Dîner en Blanc in Vancouver gets a lot of hate, and for the most part, it’s unwarranted. I attended my first Dîner en Blanc last night, and what I saw were thousands of people having fun, outside at a park, making new friends, and celebrating life. What’s there to hate about that?
Perhaps the hardest part of going to Dîner en Blanc is finding an all-white outfit. OK, that’s the second-hardest part. For most people, the hardest part is getting a ticket to the event. It’s a complicated process: A returning guest get first-dibs at tickets, and then they can nominate a friend, who is then given a chance to buy a ticket. All remaining tickets are sold to people on a registered guestlist on a first-come-first-serve basis. This year, there were around 3,500 spots available, and the waitlist to purchase a ticket reached 30,000 names long. This writer attended as a media guest.
Dîner en Blanc is based on a similar gathering that originated in Paris, France, 25 years ago. The premise is that a group of strangers convene in a public space—location isn’t revealed until last minute—and enjoy a picnic dinner for a few hours. Wearing white (down to the shoes) has always been part of the tradition. It’s part of the spectacle and makes for some amazing visuals.
This year, Dîner en Blanc attendees were informed about an hour before the event that the top-secret picnic would take place at David Lam Park in Yaletown. I thought this was a great venue choice since the park is well-maintained, relatively flat, easy to get to by public transit, and offers a spectacular view of False Creek. In past years, Dîner en Blanc was held near Science World and at Jack Poole Plaza.
For the duration of the event, most of the park is gated off to the public. This apparently irked some residents in the area, even though Emery Barnes Park is only three blocks away and George Wainborn Park is even closer.
People began arriving at around 6 p.m. and setting up their table and chairs (yes, you bring your own unless you purchase the Hawksworth Restaurant-catered dinner option). During this time, a live band played French music from a stage set up at one end of the park, and attendees posed for photos with white props, including an installation of Big Love Balls and a vintage white car.
Once everyone was seated around 7 p.m., guests were instructed to wave their white napkins in the air to signify the start of dinner (this is another ritual of the event). As wine was poured and picnics were brought out, we were treated to a performance by Vancouver Opera of “Seguidilla” from the French opera Carmen. This happened as an aerial artist wowed the crowd from a second stage set up at the centre of the park. All this was enjoyed by not only the Dîner en Blanc attendees but the public gathered around the perimeter of the park and Yaletown residents peering down from their highrise condos.
After the meal, guests roamed freely around the location. This offered a chance to check out many elaborate white costumes and picnic table setups. I saw one couple dressed in white queen and king outfits, several women wearing elaborate white lace and tulle dresses, and at least one man wearing a white naval outfit. Some of the table setups were also very inspired—many attendees decorated their tables with bouquets of white flowers, white candles, and even white candelabras.
As the sun began to set, sparklers were handed out, and we were once again treated to an excerpt from Carmen by Vancouver Opera. This time, young dancers from Arts Umbrella, dressed all in white, were also part of the performance. At the end of “Habanera”, everyone was instructed to light their sparklers for another tradition that signifies the end of dinner and the start of dancing. Seeing 3,000 sparklers waved in the air against the backdrop of the sun setting on False Creek did seem magical.
A new band on stage started playing, and many people in the crowd headed towards a makeshift dance area on one side of the park. This went on until around 10 p.m. when city bylaws require outdoor events to close due to noise. At that time, festivities continued at an after party planned at the Plaza of Nations.
Vancouver’s third-annual Dîner en Blanc seemed to go off without a hitch, and from what I could tell, everyone attending appeared to be having a good time. It created a sense of community and fun in Vancouver that so often people complain is lacking in the city. Plus, for people upset that it took over a public space: it was only for less than six hours and the event will likely never take place at David Lam Park again (since it moves from year to year). I enjoyed the experience and hope that Dîner en Blanc continues to grow in Vancouver so that more people can enjoy it.