in-i @ National Theatre, London

directed and performed by
Juliette Binoche
Akram Khan
This unusual collaborative project sees its performers, one an award winning actor, the other an equally successful dancer and choreographer, step out of their respective comfort zones in more ways than one.

On one level, the project requires Juliette Binoche to shed her screen persona, drop her defences and learn to move as a dancer, whilst Khan has been required to act in a way hitherto never demanded of him. On another level, compiling this work has forced both to delve inside of themselves in a way that most of us would instinctively shy away from, leaving them exposed.

in-i arose from a meeting between the two in 2006, after which they started improvising together. Using dance and dialogue to tell of the relationship between two nameless people, it explores the many ways in which love can manifest itself, and presents a third player who can rear his ugly head in any relationship: the space between two people.

After Binoche spots Khan by chance, she follows him and they end up making love. But then their relationship falters, triggered by petty things such as the man never wiping the toilet seat, but fuelled by anger and the baggage that each carries with them. We witness the space growing between them, until, at the end, their hands move to touch as if in reconciliation, though we are left unsure as to whether they actually join.

The dancing effectively portrays certain feelings and emotions. We know exactly what it means when we see the two moving to embrace, but only their arms (and not their bodies) interlock. There are also a few humorous scenes of more straight forward mime to vary the mood. Binoche dances well, and though we would never expect her to rank alongside Khan, he raises her game far more than she pulls him down.

But the story told is lacking, and the move from their initial get together to the start of their break-up occurs too quickly. As a result, throughout the play we wonder whether we really are witnessing a tragic tale of two people who should have lived happily ever after, but inexplicably allow things to come between them. When we hear Binoche and Khan’s respective soliloquies, it seems more likely that they were always wrong for each other and never stood a chance. Binoche tells of how she always sang of how some day she’d find her man (even when she was in a relationship), before singing that song again now. Khan, meanwhile, tells of how, as a Muslim youth, he loved a ‘non-believer’ but was forced to disown her. His yearning for this girl makes us suspect that his current relationship was always doomed to failure.

Of course, forlorn relationships occur every day and there is no reason why one should not be portrayed on the stage. When this current relationship, however, is the central theme of the play, it is disappointing to have so much of the background to the characters presented through monologues, as this makes the dancing that portrays the relationship itself feel too much like an irrelevance.

Under these circumstances, the real coup for me was Anish Kapoor’s Spartan set. The large Lyttelton stage merely contained two chairs and a square background wall, which altered depending on the mood of the scene so that it often resembled a Mark Rothko painting. In the same way that we ask of Rothko’s paintings whether they convey eternity or fleetingness, we are inspired, in this piece, to ask similar questions about the nature of love. Sadly, however, the answers to be inferred from in-i itself all lean one way rather more than they should.

Putting together in-i was clearly an emotional and multi-faceted experience for Binoche and Khan, but the secret to any play is to make it as relevant to the audience as its creators. And just because in-i crosses the divide between drama and dance, and involves a Hollywood actress branching out from her usual field, does not exempt it from this rule.

No related posts found...