Review: Company Wayne McGregor and Paris Opera Ballet - Tree of Codes – Sadler’s Wells

Performance: 4 - 11 March 2017
Reviewed by Siobhan Murphy - Wednesday 8 March 2017

Performance reviewed: March 7

Tree of Codes, Wayne McGregor’s latest grand collaboration, looks spectacular. It starts with total darkness, the dancers picked out in tiny white lights, like they’re wearing motion-capture body suits, wheeling and spinning into different configurations, like constellations dancing across a velvety black sky. It ends with the 15-strong cast vibrantly dressed and moving to the heavy house beat that has insinuated itself into Jamie xx’s score, as the artist Olafur Eliasson’s set bursts into bloom – revolving glass and mirror, washes of vibrant hues, and coloured spotlights sweeping across stage and audience make it feel like you’re at a rave in a church just as the dawn light hits the stained glass windows.

We travel between these two joyous points in a dazzle of perfume advertisement-style slickness, as the dancers/beautiful people – drawn from Company Wayne McGregor and Paris Opera Ballet – negotiate McGregor’s knotty, swooping, torqueing, hyperextended choreography, and are reflected in Eliasson’s elaborate mirrored set that plays with perspectives so that figures multiply, or vanish, or overlap.

The inspiration for Tree of Codes is a book-cum-artwork of the same name by Jonathan Safran Foer. To create it, Foer took his favourite book, Bruno Schulz’s The Street of Crocodiles, and cut holes in it, excising most of the text and leaving scattered, highlighted words that made up a new work. Eliasson’s layers of glass and mirror are a clever visual response to that; McGregor’s choreography is also jaggedly cut up, with dancers falling into twos and threes and breaking up again with insouciant grace. They are astonishing to watch, from Paris Opera Ballet etoiles Jérémie Bélingard and Marie-Agnès Gillot (who towards the end looks frankly knackered but still utterly commanding) to Company Wayne McGregor’s Alvaro Dule and Daniela Neugebauer. Paris Opera Ballet ’s Lucie Fenwick and Company Wayne McGregor’s Louis McMiller make a striking pair, stalking the stage with fierce fluidity in skimpy black costumes.

The trouble is, you start to feel quite quickly, there are a lot of beautifully shimmering surfaces here, but not a lot of depth. Seventy-five minutes is a long time to sustain a non-narrative piece, and alluring as the whirl of activity on stage may seem, there’s little real emotion in it. The dancers sketch out intimacies in their elegantly twisty movements but no one feels them; they’re like briskly efficient automata. There’s no place for the messiness of something truly heartfelt in McGregor’s carefully constructed world – at times the dance even seems disconnected from Jamie xx’s darting mixtape-like score. You’re left feeling hugely impressed – but strangely unmoved.

Siobhan Murphy is a freelance writer and editor, who also contributes to Dancetabs and Time Out. Find her on Twitter @blacktigerlily


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