Music, film, food, art and light. For 12 straight hours the city of Melbourne was awash with extravagant celebrations of Melbourne’s culture during the White Night Festival from 7pm Saturday 23rd to 7am Sunday 24th February.
Inspired by the Nuit Blanche initiative that begun in Paris, 2002, the city of Melbourne was transformed into a festival of light and music to celebrate our vibrant arts culture. Swanston Street is notorious for tightly packed trams and people constantly roaming its extensive avenue. However, the White Night Festival brought a whole new level to the meaning of lack of personal space. The atmosphere was electric throughout the night and the senses of sight and sound were overwhelmed.
The program of the festival was just as impressive as the decorative light effects sprayed on the front of Flinders Street Station, transforming its normally yellow complexion to a richly decorated exotic palace. Flinders Street Station became the main music stage for the bands throughout the night, highlighted by the much anticipated The Cat Empire. Performing at 2am, the crowd was at its peak to witness the unique blend of hip-hop, reggae and jazz. Melbourne’s mixed and diverse culture was creatively expressed through the remarkable range of music that was on offer. The Sidney Myer Music Bowl sung the classical tunes of Mozart and Mahler, Degraves Street became the jazz precinct for the night whilst Flinders Street pumped out Bollywood with Bombay Royale.
With mirror balls suspended above Federation Square, the scene for an all night dance floor was set. Professional dancers from a variety of dance styles, such as Zumba, Swing, Bollywood, Salsa, West African, Disco and Thriller, took to the stage to teach everyone a few moves (and some sound effects too in the West African dance) from each genre.
If the madness of people shoulder to shoulder dancing, jumping, screaming and moshing didn’t quite appeal, then the Arts Centre, The National Gallery of Art, and the State Library offered a more tranquil atmosphere. The giant foam structure in the National Gallery, created by French artist Michel Blazy, filled the Great Hall with lighter-than-air foam floating up to the stained glass window roof. The newly renovated Arts Centre had ghost tours all night, and the State Library had an intriguing trio of the Exaudi Youth Choir’s Night Songs, Dean Frenkel’s Magic Sounds and Claire Patti’s Harp and Voice that exploited the angelic acoustics of the library’s dome room.
Every corner of the city was lit up rendering the night with a magical quality. The light show on the Yarra River illuminated the huge outdoor sculpture park along Birrarung Marr, creating an exceptional display of gargantuan creatures.
The inaugural White Night Festival concluded with the Singing in the Sunrise parade at 6:30am. This truly was a beautiful way to end the party, as the Exaudi Youth Choir and the Parade Band performed on the Princes Bridge, with the backdrop of the gorgeous orange glow of the sunrise and the early morning hot air balloons sailing over the city. The decent handful of people who courageously, and mostly drunkenly, stayed right until the end followed the Parade Band to Flinders Street Station where the band openly adhered to the public’s chant for, “One more song”, which turned into about 10 more by the end!
Having conquered the full 12 hours of the White Night Melbourne Festival, I can say that every minute was filled with excitement and fun. Even the usually simple task of walking up Swanston Street was an adventure; the challenge to maneuver through the swarm of people and street performers. The Cat Empire, my personal highlight of the night, embodied the party atmosphere of the festival and the remarkable power that music entails; being able to bring together the community of Melbourne to celebrate our amazing arts culture .