Tree of CodesPhoto – Joel Chester Fildes

Well this feels like the most pointless review I’ve ever had to write. I wasn’t paying attention when I requested that my review night to be bumped back from Tuesday to Saturday and consequently didn’t realise that the season would already be over by the time I wrote this review the following day.

So I’m not quite sure why I’m writing this, and I’m not quite sure why you are reading it. If you saw Tree of Codes, you must be reading this review to confirm that this reviewer enjoyed the show as much as you undoubtedly did. If you didn’t see the show, you must be reading this review to find out what you missed out on. Let’s run with that option.

What you missed out on was an hour and a bit Oh Wow. This was an assault on the senses of the most exquisite kind. You missed out on some sublime music from Jamie xx, some truly superb choreography by Wayne McGregor, and a visual feast of lighting and set design courtesy of Olafur Eliasson. The technical team behind the scenes are to be congratulated, as is the team of dancers; you all have the respect of this humbled human.

The title Tree of Codes appears to come from the title of a collection of short stories Street of Crocodiles. Author of Tree of Codes basically dismembered the Polish short story collection to make a new work of art by physically cutting many selected words from the pages to create an entirely new work. Thus, by removing certain letters from the short story collection, you are left with Tree of Codes.

How this came to be a work of dance performance is one of those rare miracles of creativity that you close your eyes and give thanks to the God you don’t believe in. Creative partnerships have long fascinated me, and when they come together to produce a work such as this, coming from such diverse strands of creativity… it’s just kind of really amazing.

I confess to not having heard of anyone involved with this production other than Jamie xx. The music of Jamie xx to some stunning looking contemporary ballet? I had to check it out. And you, reader-who-miss-out, should have done the same.

I had also seen the title of a negative-sounding review and had read half of another review by a writer far more jaded than I am, so I wasn’t sure I was going to enjoy it as much as I’d hoped.

After the opening sequence – dancers in the dark with pin-point lights attached to their bodies, I was prepared for disappointment. This sequence almost went on for too long. Clever and dazzling, yes, but you get to the point of yes, we get it.

As the rest of the show unfolded and the stage opened up to lights and mirror trickery, I relaxed and realised that Tree of Codes had me. I was mesmerised. I was awed. I was so happy to be hearing these lush sounds – sometimes ethereal, sometimes tribal and thumping – and seeing these perfect human bodies creating such flawless dance.

The mirror backdrop was wonderfully confusing. Inspired vision, the panels moved and morphed so that sometimes the viewer wasn’t entirely sure what was going on. Sometime more dancers seemed to crowd the stage than there actually were. Other times, reflections were not reflections but other dancers almost in a parallel reality. Often, what appeared to the most elegant chaos came together in an almost breathtaking perfection. (Damn – first time I’ve ever used breathtaking in a review). The dancers – from all around the world – were amazing to watch solo but even more impressive taken as an ensemble. Classical ballet manouvres abounded, but so did more experimental moves, the moves and the music and lighting all working together in perfection. The minimal costumes revealed the workings of perfect limbs, perfect bodies apparently enjoying such strenuous physical expression.

So in conclusion, you really did miss out on something spectacular. Not only was the event itself so very special, but I am now curious about Tree of Codes the book, and Street Of Crocodiles the short story collection. It’s the best kind of art; layers, inspiration, collaboration, revelation.

And if you happen to be reading this review from another part of the world where Tree of Codes has yet to appear, don’t miss out.


2017 Melbourne Festival
Tree Of Codes
a collaboration between Wayne McGregor, Olafur Eliasson, Jamie xx and the Paris Opera Ballet

Director Wayne McGregor

Venue: State Theatre, Arts Centre | Melbourne VIC
Dates: 17 – 21 October 2017



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