Tree Of Codes is one of those ‘wild card’ yet brilliantly successful shows that Manchester International Festival has made a bit of a specialty of miraculously pulling off over the years.

The contemporary ballet, two years in the making, brings together Stockport-born choreographer Wayne McGregor, Danish-Icelandic visual artist Olafur Eliasson, and Mercury Prize-winning producer/composer Jamie xx, as well as dancers from McGregor’s own company plus the Paris Opera Ballet, in a piece inspired by Jonathan Safran Foer’s book Tree of Codes, itself literally carved from the text of Bruno Schulz’s Street Of Crocodiles.

So far, so ‘ho-hum’ arts supplement fodder, right?

Tree Of Codes by Ruth HogbenBut, believe me, knowing any or all of that, let alone that Safran Foer cut words from the pages to produce an entirely different story, is almost completely irrelevant in the face of the seductive beauty and sublime power of this exceptional creation.

In a blackout so complete that even the Exit signs are turned off (interestingly, an approach also used in MIF’s The Skriker), the evening begins with the dancers outlined just in LEDs. Some later complained this reminded them a bit of a recent act from Britain’s Got Talent – but that’s just dumbing down on their part. The dancers gradually appear in pairs, quartets and groups in a series of shifting, dynamically choreographed relationships, set to a thrillingly hypnotic score from Jamie xx.

But it’s as Eliasson’s extraordinary design, based on mirrors and lights, reveals itself that the piece becomes utterly compelling. Cleverly, not only are the dancers reflected and multiplied as the mirrors split and revolve with kaleidoscopic effects, but so too are members of the audience as spotlights roam the auditorium and bring them into the action.

It’s a mesmerising and brilliant spectacle that I defy anyone not to find simply thrilling.

So let me be absolutely clear here. If you really, really can only make it to one MIF show this year, then this contemporary ballet should be the one.

You’ll be stunned, delighted, astonished and, possibly the only drawback, find yourself unable to resist babbling to all your friends and acquaintances about how great it is.

By Kevin Bourke

Photos by Ruth Hogben



What: Tree Of Codes

Where: Manchester Opera House 

When: until July 10, 2015

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