In his 30-year career, Andrew Walsh has presided over some of the world's biggest celebrations – including London's millennium celebrations, the Athens Olympic opening and closing ceremonies and our very own 2006 Commonwealth Games opening and closing ceremonies. Now, he is bringing Paris's iconic Nuit Blanche to Melbourne for the first time.
“I grew up in Melbourne and I know Melbourne well," he tells Time Out. "I've been fortunate enough to have staged some other things in Melbourne at various times. It is a great opportunity to transform a city I obviously know and love. It seemed like a natural thing to want to do."
From the banks of the Yarra to the Eureka Skydeck, and from the National Gallery of Victoria to the Melbourne Museum, White Night Melbourne promises to transform the city from dusk till dawn on February 23 for a one-night-only extravaganza of visual art, music, performance, dance, food, film, fashion and fun. Here, Andrew Walsh gives Time Out his very own top 10 reasons to stay up for a sleepless night on Saturday February 23…
10. Spend a night at the museum
For the first time, all Melbourne’s world-class cultural institutions – from the National Gallery of Victoria International and the Ian Potter Centre, the Australian Centre for Moving Image, the Arts Centre Melbourne, Melbourne Museum and the State Library will all be open late simultaneously. From ghost tours, free screenings, installations, activities and concerts, there will be special programming for audiences of all ages.
“All of the art and cultural institutions being open all night is the core point,” says Walsh. “To some degree, that’s the essence of what Nuit Blanche is all about. With all of them being so tightly clustered in Melbourne, it makes it possible to actually visit them all.”
9. Send a love letter along the Yarra
“You can't separate Melbourne from the Yarra. If you're gonna do something in Melbourne, the Yarra is a part of it,” Walsh says. When he and his team began dreaming up ideas for White Night, they wanted the Yarra River to be part of the journey. And they wanted Melburnians to be able to share their love – for the city and each other. To this end, the 'spheres of love' will float on the river projecting messages texted in by the public.
8. See Birrarung Marr's transformation into a sculpture park
Along with an inflatable cinema due to be set up with free screenings in the Federation Square loading bay, Birrarung Marr itself will boast one of the major international art works, 'World Without Sun'. Walsh first saw Canadian artist Christine Davis’s work – a large-scale sound and video installation projected onto satellite dishes – at Toronto’s Nuit Blanche. “It is just a very beautiful thing to watch and experience,” he says – and for Walsh, this is what White Night is all about. “It is about seeing the usual in a completely unusual way. I want to turn spaces that are fairly mundane and everyday into other things.”
7. Lather up
One of the other international artists appearing at White Night Melbourne will be Michel Blazy, a French conceptual artist whose work 'Bouquet Final 2' will appear in the National Gallery of Victoria International.
Walsh first saw the work – a cascading wall of form created by a whirring foam machine – when it appeared in a monastery in Paris during last year’s Nuit Blanche. “It had huge queues in Paris. It was very popular. It's really wacky but it was absolutely spectacular,” he says.
6. Hang out in an underground carpark gallery
One of the most fascinating sights on the night will be among the most hidden. Walsh himself is co-curating 'The World Below' with curator and art critic Ashley Crawford, which will see an underground carpark turned into an art gallery. Ten local artists will create installation works – some purely installations and some part-performance. “It will be more than just a space. It will be an experience, part art and part theatrical.” Setting itself apart from all the family-friendly options, Walsh said: “'The World Below' came out of the desire to create a slightly subversive space. It was inspired by Edgar Allan Poe and this dark world Poe inhabits.” So far Walsh is keeping mum on the exact location. “We've nailed down the artist, and we're finalising the venue. We can't announce it yet but it is really exciting.”
5. Follow the white rabbit
From the Forum to St Paul’s Cathedral along Flinders Street, Walsh and his team are planning to create their very own Wonderland. “The facades of all those buildings are just crying out to be transformed. And across the road is Federation Square, which can only be described as an architectural wonderland,” he says. Walsh has commissioned a team of light projection artists the Electric Canvas to produce the imagery for the wonderland. At street-level, Walsh has also programmed lots of performance pieces that are carnival-esque.
4. Kick up your heels at Federation Square’s outdoor disco
Once you’ve had your fill of art, Melburnians will be invited to put on their dancing shoes as Federation Square turned into a giant outdoor dancefloor for a free mass public dance-off called 'I Could Have Danced All Night' – a reference to the musical My Fair Lady. “That's what people do at night – they go out and they go dancing… Why not dance all night? What a good thing to do?” The all-night dance-a-thon will feature 12 different styles of dancing, and hundreds of mirror balls which will dangle from the wires above. Walsh and his team have spent months collecting mirrorballs, in fact. “Every dance in a country hall has a mirror ball," he informs us. "We want it to be an extravaganza of mirror balls.”
3. Listen to music under the Flinders Street clocks
Flinders Street Station will be transformed into its own musical stage – dubbed Theatre of Dreams – where local musicians will perform a free concert. For Walsh, the idea of turning the iconic station steps into its own performance space came naturally. “I've been walking up and buying my tickets and waiting for people under the clocks my whole life," he says. "It has always struck me as a theatre. The theatre of the daily life of Melbourne is played out under those clocks, so why not turn it into a theatre?" Walsh brought in Felix Riebl, the frontman from the Cat Empire, to be his musical director. “It will be a fantastic night of music. It ranges quite wildly – across the whole event not just those stages." Indeed – you can also expect live bands trundling down St Kilda Road in trams.
2. Stretch your vocal cords
As White Night Melbourne draws to a close at 7am, Walsh wants to finish with a bang – and this has to be Time Out's favourite event. Together with Felix, Walsh hatched the idea of bringing the audience attendees together with participating artists for a singalong along the Princes Bridge as the dawn comes up. “To finish it off, we thought it would be great to have people serenading the sunrise.”
1. Roam the streets aimlessly
With White Night Melbourne set to literally take over Melbourne’s CBD for the night, Walsh promises there will be all sorts of surprises around every corner, and crammed into every laneway. “Whether you decide to come out to see it for a few hours, or whether you want to come in early in the morning, or whether you want to soldier through the whole night, there will be a zillion things to do – even if it is just walking around and taking it all in.” He adds with a laugh: “And then you've got all day Sunday to recover.”