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Tree of Codes

Issue 86 August / September 2015

From scissors to stage, Jonathan Safran Foer's novel Tree of Codes tells a mesmerising story in Wayne McGregor's ballet interpretation to an encapsulating set design from Olafur Eliasson and Jamie xx score.

Manchester International Festival (MIF) biennially brings to Manchester's city centre an array of original works across the interdisciplinary spectrum of performance, visual arts and popular culture. Having previously featured works involving such respected design figures as Zaha Hadid, this year's festival was no exception to the standard set by the first three.

MIF15 brings together choreographer Wayne McGregor, visual artist Olafur Eliasson and Mercury Prize-winning producer/composer Jamie xx to create a contemporary ballet inspired by the book Tree of Codes by Jonathan Safran Foer. For just three days of the festival, from 8-10 July, soloists and dancers from the Paris Opera Ballet and dancers from Company Wayne McGregor formed the company performing to a mesmerising set created by Eliasson and to a score composed by Jamie xx. 

Foer’s novel is literally carved from the text of Bruno Schulz’ Street of Crocodiles; words and phrases are cut from the pages to produce an entirely different story. A character chases his life to extinction through immense, anxious, at times disorientating imagery, crossing both a sense of time and place, making the story of one person's last day everyone's story. The creative team worked together for two years to make a contemporary ballet that responds to this enigmatic artwork.

A tremendous inspiration for the lighting concept and sequence of set design, Eliasson viewed Foer’s Tree of Codes as vibrant matter; it doesn’t explain ideas but vibrates them. Tree of Codes “embodies space and a narrative – or various narratives – within it," Eliasson commented. "I tried to translate this feeling into the visual concept.” 

Eliasson felt a connection of abstraction with both McGregor and Jamie xx in contemporary languages, as they each give their output a form and a tone that is accessible to broader audiences. This production brings together sound, dance, and light in a way where the audience feels invited to join the dance, to take part. 

For Eliasson, the upper end and instrumental layer are like navigational tools that “remind me of where I come from and show me where I'm going. What touches me in Jamie’s work is that the mechanics of this looking forward and backward, or inward, perform in concert.” 

Every so often, vocals slip in, tying lighting, dance and music together. The human voice becomes a door through which the whole piece can be entered. “Producing reality is always about a relationship between you and a space,” commented Eliasson. “I see dialogue as a way of staying interconnected, so I almost always work collaboratively, whether with my in-house studio or with inspiring people such as Wayne and Jamie.”

The ultimate collaboration across disciplines and talents, Tree of Codes is a stunning, consuming illustration of the power of light art in all its diversity.

Pics: Olafur Eliasson, Rick Guest, Ravi Deepres


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