Thursday, 9 March 2017

'Tree of Codes' at Sadler's Wells

Last night we went to see the new ballet by Wayne McGregor at Sadler's Wells, 'Tree of Codes'. It had been created for the Manchester International Festival in 2015 but it has finally arrived in London. I say it's a new 'ballet' but the list of co-creators should instantly make you doubt that - McGregor has collaborated with Olafur Eliasson and Jamie xx to create this astonishing spectacle. This is more than 'ballet' but what is it?

Wayne McGregor clearly does bodies and movement and he's brought together dancers from his own Company Wayne McGregor with the Paris Opera Ballet to perform this work. Olafur Eliasson has taken care of the visuals for the work - Eliasson will forever in my mind be the creator of the Big Sun at the Tate Modern in the early '00s in the piece called the Weather Project. Jamie xx has provided the sounds for the work and a very good job he's done too, no two pieces of music the same but themes drifting through the soundscape he creates. No one element takes precedence and the three have worked to create a most beautiful whole. The creation is stunning.

What's it about? I don't know. Everything and nothing? It opens in darkness, lights out all over the auditorium and then there's a dancer, then three, dressed in black save for a few lights in different places across their bodies, and they start moving. All you can see are lights moving on the stage, changing and making shapes, blurring and joining with others, almost like watching amoebas grow and mate and divide at times. The music pounding and primitive and the lights - the lights are just as important as the dancers and it's the movement of the lights that creates the dance and vice versa. This is not your normal dance show. And we were off and running

The dancing was superb, never still, constant movement through duos, trios, small groups and full ensemble, finely tuned and dynamic. The work is 75 minutes long but the dancers seemed to be on such a high at the end that they could probably have kept going for much longer. Complicated steps, jumps, poses, some synchronised and others chaotic, they filled that stage with movement and beauty.

The visuals (as I'll call them) from Olafur Eliasson were astonishing. From pitch black with tiny lights on the dancers, to dancing in front of a cracked mirror to a clear mirror making it look like the stage is crowded, with lights going back and back and back to make the stage look huge and a screen dividing dancers close to the audience and those behind the screen. How were the dancers behind the screen reflected backwards in the mirrors but not those in front of the screen? I couldn't work that out at all and then, suddenly, something else is happening that drew my attention away from that conundrum. Dancers dancing in front of a blue screen which turns out to have been pink all along and a giant screen with two great rotating circles cut in it changing colours. I gave up and just indulged in the spectacle.

The music and overall soundscape is the other element that made this spectacular.  I was only vaguely aware of Jamie xx before this but I'll pay more attention now. The music was excellent, constantly changing in style and texture, pace and density, giving the dancers so much to work with. Lots of different styles in there (I was reminded of The Creatures early on) all pushing things forward with heavy, thumping beats and lighter moments.

I've commented before that great ballet isn't solely due to dancing, it needs the right music, the right sets and costumes, the lighting, it needs it all, a total package. That's what 'Tree of Codes' ably demonstrates. It's a true collaboration between Wayne McGregor, Olafur Eliasson and Jamie xx, all contributing their parts to make this a seemingly perfect whole. Even as I write (and this helps to clarify my thoughts) I'm still not sure what I saw last night, but I do know that I want to see it again. This run is sold out (and quite rightly too) so I can't see it again now, but I will when it's revived. This is too good to leave in the vaults.

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