Olafur Eliasson, Tree of Codes

February 13, 2017


Giuliano Picchi

At Opéra national de Paris – Palais Garnier | February 6 to 23, 2017

Tree of Codes was created in July 2015 for the dancers of the Paris National Opera Ballet and of the Company Wayne McGregor at the Manchester International Festival. Wayne McGregor draws inspiration from the novel by the American author Jonathan Safran Foer who chiselled his story from the pages of Bruno Schulz’s book, The Street of Crocodiles. He has turned to the talents of musician Jamie xx who has composed a score bordering on pop and electronica and entrusted the scenography to Olafur Eliasson. Carried by the sensorial music, the hypnotic interplay between mirrors and light reveals all the polysemy of the dancers’ movements, as if paring down the choreographer’s vocabulary as our gaze is literally brought into play.

Designer’s notes – comments by Olafur Eliasson

In our age of digital books and life mediated and staged through screens, I have become increasingly interested in the physical nature of books. To me, books have always been about more than just print on paper. Tree of codes addresses the book as a space that relates to our body.
I was fascinated by the fact that the book has a very physical impact, turning the act of reading into sculpting of space and narrative over time. Despite its cavities and its explicit absence of matter, which is of course an absence of both paper and words, the book is intensely rich. It spaces and times.

I look at the book as vibrant matter. It doesn’t explain ideas, but vibrates them. It embodies a space and a narrative — or various narratives — within it. I tried to translate this feeling into the visual concept. You might not find a direct link, but for me the book was a tremendous inspiration for the light concept and the sequence of set designs.

Both Wayne and Jamie work in ways with which I identify — they embrace abstraction and complexity in contemporary language while giving their output a form and a tone that are accessible to broader audiences. This production brings together sound, dance, and light in a way where the audience will feel invited to join the dance, to take part.

I am fascinated by the subtle layers in Jamie’s music. The beats and lower end feel like they engage the subconscious; they remind me of where I come from. The upper end instrumental layer are like navigational tools that show me where I’m going. What touches me in Jamie’s work is that the mechanics of this looking forward and backward, or inward, perform in concert: it feels to me like the subconscious in the machine grounding the composition, while the upper end is more invested in the friction on the path along which we are moving. And then, every so often, some vocals slip in, tying it all together. The human voice becomes a door through which you can enter the whole piece.Producing reality is always about a relationship: between you and

Producing reality is always about a relationship: between you and a space, you and a thought, a proposition, an object; between you and other people. I see dialogue as a way of staying interconnected. I almost always work collaboratively, weather with my great studio team in-house or with inspiring people such as Wayne and Jamie. I am continually in dialogue with people from very different lines of work: with compassion specialists, Buddhist monks, physicists, dancers, environmental activists, politicians… These people allow me to see the world differently and test territory I wouldn’t have ventured into on my own. Our conversations feed my artistic practice with inspiration. I couldn’t do without it.

Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson – Tree of Codes (W. McGregor, O. Eliasson, Jamie xx) – 2015
Music Jamie xx
Choreography Wayne McGregor
Set design Olafur Eliasson
Light design Rob Halliday
Photo credits Little Shao / Opéra national de Paris