress up and be playful. We dress professionally all day long so why not do it up for one of these.”
Over the next seven hours, the event will be a visual and musical step and repeat, with confetti releases happening very 90 minutes.
Ms. Miller, attending her fifth Elrow, is planning to stay through Mr. Osuna’s closing set. “With these kinds of shows, it’s not like a concert where you leave after the main act is over,” she said. “This is something that builds all night as more people come and the energy increases. You want to see what happens at the end. The story isn’t over until that last note.”