My Talk With Akram Khan and Juliette Binoche

September 17, 2009

After witnessing these two artists practically break themselves open to find new ground, I had the privilege of interviewing them in a BAM Artist Talk last night. They had just exhausted themselves performing In-I, the uncategorizable duet they’ve been touring. She’s a terrific mover; her presence onstage is every bit as physical, changeable, glamorous, and unpredictable as it is in film. In this quasi-narrative piece she is led by her own instincts. Her character seems inevitably drawn to Akram Khan’s. He had to find a more emotional grounding in the choreography to match her—without the trained bodies he usually depends on.

   We had a great conversation at the Artist Talk that highlighted some of the challenges of this crazy crossover of Binoche dancing and Khan speaking (though he has often spoken in his work). She said that during the creating process, she had trouble remembering the movement, had “resistance” at first, and I can understand that. Of course for a dancer, remembering movement is one of the things you learn to do—you develop a certain body logic over time. So I wouldn’t expect her to learn Akram’s phrases—or even her own phrases that emerged from improvising—quickly. But it was more than not learning or remembering. She said it was “because it had no meaning” for her unless it was motivated by her inner self. That made me see the gulf between actors and dancers. She brought a different kind of rigor to Khan’s work, an emotional rigor. And he brought a rigor of physical precision to her work.


   When I asked how different it was for Binoche to go from “playing to the camera lens to playing to an audience,” she practically erupted. She said something like, “I don’t play to the lens. I play to the sun, the ocean, the earth, to what comes out of my inner self. It’s their problem to catch it!” No wonder she is so exciting on film! She’s more about being true to her self than being correct for the camera—or the audience. Nothing she did last night was adornment, it was all about the relationship between the two characters.

   We got onto the subject of vulnerability. Akram told a wonderful story (I love listening to him talk about the cultural aspects of his past) about the first time a dance teacher told him to wear a leotard. He grew up in a Bangladeshi family in London, and you just didn’t show your body in that way. He almost squirmed when he told the story, as though he could still feel his embarrassment.

This was an endlessly interesting pairing. If you want to see it, go to And watch our website for a video clip of it soon, including parts of the talk.


Photo by Jack Vartoogian, Courtesy