directed and performed by
Juliette Binoche and Akram Khan
What happens when an actress breaks away from her craft? When a dancer breaks away from his? Can performers truly cross over into new media, or should they stick with what they know?
With these questions in mind, French actress Juliette Binoche and British dancer Akram Khan struck out to create a dynamic new piece, in-i, melding elements of dance and theatre in order to tell a story about complicated love, breaking out of their comfort zones in the process.
The pair devised the piece themselves from start to finish by exploring one another’s crafts in the rehearsal room, devising the text as well as choreographing the dances, which are free form and modern, without the conformity inherent in established forms like ballet.
The evening begins with a woman in a movie theatre, observing the man she desires, requiring the safety of darkness to experience the meaning of light. He’s “masculine, elegant,” she exclaims, and the two perform a thrilling courtship dance, mirroring one another but not quite, repelling and attracting simultaneously.
As the lovers descend into the monotony of domesticity, geometric lighting by Michael Hulls suggests a house, windows, and a bed. The thrill of new love is replaced by routines: regularly scheduled trips to the bathroom to urinate, quickies ending in short spurts of pleasure.
As the piece enters its third act and the lovers experience the tumult of growing apart and – possibly – back together again, the structure of the piece begins to break apart mysteriously. Khan’s character explains his Muslim past, when he was scolded by the elders at his mosque for loving a non-Muslim named Sarah.
Past traumas cause present woes, and the pair’s movements reflect the shift, growing more erratic. Binoche hits the wall, literally, and sticks to it. After she convulses, confused and feeling spurned, they come together in another frenzied dance, their sweat streaked across artist Anish Kapoor’s striking back wall, tumbling between pillars of light, bounding across the wall like two-legged spiders until, finally, they find themselves almost mirroring one another once again.
Much of the satisfaction of the piece is in its loose structure. Dramatic monologues shift seamlessly into plot-driven dances, set to beautiful piano-and-synth music by composer Philip Sheppard. There’s no set storyline, per se, but, rather, audience members are left to view the actors’ journeys with their own individual perspectives.
In the end, Binoche’s and Khan’s experiment is a resounding success. The pair take a totally fresh approach to dance, where movement is motivated by character and character is motivated by the creators’ impulses. The result is a dance theatre piece that’s gripping from start to finish.
Read the musicOMH review of in-i at the National Theatre, London (2008)