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By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 28 MARCH 2017 Tree of Codes is the fourth work by Wayne McGregor to enter into the repertoire of the Paris Opera Ballet. For his 2015 creation, first performed at the International Festival of Manchester, the British choreographer was inspired by Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel of the same name, a novel that was itself composed of cut up pages of The Street of Crocodiles, a collection of short stories written by the Polish author Bruno Schultz. By omitting certain words and phrases and changing the order, Foer offered a poetical work very different from the original.

But instead of a pure dance project, a collaboration between the Paris Opera dancers and members of McGregor’s own company, where the scenery and visual effects highlight and complement dance, the reverse has happened and dancers and choreography have virtually become secondary to their spectacular setting. The visual concept of the production, by the brilliant Danish artist, Olafur Eliasson, the man who inaugurated the prestigious Fondation Louis Vuitton with Contact in 2014, steals the show. Of Foer’s book, there seemed little.

Tree of Codes
Photo: Little Shao

But what Tree of Codes does achieve is 80 minutes of respite from the political turmoil resulting from the attempted demolition of each of the French presidential candidates, the shameful attitude of Theresa May, and the unprecedented antics of the obnoxious individual currently dictating American affairs. For with its flashing lighting, mesmerizing optical effects and fluid, unstoppable choreography, the piece captured one’s attention and the outside world was forgotten.

However, it was a work which, despite its auspicious beginning, possessed little of consequence. There was no story, theme, or emotion excepting for an all-too-short solo and pas de deux featuring Marie-Agnès Gillot, the charismatic star of the Paris Opera Ballet.

The dancers, six from the Paris Opera Ballet, and nine from Wayne McGregor’s own company entered a darkened stage wearing spots of light which had been fixed to their bodies, making little squiggles of light when they moved. They subsequently invested the stage of the Palais Garnier in a bewildering succession of solos, duos, pas de trois and ensembles, all reflected in a backdrop of mirrors behind them, to the pounding accompaniment of an exciting pop-electronic score by the popular British composer, Jamie XX. There were interesting group scenes, a clever mix of the purely classical and determined contemporary movements; it was amazing to watch these remarkable dancers who were rarely given the time to breathe.

Tree of Codes
Photo: Little Shao

One remained fascinated by the complex arrangement of two-way mirrors which both reflected images and were transparent at the same time, resulting in multiplications of pairs of dancers both in front of and behind the screen. Coloured lights revolved around the stage, flashing out over spectators to immerge them in the interplay of lights and mirrors and eradicating the normal boundaries between audience and scene. It was like being inside an exclusive night-club rather than in the auditorium of the Paris Opera.

With the exception of Marie-Agnès Gillot, elegant and long-legged, whose expressive solo breathed feeling, the dancers from the Company Wayne McGregor seemed like gymnasts, lithe, muscular and attractive as they were in their flesh-coloured costumes. But they were often lost amidst the scintillating scenery as they performed their aerobic movements. Nevertheless, the combined effect of the music, the lighting, and the designs as well as the very physical choreography resulted in a most enjoyable evening, and it really didn’t matter that McGregor gave one little to think about. Of poetry and mysticism, there was none, but for sheer escapism, this performance was hard to beat!

Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe. She has contributed to The Guardian, The Observer and Dancing Times and was dance consultant to the BBC Omnibus documentary on Rudolf Nureyev. Based in Paris,  Patricia Boccadoro is the dance editor for Culturekiosque.

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