Spring Forward: Wayne McGregor’s Tree of Codes


As the spotlight began its slow and red-hued journey through the packed audience at Musikhuset in Aarhus, tracking its way over the Queen of Denmark and hundreds of other guests of Wayne McGregor’s Tree of Codes, I felt puzzled. The dozen or so dancers of McGregor’s company were deep into his fast pace, angular and balletic choreography, the stage decked out with a massive, A Chorus Line-esque mirror backdrop and Jamie XX’s music blaring from the overhead, surround speakers.

The performance was a jam-packed idea spree of McGregor’s, designer and visual artist Olafur Eliasson, who created the elaborate set (the most extravagant I have seen to date in a dance performance), and Jamie XX’s. McGregor brought in dancers from the Paris Opera Ballet to bolster his cast. So much was going on stage that the beam seemed unnecessary, foreign.

Why were the viewers suddenly being illuminated? As the beam hit the center of crowd, the point was made clear. The section of the audience in the light’s eye was reflected in the mirror on stage, becoming a human wall behind the action. Noticing this, my initial feeling was of embarrassment.

Propped behind the mostly nude, feverishly fit dancers, the audience members appeared buttoned up, formal, old, unmoving and incredibly passive. The juxtaposition of these two groups, one in mid step, dancing a mile a minute and the second, a silent, weighted mass, felt cruel.

The following morning after the many rounds of curtain calls, after dinner with said queen and a good night’s rest, McGregor met with the participants of Springback Academy for a mock press conference. In this meeting, McGregor said that he believed that the reflection created audience participation. He cited the audience members’ inner dancers and the mirrored experience they were having as activities.

The audience, though illuminated, were in no way motivated to do anything. To participate in something, one must act. Here there was no action, only the clarification and emphasis on our inactivity.

If audience participation is what he was after, McGregor has missed his mark.


Wayne McGregor presented Tree of Codes at the Aarhus Musikhuset on April 28, 2017.


Ori J. Lenkinski