Review: in-i, National Theatre

in-i marks a remarkable collaboration between dancer/choreographer Akram Khan and actress Juliette Binoche in which they dared each other to push personal and professional boundaries and create a work of art stretching over both their disciplines. The result is in-I, an 70 minute piece of intriguing dance theatre.

It purports to take us through the 14 different words that the Greeks have for love, but for me it felt like one could trace the turbulence of one relationship throughout. Taking us on a journey through this relationship, heavily influenced by his religious upbringing, her fears of domestic violence, as the couple come together, clash, separate, reunite and over again as they both struggle to deal with their innate fierceness.

The third collaborator Anish Kapoor’s set design is really interesting: a wall that moves slowly but is lit by a beautiful array of colours, reflecting the changing moods of the dance. It also serves as a backdrop to the various vignettes that are played out, like the opening scene set in a cinema.

There’s no denying that there are limitations to this exercise: Binoche has trained intensively for six months but does not have the full range and fluidity to be a true companion to Khan when they dance together, likewise Binoche’s immense stage presence sometimes threatens to overwhelm him during the acting sequences. But that is if one approaches this with a fully critical mindset: there are some beautiful moments here as well when the production plays to the strengths from each of its participants. Khan’s storytelling and Binoche’s vulnerability inthe cinema scene with Binoche as a teenager fantasising about an older man, represented by a whirling Khan is magnificent and I loved the imagery of pinned back onto the wall later on.

For seasoned fans of dance, I imagine this might be a bit of a disappointment as this isn’t the most highly technical of dance pieces. But to me it feels like so much more. It is so rare to see an artist at the top of her game in her own field putting herself through such a challenge in pursuing another, and in front of live audiences too. It is a risky experiment, but one I found to be highly fascinating, plus the opportunity to see Juliette Binoche on stage for the first time was one I could never have turned down even if she was just sitting there!

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