Juliette Binoche and Akram Khan

September 15, 2009

, by Juliette Binoche

and Akram Khan
Next Wave Festival

Brooklyn Academy of Music

Brooklyn, NY

September 15–26, 2009

Reviewed by Wendy Perron

The French actress Juliette Binoche is a force of nature onstage. Her presence is every bit as physical, changeable, glamorous, and gorgeously unpredictable as it is in the movies. In this dance-theater collaboration with Akram Khan, she strides, skitters, spins, and rolls around with him—all with a full-bodied movement quality. Binoche, who had no formal dance training, is led by her instincts; nothing is superficial. Her face and the body are equally alive. In comparison, Khan, a trained dancer who can do amazing things at amazing speeds, seems less involved, almost stern. She brought passion to the table; he brought precision. In the Artist Talk afterward, which I moderated, she spoke of her need to unite movement with motivation.

The piece opens with Binoche sitting in a chair, her back to us. Her recorded voice talks about seeing a man in a movie theater and being immediately drawn to him. Khan represents the object of her desire throughout In-I. She goes for him hook, line, and sinker; it’s startling to see her so undefended. But Khan is always trying to get away from her, and it reads as though he is running away from his own desires. His own monologue, when he recalls being punished as a young boy for liking a white girl, is done without ever involving Binoche as a performer. So the narrative felt lopsided.

Some moments were almost physical comedy, as when Binoche kept trying to sit on a toilet seat that Khan had left up. In these domestic episodes, she matched his precision and threw in a dollop of humor. But he never matched her in desire.

The warm-hued upstage wall, designed by Anish Kapoor, provided a visual anchor and was lit (by Michael Hulls) to shift from abstract to narrative when necessary. The most theatrically amazing moment came when Binoche got pinned to this wall (through the help of magnets we later learned) and told a story about almost getting choked by a former lover.

The choreography in general was less intricate that Khan’s usual bracing blend of postmodern and kathak. Naturally he was limited by Binoche’s lack of training. But because the relationship was stronger than the steps, when the two finally got together in a slow dance at the end, it was very satisfying.