In the obscurity, lights twinkle afar, moving, gliding, and drifting from a pretend sky set-up by Olafur Eliasson and Wayne McGregor. Both the artist and the choreographer, in collaboration with the composer Jamie xx, have imagined a performance based on movement, following the rhythm of the cut-out pages of Jonathan Safran Foer’s book Tree of Codes.
The bodies focus on subtracting themselves intentionally and participate in the birth of shiny movements, reminiscent of stars. This first scene announces the rest of the performance to be bold, dynamic and based on illusion and trickery. The dancers are a mix of Wayne McGregor’s performers, and members of the Paris Opera Ballet. All kinds of skins and body shapes twirl and flow on stage: Black, White, Asian, tall, petite, muscular, or frail. Occasionally, boys dance with boys, and girls dance with girls, creating a magical blend that stamps today’s reality on a classical medium.
Mirrors, screens, coloured crescents, and animated wall structures are introduced step by step into the performance. Small lights become an illusionary décor where we, the audience, realise we are part of the show. We are reflected on the mirrors, and into the moving stage, while the dancers speak and express themselves in the language of McGregor. As the imaginary pages of the book are turned, so are the screens and the set-up. The dancers’ costumes evolve in the same way, from non-existent, flesh, to coloured shirts, shorts, and cut-out leotards designed by Amanda Barrow. From the beginning, Jamie xx has never failed to make us stomp our feet on the floor, and tilt our heads from left to right, right to left. The music creates subtle ambiances, using futuristic western sound effects and chilled Californian beats.
Because it is not a classical performance, but rather an unspoken participatory event, at times, the strong visual stage set-ups become the centre of attention and the dancers, the frame.
This process is remnant of the creation of a book. Are words the essence of a book? Or are the pages the canvas which holds the words? Tree of Codes, as a book, and its interpretation as a dance performance suggests many answers, each hidden behind a gesture, a pose, a ray of light, or a sound.
The dancers are inherent to the discovery of the book. At times languorously spiralling onto one another, other times pirouetting and doing ingenious and original porté (carry). The pinnacle of McGregor choreography comes from the synergy of the group, when the body movements synchronize and the dancers perform in unison. During these sporadic moments, I feel in harmony with the performance and anchored in the present moment. Somehow, there are no requirements other than to appreciate the motions, the sound, and the visual effect as a whole.
Tree of Codes at Sadler’s Wells (4 March to 11 March 2017)