First published on 27 Feb 2013. Updated on 31 Jan 2014.
The White Night concept has its origins in Nantes, France, in 1984, as 'Nuit Blanche'. The idea of keeping cultural institutions open all night while staging arts events around a city quickly spread to Helsinki, Paris, St Petersburg and now over 120 cities worldwide.
For Melbourne's inaugural White Night on Saturday February 23, the centre of town was transformed into a hub of creativity, light and life. The afternoon saw the CBD slowly closed off to cars and trams, with stages, artworks and hundreds of thousands of people taking their place. The city was divided up into eight precincts, each with its own personality, theme and programme of events.
The centrepiece of the evening had to be Flinders Street Station, a part of Precinct One, titled ‘Wonderland’. Kaleidoscopic projections transformed the art deco dome and sandstone walls into imaginative, illuminated canvases. In front, bands including World’s End Press and the Cat Empire graced the station steps, entertaining a crowd of thousands.
Precinct Three, which encompassed Degraves Street and Flinders Lane, hosted a small stage, which was packed out all night. Steve Purcell’s Pearly Shells served up some swinging jazz numbers with Yvette Johansson offering smooth vocals. Projections and installations also lit up the street with shoes, ballerinas and catwalk models all catching Time Out's eye.
Over at Precinct Six, ‘Love and Treasure’ was the name of the game. Spheres of Love gave us plenty of warm ’n’ fuzzies with messages of love that were sent in by the public, projected onto large floating spheres. From here we proceeded on over towards Precinct Seven, which was aptly titled ‘Pictures and Posers’. A large-scale neon ‘White Night’ installation was set up along Princes Bridge, acting as a canvas for local artists transforming the blank letters with illustrations throughout the night. Pop-up cabaret act the Dig Collective performed on a small makeshift stage, bellowing soulful a cappella blues through megaphones.
The exterior walls of the National Gallery of Victoria transformed into a gigantic gallery, with images from the gallery's collection projected at a grand scale. Right at the entrance of the NGV kids, teens and big kids were propped up on beanbags, drawing and sketching their own comics. Making our way through the gallery foyer we were instantly confronted by Michel Blayzy’s extraordinary Bouquet Final 2. Tiny bubbles of foam were slowly pumped out from the towering machine, creating chunky ribbons that softly spilled over onto the floor.
Back over at the Arts Centre, crowds were free to wander through the War Horse exhibition, observing animatronic creatures, costumes and puppets from the epic stage production. Out the front of the Art Centre was the famous Spiegeltent. A rollicking good time was being had inside, with the Toot Toot Toots performing their narrative-cum-cabaret repertoire.
Making our way back to Fed Square, we found ourselves doing ‘The Hussle’ and Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ underneath hundreds of mirrored disco balls at the ‘I Could Have Danced All Night’ stage. Busting hip-hop moves at 5.30 in the morning in the middle of Fed Square is truly a unique experience.
The single drawback of the night is that we needed more time. One night was just not enough to experience everything that was on offer. But then, making the most of one evening and exploring as much as possible, all while getting distracted along the way, is part of what made the experience unforgettable.
Even though laneways were human sardine tins, it was an amusing experience weaving through the crowds in Flinders Street, Princes Bridge and Southbank. By taking advantage of the close proximity of some of Melbourne’s biggest cultural institutions, combined with a cleverly curated and well executed programme of arts, theatre and music, White Night illuminated Melbourne as a creative, vibrant and exciting city.