Akram Khan on working with Juliette Binoche
British dancer Akram Khan has spent the past few months working with French actress Juliette Binoche. But who exactly is he? And what should we expect from their collaboration, ‘in-i’, when it previews at the National Theatre next week?
So who is this Akram Khan anyway? And how come he gets to spend months locked up in a studio getting sweaty with one of the world’s most beautiful women, Juliette Binoche?
Here’s the crib sheet. Khan, a major artist himself in the dance world, was born in London in 1974 to Bangladeshi parents. He studied the north Indian dance form kathak as a child, took his first theatre role at ten and, aged 14, was cast in Peter Brook’s epic Mahabharata. After his dance degree, Khan began developing what he calls a ‘confusion’ of styles, mixing kathak with western contemporary dance.
He was soon heralded as British dance’s golden boy – perhaps because, at the turn of the millennium, he was right on the zeitgeist, as multiculturalism became the watchword in the arts. But it was mostly because of his blistering technique, charismatic stage presence, innovative choreography and artistic intelligence.
Khan can claim a distinguished list of collaborators, including Nitin Sawhney, Anish Kapoor, Hanif Kureishi and Antony Gormley, and in ‘Sacred Monsters’ he got his hands on another gorgeous Frenchwoman, in the long, lean shape of ballerina Sylvie Guillem. All the while he has been moving away from purely dance-based works in a more dance-theatre direction. Except he doesn’t see it like that.
‘I don’t understand when people say to me, “Oh, you’re moving from dance to theatre.” I grew up in kathak,’ he reminds us. ‘It’s very theatrical, it has words, you’re the musician and you’re the dancer. It’s a very western concept that “this is dance”, “this is theatre” and “this is music”. I’m just exploring something that is already part of my art form. I don’t see them as separate.’
For Khan, working with Binoche was a giant leap into the unknown. ‘It was wonderful for me to share her knowledge and experience and for her to share mine, and then we said, “No, let’s not share each other’s experience. Let’s create a new one.” ’
The pair began an intimate journey, drilling to the core of their emotions and the possibilities of their bodies – a process that has brought them very close. ‘We know a lot about each other – more than we’d like,’ Khan jokes.
‘I’ve learned so much [from Binoche], about how to tap into emotions on a theatrical level, not just through the body,’ says Khan. ‘To see how she can be completely vulnerable as an artist. It takes a lot of courage. To experience that with her is a wonderful lesson.’
The choreographer has no idea what audiences will think of their adventure. Does it matter if they know nothing about dance? ‘When you see someone on stage and they absolutely mean it, when it is absolutely real to that person, that experience transmits to you. You don’t need any words or knowledge beforehand. I can’t tell you how the audience is going to react. What I do hope is that they’re moved, on an emotional, a physical, a visual, an intellectual level.’
Not much to ask, is it?
Read what Juliette Binoche told Time Out about working on 'in-i'.
‘in-i’ is at the National Theatre from Sept 6.
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