Tree of Codes is a mélange of contemporary ballet, breathtaking visuals, and music from artists across the globe, all at the peak of their respective fields. Featuring choreography from the renowned Wayne McGregor, art from Olafur Eliasson and a purposely written score from none other than Jamie xx — it epitomises the creative potential of collaboration, all capped off with fourteen soloists and dancers from the world-class Paris Opera Ballet. As Festival Director Jonathan Holloway will tell you, it’s set to be an unmissable Melbourne Festival experience.
“Because of the emotional, visual, and aural elements, it’s not quite overwhelming but you do feel like you’ve been through this huge journey where you come out the other side,” he says. “It’s that perfect piece of live performance that really makes an audience into one — one mass of people that experience something together.”
This unifying experience is exactly why Tree of Codes is such an exciting edition to Melbourne Festival’s 2017 program. While it features multiple artists at the top of their game, the finished product is a seamless, fully realised vision.
“It’s collaboration without compromise,” says Holloway. You’ve got three people who are at the peak of their abilities and are not in any way dialing anything back for each other. And that doesn’t always work, but in this occasion it 100 percent does. All three of these elements are both solely and together incredibly rich.”
Of course, 2017 is a very different year than 2016. Great art holds a mirror to the times we live in, and this year’s Melbourne Festival will do the same. At only half way through the year, we’ve already seen the President of the United States try to impose travel sanctions onto the Muslim world — the very same President who ran a successful campaign abreast promises of building a wall between America and Mexico.
Europe and Britain are more divided than ever as nationalist ideals jostle to the forefront in a time where more and more people feel that multiculturalism has failed as a global project, and are projecting their anger in increasingly harmful ways.
We’ve seen terror attacks — both close to home and in nations far from us — while a gaping disconnect continues to fester between the right and the left. In many ways, it feels as if we’re more fractured than ever. On a grander scale, that’s why a work such as Tree of Codes is so important right now.
“It reminds me of what we can do as a civilisation,” says Holloway of the performance. “Frankly, we can do some very terrible things. I watch this and it reminds me that this is a civilisation that took to the air and took to the seas. That’s built palaces and cathedrals. We are a civilisation that can do amazing things as well as terrible things. Rarely in a work of art do you say, ‘This is the point’. These people are the people — architects, artists, musicians, choreographers — who really can change society and really can create something that is miraculous.”
Tree of Codes features contributions from artists across both Europe and the UK, and is inspired by a book written by the American author Jonathan Safran Foer. Safran Foer in turn found inspiration for his book from the Polish writer Bruno Schulz. Ultimately, this is a stunning example of what we can do when we act together, arriving as a timely reminder that across all aspects of culture — from art, to politics, to the way we conduct ourselves in day to day life — that greatness can be achieved when we come together to form something more than the sum of our parts.
“The audience is an active participant,” says Holloway. “You feel tiny and massive at the same moment and you are physically connected to everything around you. It’s a totally unifying experience, as it is standing at a fantastic club when the best music is being played. As it is when you’re lost deep into a book at three o’clock in the morning because you just can’t leave this world. This piece of work actually does the same thing.
“I hope that there’s a few things in this year’s festival that can have that impact, because that is the role of a festival. It is to use absolute force to create change. They’re brief in duration, they’re intense — they should be all consuming.”