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NOT QUITE DANCE OR THEATRE - CALL IT ARS GRATIA BINOCHE
By Patricia Boccadoro
PARIS, 9 DECEMBER 2008 - After the success of Zero Degrees with choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, followed by a collaboration with Sylvie Guillem resulting in the sublime Sacred Monsters - a production that touched perfection - Akram Khan chatted to me over a year ago of his projected creation with actress Juliette Binoche, a work which would complete his trilogy of pas de deux with French artists of differing milieus.
Over lunch in Montmartre he spoke with enthusiasm of his meeting with Binoche when she came to see Zero Degrees in London. It so happened that Akram's manager's wife, Su-Man Hsu, who had been a dancer with Rosas Company, was the actress' masseuse and a suggestion arose that the two of them could perhaps work together.
"Before I knew what was happening," Khan told me, "the pair of us were in a studio playing around with projects, and my curiosity arose as ideas began to flow. I remember saying, 'well, what shall we do?' And she echoed me." "What shall we do?" said Binoche. "Let's start with nothing."
It seemed like the start of a fresh, inventive journey for the gifted British choreographer, but 12 months later, in-i - premiered at the National Theatre in London in September and presented at the Theatre de la Ville in November - proved to be just the contrary.
in-i is less a collaboration with Khan than a continuation of Juliette Binoche's work on the screen. It is a love story, albeit clichéd, of a couple who fall in love but after the initial attraction wears off, disillusionment sets in with the routine of daily life. Frustration, cruelty and violence take over from the initial playfulness. It is a work for movie lovers rather than for those who love dance, qualifying neither as dance nor even theatre, but rather as a performance. And as far as dialogues go, Khan's had some interest while those of Binoche, well, we'd heard them before. Each wrote their own.
The beginning is promising, showing Binoche as a young girl who is infatuated with the back of a man's head in a cinema. She is obsessed with this magnetic stranger and is determined to get to know him. The décor is superb. Anish Kapoor has devised a large, luminous wall, red at the beginning, which glows, moves, and changes tones as the story unfolds. The image is also projected onto the forefront of the stage.
But the moment the French star moves, the magic is broken, for the award-winning actress - so photogenic in films - is no dancer. In contrast to Khan, her body - so fragile on screen and slender off-stage - seems dumpy and her movements ungainly.
Her energy and force, commendable qualities in themselves, particularly with a man ten years her junior, cannot match the grace, intelligence and innate beauty of Khan, and the partnership never takes off. For those who came to see dance, Khan gives several formidable displays of the conflict within him, of love and trust lost, with quicksilver movements, his arms whipping air faster than the eye can follow. He is impressive and his aggressiveness is frightening as he hurls himself repeatedly against the wall, leaving angry traces of sweat behind.
And then, in one heart-stopping moment, his hands drifted over and above hers, their fingers touching, his hand circling hers, but as soon as emotion took off in movement, it was choked back to earth. And again, when Binoche is pinned up in space, hanging against a wall, and when dance could have expressed so much more than words ever could, a lengthy monologue sent the audience to sleep.
After seeing the performance, I asked Juliette Binoche what it was like to work with Akram Khan. "It was all very complicated," she told me. "It's difficult to talk about, and would take a very long time to explain."
It was a surprising answer, considering the directness with which Sylvie Guillem, probably the greatest ballerina of the century and a woman reputed to have not the easiest of temperaments, had replied. For the great ballerina, working with Khan had been amongst the most enjoyable and fulfilling moments of her career. It had obviously not been the same for Binoche.
However, such a creation should be put into context. in-i in France forms part of a "Binoche fortnight" which also includes an exhibition of thirty of her paintings and a retrospective of her films at the Cinemathéque of Paris. It is a performance which uses dance, allows the actress to sing, (yes, she sings a version of Gershwin's, "The Man I Love"), and to experiment with the idea of movement to express her emotions - emotions which, unfortunately, were neither shared with Khan nor with the audience.
Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe. She has contributed to The Guardian, The Observer and Dancing Times and was dance consultant to the BBC Omnibus documentary on Rudolf Nureyev. Ms. Boccadoro is the dance editor for Culturekiosque.com
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