White Night celebrates its fifth birthday next year. The all-night art and light festival returns to Melbourne on Saturday February 18. Then, for the first time, it goes to Ballarat, two weeks later.

Many of next year’s installations and performances are grounded in Australian history, the country’s landscape and culture. Ballarat’s program pays special tribute to its heritage as a gold-rush community.

David Atkins is taking over from Andrew Walsh – who has overseen the event for the past four years – as White Night’s artistic director and executive producer. Atkins’s background as a dancer, choreographer and musical director (he produced the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games opening and closing ceremonies) means a more performance-based program than earlier years. Swing City, for example, is a 12-hour dance marathon on Collins Street that will feature almost every kind of “social dance” (think swing, tango, salsa) with big-band music from the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s.

As always, the schedule is heavy on light projections and immersive installations. Pyrophone Juggernaut is a massive pirate ship and organ that spouts huge jets of flame. Seadragon’s Lair is a 360-degree light installation and soundscape that will transform a State Library reading room into an underwater cave. Alexandra Gardens will be home to five colossal rabbit sculptures that have previously shown at Dark MOFO in Hobart, the Istanbul Light Festival as well as in South Korea, Europe and the USA.

Atkins also includes commissions that examine social issues. Home Less takes a candid look at the country’s growing wealth gap. Rebel Elders is a large-scale video projection taking aim at the stereotype that old people are sick, grumpy and dull.

In Ballarat, the gold rush will return with Nights of Gold, a large-scale light projection that will transform Lydiard Street’s heritage buildings into versions of what they might have looked like more than a century ago.

Anyone who’s been to White Night knows the city becomes a human traffic jam between the hours of 8pm and midnight. Organisers continue to focus on decentralising crowds and minimising congestion in 2017 – something they tried do this year by sending more people to Federation Square, north up Russell Street and into surrounding gardens.

The plan for 2017 is to shift more of the program into these areas. For example, there were two installations in Carlton Gardens this year. Next year there’ll be six.

White Night Melbourne will run from 7pm on Saturday February 18 to 7am on Sunday February 19, 2017. White Night Ballarat will run from 7pm on Saturday March 4 to 7am on Sunday March 5 in the CBD. Explore the full program here.