Created by Wayne McGregor, this is a dance performance that is spectacular and all-consuming, transporting the audience to a time when dance was high octane and out of this world. Reminiscent of the New York dance scene in the eighties with work by choreographers such as Trisha Brown, the pace that this performance sets from the get go is relentless. But is a relentless pace and a jaw-dropping set enough to woo local audience? The answer to this would appear to be a resounding yes, however disappointing this might be. With music by Jamie XX, arguably one of the most well-known contemporary musicians of our time, the work does have some form of contemporary relevance with a younger audience. However, with access to such shows limited to those that can afford ticket prices, the people that would most benefit from seeing this work may unfortunately miss out. This work is pure concept, with no real narrative to follow or characters to engage with, and though art does sometimes exist only to provide spectacle, it’s not always enough.
The opening scenes are magical and beyond comprehension, drawing you instantly into a surrealist vision imagined by Olafur Eliasson as a small number of this 15 strong ensemble take to the darkened stage in illuminated costumes. It’s breath taking, visceral and other worldly. From this strong introduction there continues to be a number of scenes that reach the same level of theatrical wonderment. Strong use of colour continues throughout, and the use of mirrors is another device used to great effect, allowing multiple perspectives to emerge from a single vision. However, there are number of issues that dog this performance. Though technically brilliant, unfortunately Melbourne does not have the type of venue a work of such magnitude requires to be fully realised. The State Theatre, however grand, felt too big. Some of the intimacy of this work is lost within this cavernous space. Costuming detracted from the work as a whole, and the continued costume changes felt unnecessary. Seeing each of the dancers’ taut frames in opening scenes should have been a choice continued throughout the work; these bodies are incredible, and the years each ensemble member have dedicated to their craft are very much on show. The physical desire and electric nature of the work needs flesh, and lots of it, particularly when the visual aesthetic is very much central to this world and so very much heightened. Seeing the human body in all its naturalism is something to be considered, and would have offered a much needed counterpoint.
The one saving grace for this performance is a simple formula that many of us makers are taught from the outset and adhere to throughout the course of our artistic explorations; that is to start strong and finish with a bang. Audiences generally tend to forget the fluff that comes between. In Tree Of Codes, the creative team have somehow managed to make what is beautiful feel tiring. They have made the right choice to stick to this bit of creative gospel.
In the final days of the festival, there remains a lingering question surrounding the choices made by our major festivals and what they choose as their “premier events.” Choosing to focus on Tree Of Codes and Taylor Mac in particular, this year’s Melbourne’s Festival has missed a crucial opportunity to really extend an invitation to the greater Melbourne community. These two works, although of international significance and rightly deserving of their acclaim, have not reached the same level of community engagement as works like Requiem for Cambodia or All The Sex I’ve Ever Had, both of which have been successful in their wanting for unity and togetherness. Not without merit, and certainly still worth a look, Tree Of Codes is playing this week at Arts Centre Melbourne.