Debbie Cuthbertson and staff reporters
Cool conditions and fewer spectacular projections than on previous years combined to dampen the public response to this year’s White Night.
The lack of projections along Flinders Street, for which White Night had become known, drew fewer people along the thoroughfare, and for many the sight of the ornate Forum Theatre facade without illumination – a past highlight – was disappointing.
White Night attracted nearly 600,000 people into central Melbourne last night, according to estimates from organisers and Victoria Police, but on the streets at midnight it seemed the coolest overnight conditions since White Night began (a low of 12 degrees) had dampened some of the enthusiasm.
“My overall impression of the program this year was that it felt pretty tame,” was the verdict from arts reporter Annabel Ross.
Comments posted to the official White Night Facebook page were occasionally savage: “Shite night”; “white lie”; “incredibly disappointing compared to past years. Embarassingly bad”; “epic fail!!!”.
Though, to be fair, some rated the event four or even a full five stars, some calling it “brilliant”; “My 3rd white night and it was easily the best”; “incredible and a true testament to Melbourne!”
And the mood, more generally, on Instagram and Twitter, felt like whatever the critical verdict on the actual art, White Night 2016 was still a unique experience.
Artistic Director Andrew Walsh released a statement on Sunday morning calling the event a success. Official estimates were that 580,000 people attended the free all-night event last night, up from 300,000 people in 2013 and 500,000 last year.
“Last night was an incredible night, Melbourne turned out with joy in their heart. White Night again exceeded expectations with an increase in numbers and across the board Melbourne’s creative community delivered a spectacular night of art and culture,” Mr Walsh said, adding that “restaurants and hotels were full and public transport added extra services as Melbourne’s night economy thrived and the city stayed up all night”.
A police spokeswoman said Victoria Police was pleased with crowd behaviour. “There have been no major incidents however a number of people have been lodged for drunk. There was some crowd crushing near Flinders Street at one point during the evening but the crowds then dispersed. No one was injured.”
Illuminations by Josh Muir at the National Gallery of Victoria generated high praise and even applause from those viewing the works (below):
The State Library of Victoria’s display in its Reading Room dome generated queues throughout the night and a big thumbs up:
For many, the spectacular imagery by Ballarat’s Pitcha Makin Fellaz adorning the Royal Exhibition Buildings was a highlight of the evening:
As was the Pole Princess act on the “Circus Circus” stage:
The Arts Centre Spire illuminations:
The Neon Laneway display:
Birrarung Marr and the banks of the Yarra:
And it was “great to experience Reko Rennie on a grand scale” at Federation Square, according to Arts Editor Debbie Cuthbertson (below):
Yet many people complained that there was too little in between those major landmarks, with crowds left searching for surprises, like the skipping display at the Old Melbourne Gaol and the pop-up stages scattered about:
A number of commenters questioned whether there had been a budget cut. The state government and Melbourne Major Events Corporation, which oversees White Night, have never revealed the cost of the event, deeming it commercial in confidence.
Whether there was less money available to artistic director Andrew Walsh, who has produced all four years of the event, is not known. What is clear is that he and his team had less time to organise it than in other years, perhaps as little as six months, by the time the Andrews government confirmed it would return in 2016.
Numbers did appear to step up during the peak time of 10pm to 1am. Here’s the view of Flinders Street:
Perhaps as a result of the organisers warning people to come late to avoid overcrowding and outside the State Library of Victoria festival-goers lined up early from the outset even before it became dark enough to see the images of classical sculpture, books and pulsing neural networks clearly.
At the steps of the Royal Exhibition Buildings, near a Moreton Bay fig tree considered the birthplace of the Aboriginal political movement for Victoria, elders from the eastern Kulin nation’s five language groups gathered for a welcome to country:
It incorporated Buln Buln, a dance that brings the five communities together as one. When it finished, dancers threw their arms up to face the ornate Royal Exhibition Buildings facade, which lit up with the animated paintings of Ballarat indigenous art collective the Pitcha Makin Fellaz. The unexpected is what you crave at White Night and is what keeps you going on that long traipse up and down Swanston Street. So the impromptu dance party that erupted on the steps of the State Library of Victoria (pictured here) was easily an early highlight, coming as it did during DJ Jnett’s jazzy set from 9pm to 11pm: Chase Burns’ White Wash, a projection splashed on the side of a Swanston street building dealt with rising sea levels, inundated buildings and climate change, giving a nice little respite from the hopeful search for something new. Follow the march the other direction and Craig Walsh’s Incubator at City Baths was an intriguing depiction of underwater creatures (pictured below) but all too brief an experience, in the name of crowd control: Finally, though, it was the infectious rhythms of a Brazilian samba squad that delivered that elusive sense of surprise. It was some time after midnight and O’Ziriguidum Samba School were tucked down Little Lonsdale Street, staggered on the steps of the Wheeler Centre belting out body shaking beats:
They were just where they should have been, doing just what people – many of whom had ditched the near half-hour long waits for the nearby State Library and City Baths – needed. The party was still going at 6am…
With Dewi Cooke, Annabel Ross, Neil McMahon and photographers Paul Jeffers, Lucy Battersby and Luis Ascui
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