The line of inheritance begins with Bruno Schulz’s novel, ‘The Street of Crocodiles’ (1934), and the première of Tree of Codes, presented during the Manchester International Festival branches from its namesake, Jonathan Safran Foer’s ‘disective' and divisive 2010 novel. This tour-de-force collaborative commission was impressive, challenging, and mesmerising from start to finish. Much as with many arts, it seems only fit to respond to the work with the work. So I will endeavour to map out the world première.

Marie Agnès Gillot in Tree Of Codes © Ravi Deepres
Marie Agnès Gillot in Tree Of Codes
© Ravi Deepres
The creative process behind all three artists’ work, choreographer Wayne McGregor, visual artist Olafur Eliasson, and music producer Jamie XX, was inspired by their responses to Foer’s book, as an “architectural object” (McGregor), “the book as a space that relates to our body” (Eliasson), the emphasis on “the physicality rather than the content” (Jamie XX). McGregor showed once again that he is an extraordinarily accomplished interpreter and translator of life into the language of dance. He consistently raises the barre, translating formal dance notation into true emotions and physicality. On the other hand, the dancers, both artists and principals of the Paris Opera Ballet and dancers of Wayne McGregor's own company were achieving such carnal movement, a modern ballet language, a contorted, as well as effortlessly beautiful narrative. Marie Agnès Gillot, étoile of the Paris Opera Ballet, gave a particularly affecting performance. But there were many combinations and conversations between the dancers throughout that stood as a testament to the companies merger. It was a sublime feat by all. In extensive employment of the Brechtian ‘fourth wall’, the audience were repeatedly called upon to ‘provide’ for the performance. The performance begins with the lights shining piercingly in our faces, just as we might expect them to dim down. Eventually the Opera House became pitch black. Eliasson’s use of reflective surfaces, prismatic and geometric divides on stage meant that, on many occasions, we [the audience] could see ourselves at the back of the stage, in an oddly sobering, dream-like manner. Further, the stage itself and the increasing number of dancers working it was doubled as a result of the mirror effect. More unsettling even was the use of spotlights to scan the audience as we watched ourselves. In Physics, it has been suggested that there may be around fourteen dimensions in existence, yet we only 'use' three or four of them. Not only is this emphasised in Eliasson’s stage-division, mirrored, and translucent, coloured structures, it is also accentuated in McGregor’s hyperextended articulations. Furthermore, Jamie XX presented an sonic exploration unique to this project. Some of his signature sounds featured, but there is an audible freedom to the production that was arguably only made possible through the collaborative nature of performance. There were discernible movements, or chapters, throughout Tree of Codes. Just like the sculptural nature of the book, they overlapped, repeated, popped out; were distinct. Rob Halliday’s lighting - described above - was thrilling alongside the structures harnessed by the creatives - the dancers, musicians, visual engineers. The tensions between all counterparts grew throughout the performance, in a manner reminiscent of the 1913 'Rite of Spring' collaboration between Nijinsky, Stravinsky, and Nicholas Roerich. It is, perhaps, easy to imagine 100% jutting, awkward, even violent movement from this connection. But McGregor also contrasts his with a fluidity and a smoothness that accentuate the multi-dimensionality of the piece.

Tree of Codes shimmers with nuances amid the muscles, angles and volumes, steamy, and charged temperature. One is the frequent use of ‘quartets’ in duo-like formation. Two extra bodies often brought three men and one woman together moving as one. These moments were particularly enrapturing, adding a layer to the mille-feuille piece. Another was the sense that the Paris Opera Ballet dancers suggested the growing notion that formal ballet steps were refracting, their bodies often seemed to be breaking. In the main, Wayne McGregor's dancers portrayed a more visceral, often carnal ( as mentioned earlier) animalistic movement. At onepoint, their steps even seemed to mock classical ballet. So natural their input that one might be forgiven for thinking a great deal of the movement was improvised. This, however, is something McGregor continually explores, nurturing people's individual responses to stimulus and/ or environment.  Back to the beginning -The first we saw of the dancers sprang from the darkness. Barely discernible figures; limbs and bodies dotted with little white lights. Through the movements, the body lights interacted on stage in such a way to visually suggest words, in an almost braille-like capacity; words you feel and are guided to, visually. Universal coherence is not necessarily the aim, which seems to be more about a universal response. Very quickly the experiments become relentless bodies, skin, sweat. Tree of codes beautifully celebrates the complexity of abstraction and realms of conceptual art. It was an extraordinary event to witness.