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Puzzling art-novel Tree of Codes is this year’s most unpredictable ballet adaptation

When the heart of a book is described as containing a yawning chasm, you should normally be very, very concerned. Possible exceptions to this rule include prisoners attempting to hide shanks in hollowed-out books during cell inspections and owners of Jonathan Safran-Foer’s Code of Trees, a novel made out of cut-up pages of the author’s favourite book, which is Bruno Schulz’s The Street of Crocodiles.

If you put a blank sheet of paper behind each of the pages in Code of Trees an original story emerges. If, on the other hand, you only stare at the opened book, you’ll see a sculptural object filled with crevasses and word-bridges. With the help of a score from Jamie xx, choreography by Wayne McGregor, and design by the artist Olafur Eliasson, Tree of Codes—either the book or the sculpture—is now being turned into a ballet.

Scant details have thus far been released about the Tree of Codes ballet. It will be performed at the Manchester International Festival in early July and make its American debut at New York City’s Park Avenue Armory in September. The Manchester International Festival has released a preview clip that pairs tests of Eliasson’s visuals with a Jamie xx track named “Pianna.” As in Safran-Foer’s book, the preview is a vision in overlapping layers. Translucent Plexiglas circles spin about like one of Susan Pascal Beran’s kinetic sculptures. The contemplative piano track “Pianna,” meanwhile, is far calmer than even the chilliest of entries on Jamie xx’s recent album In Colour. As of yet, there is no hint as to what McGregor’s choreography for this contemporary ballet will look like. 

“Every book ever written is chopped out of another one, ie. the dictionary.” 

Tree of Codes is a derivative work. As The Guardian’s Michel Faber put it “[Safran-Foer] argues that in a sense, every book ever written is chopped out of another one, ie. the dictionary.” It is therefore only fitting that Safran-Foer’s novel—if one agrees that it is well and truly ‘his’—is being chopped up and remade as a ballet, even if we don’t yet know what that ballet will look like. For that matter, the ballet isn’t the only reimagining of Tree of Codes currently in the works. Muzikafabrik’s Liza Lim is currently working with the Cologne Opera and the European Center for the Arts in Dresden to make a Tree of Codes opera. It’s too early to know whether these interpretations are fundamentally hollow. But even if they are, their cavities will be slightly different, and as Safran-Foer’s novel proved, that’s more than enough.