When a festival director – a person who sees hundreds of shows a year – says that a piece is in their top five works of all time, it’s safe to bet that audiences are in for something special.
Melbourne Festival director Jonathan Holloway has revealed that Tree of Codes will headline this year’s program in October. This opulent, large-scale dance piece is a collaboration between pioneering British choreographer and director Wayne McGregor, Danish-Icelandic visual artist Olafur Eliasson and British musician and producer Jamie xx. It’s been lauded as a triumph of collaboration and a visual and musical feast. Since premiering at the Manchester International Festival in 2015, it has been seen in just four cities: New York, Paris, London and Aarhus.
“I saw it in the opening night in Manchester,” says Holloway. “It was completely sold out, and I was sat next to a 60-year-old woman. At the end absolutely everybody stood up, it was a rapturous applause, with one exception – me. I didn’t stand up and I was on my phone, and the woman lent down and said, ‘did you not like it?’. I said, 'no I’m booking it'. That was how sure I was about the show."
The origin story of Tree of Codes is complex and fascinating. It began with American novelist Jonathan Safran Foer’s book Tree of Codes, which he had carved out from the text of a book by Polish author Bruno Schulz called The Street of Crocodiles. From there, Jamie xx (one third of British band the xx) created an algorithm to transform the rhythm of the book into melodies; Olafur Eliasson (whose towering installations have filled the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall) designed large-scale visual artworks in response to the structure of the book; and Wayne McGregor invented a vocabulary of movement based around the story’s language. Tree of Codes is performed by 14 dancers from the Paris Opera Ballet and Company Wayne McGregor.
This result is a piece that melds a soaring electronic score with contemporary ballet within an ever-changing space of refracting light and monumental set pieces. Olafur Eliasson described the collaborative nature of Tree of Codes, saying: “Clearly Jamie’s music can’t live without music and space. Clearly Wayne’s choreography can’t live without sound and space. Clearly my art can’t live without sound and movement. Clearly creativity can change the world.”