Sadler’s Wells, London
March 7, 2017
Dance is usually at its best when viewed in good artistic company: Diaghilev hired Stravinsky and Bakst, while Cunningham formed a triumphant trio in the company of Cage and Rauschenberg. The secret is to harness these big beasts into a winning coalition.
For his production of Tree of Codes Wayne McGregor too, has assembled some remarkable artistic collaborators: his own company dancers are joined by six from the Paris Opera, installation artist Olafur Eliasson, composer Jamie xx and not forgetting inspiration from Jonathan Safran Foer, author of the eponymous novel. However, despite the exhilaration of seeing such talent assembled on the one stage, some tightening up on the length and rationing of the gizmos would not come amiss.
Jamie xx’s music, using algorithms to shape melodies, opens and closes on a clapping motif which brought the chattering audience to instant attention in the pitch blackness. Dancers with lights attached to their costumes move onto the dark stage creating squiggles of light. This section is overlong, achieving an effect that seems unworthy of McGregor’s talents. It appears to have little relevance to what was to come but is soon a thing of the past as the work changes gear and the dancers get down to seriously good choreography.
Eliasson, responsible for the visual design, creates a magical world of light, colour and fractured mirror images. His imagination encompasses sculptured shapes, like the cut-out metallic semi-circle that rotates to create arcs of light, and an intriguing entrance to the stage. Mirrored screens multiply dancers into an entire corps and as lights swing across the auditorium swathes of audience are also reflected on the surface drawing them into the landscapes.
The dancers, first wearing simplest of flesh covering, graduate to casual but bright garb, reflected in brilliant lights and visuals. Hyphens of vivid neon lights and disks of vivid Perspex create a kaleidoscope of images and support McGregor’s choreography. His pared down chiselled contours alternate with the sinuous flow of movement, superbly performed by dancers who speak his language so fluently. McGregor’s company dancers were on brilliant form, in choreography that stretches them to the limit. They were fully in the moment and took every move to the limit, I don’t think I have ever seen them perform better.
For the Paris Opera dancers, with Marie-Agnès Gillot’s angular shape a riveting centrepoint, the choreography extended to the occasional formal shape or pointe. These dancers, who also work regularly with McGregor, bring new dimensions to his choreography but the most successful moments came as the companies integrated, sharing partners and space.
There is an enormous amount to take in on first viewing and there are moments where it is simply too much of a good thing. More of the sparseness that served McGregor so well in earlier works would give space to breathe and a pause to reflect on the beauty of the moment but despite reservations this is a work that will delight both art and dance lovers.