Mar 12, 2013 Art city
They came in the night, in their thousands. Melbourne’s first ever White Night drew crowds of culture lovers eager to feast on arts from dusk to dawn. Frances Morton ventured into the dark determined to last the distance. Here are her five tips for survival, and getting the best out of a White Night.
Rule 1. Prepare a schedule.
White Nights have packed programmes so to save wandering aimlessly and missing the good stuff it’s best to start off with a plan. As the clock ticks 7pm and the night formally begins I take a seat at Club Spiegel for The Trip, a sassy, saucy vaudeville show from Berlin. Then it’s a quick switch from tumbling twins to string theory as I dash to the Arts Centre in time for Constellations, a two-hander play that uses physics to explore a love story. There’s more physics at the National Gallery of Victoria where French artist Michael Blazy’s enormous sculpture Bouquet Final 2 is spewing bubbles and curious spectators barely restrain the urge to reach out and touch the cascading foam. From there I whizz back to the spiegeltent for a spaghetti western cabaret with an Aussie outlaw bent by the Toot Toot Toots. It’s midnight already and I’ve got culture whiplash. I feel woozy.
Rule 2. Rip up the schedule.
I emerge from the thigh-slapping spiegeltent to the street for some gulps of fresh air and am greeted by a scene reminiscent of New Years at the Mount – sans the random pashing and drunken riots. As this is Melbourne’s first White Night, organisers were unsure just what to expect. Clearly the city’s appetite for culture is just as voracious as it’s love of AFL and horse racing. What they got was 300,000 people thronging around the Arts Centre and Federation Square. The time is 12.17am. I squeeze through the crowd that is shoulder-to-shoulder on Princes Bridge and make my way towards an inviting glow on the Yarra River, pausing to enjoy the jazz band blatting out grooves on the bridge. There’s a sense of mass togetherness. “We’re here for art!” the strangers’ smiles seem to say to each other. I disregard my schedule and decide to go with the flow. By 12.33am I’m seated on the riverbank watching a laser show dance on the Yarra and trees and paint a fountain spurt vivid greens, blues and pinks.
Rule 3. Be rested.
This rule is very important and best executed in advance. Never ever embark on White Night with a sleep deficit. Sadly, I didn’t adhere and by 1.30am (3.30am NZ time) I’m fading out. There’s so much to see and do but my eyelids are rebelling and the giant Sofitel bed tantalisingly nearby on Collins St is irresistible. I slink shamefully up the alleyway to the hotel and crawl under the covers for a micro disco nap. Alarm beeps. I drag myself awake. Perk myself up with a cup of tea and am determinedly back on the artscapade.
Rule 4. Be equipped.
For any endurance event you need appropriate equipment. A culture marathon is no different. Before tackling the wee small hours I toss off any ideas of vanity and replace my sparkly sandals with comfy sneakers. The other essential item is a camera because 3am is when the magical sights of White Night really kick in. Melbourne’s many laneways are intriguing places to wander at any time. For this White Night they’re even more entertaining, pulsing with light sculptures and projections that dance around live bands and pop-up street theatre. Things take a turn for the peculiar. A man peddling a tricycle laden with cleaning tools appears. “How clean is clean enough?” reads his shirt. He flicks my trousers with a feather duster tsk-tsking. “You shouldn’t have even left home tonight. Look at this. It’s terrible. That’s better. You can go now.”
More meandering leads to the muggy sanctuary of St Paul’s Cathedral where people are joyfully stomping around the altar, chasing a laser line wiggling on the floor. Outside the historic Melbourne buildings are lit up with spectacular moving projections that trace their architectural forms. The buildings are so well dressed that the people look bland in comparison. I predict by next year, White Night goers will be turning up in fabulous fancy dress. With everything else dripping in creativity, it makes perfect sense.
Rule 5. Remember to fuel.
By 4:30am my intended schedule is long forgotten but I’m still keen on making one event – a 6am exercise class on the Southbank bridge. For this I’m going to need energy, and that means food. I wander up Degraves St, usually a hub of bustling restaurants but now a temporary stage for a rambunctious jazz band. Oblivious to the beat, a man leans against a building with his feet straight out, hands in his lap, glasses still resting on his nose and mouth agape in deep slumber.
Good news: pie shop at the end of the street is open. Bad news: There is a queue and their pie cabinet is practically barren. I manage to nab the last sausage roll. It is greasy and flakey and tastes terrific.
At 5.30am I’m at a dance party wearing 3-D glasses watching graphics surge above the dance floor and drinking beer. The exercise class is looking increasingly unlikely but I’m still determined. So I make my way out into the street. More street theatre. More light shows. More distractions. I get as far as Princes Bridge where an oompa band is playing. The midnight masses have dissipated but there are plenty of people ambling about and some even still dancing. It’s intoxicatingly exuberant and the sun is coming up. Lycra clad cyclists weave between the staunch White Nighters who are not about to let the remaining scraps of an enchanted night go uncelebrated. By the time I tear myself away from the music and down to the bridge, it’s 6.19am and already packed with exercisers sparring and doing crunches. I make a few feeble attempts at a sit up. Close enough. By now the sun is winning the struggle between night and day. Hot air balloons are silhouetted against the pinkening sky. The band strike up All the Single Ladies and more dancers rush over. At 6.57am security guards are circling. The band plays their last song and the night is officially over. But the small crowd won’t give up and start jumping and chanting for more. There’s a pause. Silence. And then a defiant trumpet plays on.
This Saturday (March 16), the art galleries and museums of Auckland have their own version of White Night, staying up long past their usual bedtime for nocturnal arty shenanigans. There are talks, performances, activities, exhibitions and a free bus to take you there from 6pm to midnight. Click here for full details.
Photographed by Michael Duignan
Frances Morton travelled to Melbourne courtesy of Tourism Victoria. www.visitvictoria.com