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  • Dancing with or without You
  • Amita Nijhawan (bio)
In-I, a dance-theatre production by Akram Khan and Juliette Binoche at the National Theatre, London, September–October 2008.

Sometimes togetherness can feel like distance. Sometimes togetherness can feel like distance all of the time. Akram Khan and Juliette Binoche's characters in In-I share an anxious relationship. They run up against each other, collide, grind in frustration, fall apart, and then run up at each other again. The piece starts with an empty stage, set designer Anish Kapoor's red wall as backdrop. Khan and Binoche walk in from two sides of the proscenium and sit themselves down on chairs placed quietly at opposite ends of the stage. Binoche relates the story of falling in love with a man, running after him as he attempts to flee, capturing him, and beginning a very troubled relationship. The two protagonists fall together, then apart, push each other away, pull together in an apparent mime of intimacy and distance that is at the same time both too literal and too simplistically vague.

The dancers then go into an amusing parody of men and women attempting to live together. In one of the more entertaining moments in the piece, they "lie down" on the wall, as if in bed, and struggle for space. When they wake up, they run around their house struggling to get property rights over the toilet seat (should it be up or down), the window (should it be down or up), and the timing of sex that has little love and even less charm. Yes, it is amusing and familiar to see a man and a woman jousting over trivia like the toilet seat and the window. No, it is not amusing to see a man bend a woman over and pump away at her when she is in the middle of a sentence. Not because it never happens, but because it is too simple. Surely, artists of the caliber of Khan and Binoche could begin, with their respective art forms, to get to the heart of intimate relationships, the acute discomfort, the joy, and the enticing, destructive drama.

In-I is about love and relationship. The emotion in the encounter, therefore, is felt rather than cerebralized. What is missing in this relationship that could (and does at times) make us think about our deepest, truest encounters with connection and fear, however, is the actual intimacy. The relationship is perhaps supposed to make us think that [End Page 72] this couple cannot live with or without each other, that the intensity of their encounter is such that their physical, emotional bodies cannot quite abide it for long, and thus yearn for distance. Here is the very French way of looking at love that can be mournfully enthralling. However, while it is easy to see what is keeping the couple apart, it is much harder to see what is keeping them together. As the result, perhaps, of a difficult artistic collaboration, the work itself speaks of tension in love and relationships. This could be an intelligent choice of theme for this pair, since they use the tension and drama that arises during the rehearsal process to convey the friction between lovers. Binoche grabs at Khan, attempting to cling to his neck, as he shrugs her off, walking away, leaving her desperate for more contact. Khan walks away repeatedly, abandoning Binoche to her fears of being alone. But once she conquers this fear, he returns, unable to live without her. The tension they seemed to face when making this piece gave them a potentially powerful theme to explore for the production. The work, however, finds it difficult to match this potential and remains superficially explored and tentatively developed.

While collaboration between two celebrated artists could have produced work that was top of the line, instead this troubled partnership struggles to find synchronicity. The choreographic devices are often simplistic and not up to the individual standards of the two artists. The acting becomes "pop," while the dancing explores easy, mimetic, rather than metaphorical or symbolic, aspects of dance work. Instead of letting the energy of their bodies sustain the drama of the...


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