When American novelist Jonathan Safran Foer published Tree of Codes, in 2010, it stumped critics. The publication – part book, part sculpture, part poetry – saw Foer write a story not by putting words to paper, but by removing words from another text: Bruno Schulz’s The Street of Crocodiles. The result is a paperback rife with excisions, what choreographer Wayne McGregor calls ‘a beautiful architectural object’.
After reading the book, McGregor became determined to produce this architectural object as a performance, so he choreographed it in creative partnership with Olafur Eliasson, who came up with a visual concept, and Jamie xx, who composed the music. Over the course of a weeklong run, the Park Avenue Armory in New York staged the 90-minute performance that resulted from this coming-together of three people at the top of their artistic fields. Like the book that inspired it, Tree of Codes, as a performance, defies easy category – part dance, part art installation, and part music event.
Eliasson’s set, positioned at the centre of the Armory’s vast drill hall, produces a colourful and kinetic stage. A mirrored backdrop folds into itself, creating a kaleidoscopic effect, while a scrim that divides the stage is both reflective and transparent, allowing dancers on each side of it to be reflected in different ways. In the prismatic lighting and stage colours, audience members will recognise Eliasson’s influence – also on display with an installation before the performance starts that projects the silhouettes of passersby as repeated shadows tinted with the full colour spectrum.
In what has become an ambitiously versatile arts venue, the Armory will round out its 2015 season with an installation by Laurie Anderson and a performance by Marina Abramović with pianist Igor Levit. Throughout it all, work continues on restoring the 19th century building, under the design direction of Herzog & de Meuron.