When choreographer Wayne McGregor, composer Jamie XX, and visual artist Olafur Eliasson come together for a new contemporary dance production, expectations are high. Taking inspiration from Jonathan Safran Foer's 2010 book, Tree of Codes, this production of the same name is a stunning collaboration of movement, lighting, sound, and stage design.
Interestingly, Foer's book was inspired by another book, Bruno Schulz's The Street of Crocodiles, a collection of short stories of a merchant family in a small town. Schulz story is full of metaphors, mythology and a blurring of fantasy and reality, and for his book, Foer cut out a large number of words and sentences from Schulz's stories and re-arranged them to form new stories and ideas. Even the title itself is made up of the letters from Schulz's book title.
McGregor's Tree of Codes also uses the idea of imagination and truth, and it begins with a gorgeous opening sequence performed in total darkness with lights attached to the costumes of the dancer as they move their bodies like they were floating balls of light. Along with Jamie XX's electronic pulsing beats, there's a sense of a new beginning and mysticism, of some kind of awakening that is about to occur, and that is exactly what we get.
In true McGregor style, the fourteen dancers are pushed to extremes in a complex and frenetic choreography with bodies constantly on the move. The music and visual designs including rotating set pieces and mirrored walls are a feast for the senses and together, create the perfect duality of dreaming and reality, of being and of the metaphysical.
Seated on an aisle and not having the best sightlines for this specific production, the impact of the kaleidoscopic images on stage was not able to be appreciated to their fullest but it was enough to give an understanding of what was trying to be achieved. The numerous reflections of the dancers on stage highlight time passing by and of moving on. At times, the audience itself is reflected onto the stage via the mirrored set pieces, blurring the line between passive viewer of "life" and active participant and asking you to consider your own life and the choices you've made.
While there is much to be fascinated and awed by with Tree of Codes, at 75 minutes long the work feels stretched too thin as it moves towards its conclusion. Keeping the show around the 60 minute mark would have allowed the intensity of the performances and the effects of the design to remain fresh, with the images constructed on stage and those created in our minds being appreciated to their fullest.
Venue: Arts Centre Melbourne, 100 St Kilda Road, Melbourne.
Season: Until 21 October | Fri - Sat 8pm, Sat 2pm
Tickets: Full $69 - $219 | Under 30s $30
Bookings: Melbourne Festival
*Original review appeared on Theatre Press on 20 October 2017.