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Juliette of the Spirits

Oscar winner Juliette Binoche discusses her eclectic career and her new dance piece with Akram Kham, In-I, coming this month to BAM. logo
Juliette Binoche and Akram Khan in In-I
(© Tristram Kenton)
Juliette Binoche considers herself a "yes person," which is one reason why the Oscar-winning and Tony Award-nominated actress found herself last year suddenly collaborating and co-starring with the British choreographer Akram Khan in a two-person dance-theater piece called In-I, which finishes a year-long tour at BAM, September 15-26. And Binoche, who had not previously danced or choreographed professionally, readily admits she wasn't quite sure what they would come up with.

"The only vision I really had before I started on In-I was the need to be truthful and not try to please anyone else. I don't want to follow up on any ideas that didn't belong to my inner soul," Binoche says. "But, of course, the piece had to match Akram's will; in order to survive, you have to make some compromises. And even if it's not exaclty what I dreamt of -- and it's also been a physically very involving and demanding experience -- it has been a great journey, one that has been so joyful and taught me so much about myself. To me, the journey was more important than the result."

The journey has been literal, as well as figurative. After opening last fall in London -- to admittedly harsh reviews -- the pair have taken the show to such disparate places as Paris, China, and Australia, all to much stronger response. "Whether we were not ready in London, or whether the critics and audience had a different way of seeing things, I'm not sure," says Binoche. "In the end, people have responded to what was going on inside me, which is the most important thing. And I'm thrilled we're ending this journey in New York."

Indeed, Binoche is no stranger to the Big Apple, having lived here in 2000 and 2001 while starring in the Roundabout Theatre Company's revival of Harold Pinter's Betrayal. Would she consider a return to Broadway? "I would love to do stage work again, but I have no specific plans," she says, adding that she would even consider a musical. "It would depend on the work and the director. To do it just to do it proves nothing to me, but if there were the right combination of souls, I'd be open to it."

Fortunately, Binoche's fans in New York have the opportunity to see her work in many forms this month. BAMCinematek is offering Rendez-Vous, a retrospective of the actress' film work, which includes many of her favorite movies -- including Blue, Code Unknown, and The English Patient (for which she won the Academy Award) -- even though she left the selection completely up to the series' curators. "It was too much responsibility to choose the films," she says.

Juliette Binoche in Summer Hours
Rendez-Vous also includes a screening of one of Binoche's most recent films, the acclaimed family drama Summer Hours. "When I first watched it, I was happy, but also frustrated," she notes of the movie. "There is this one scene we shot towards the end of the film, which allowed the audience to finally understand my character more, and Olivier Assayas, [the film's director] cut it. I felt like we missed an important step, and Olivier now regrets his decision. But I have lot more compassion for directors now since I worked on In-I. One really has to understand the whole equilibrium of the piece."

Not coincidentally, another of Binoche's recent films, Paris, is finally getting a commerical release in New York, at the IFC Theatre on September 18. She plays the sister of a terminally ill man, but it was less the role than the experience that led her to work on the film. "I had not done a French film in a while, and you can be dismissed easily by both your family and your peers if you never come home. They see you as an alien," she says. "And it was refreshing to work with a French director, Cedric Klapisch, and a group of French actors who I didn't know."

If that wasn't enough, a group of Binoche's portraits and poetry is on display through October 9 at the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in New York; the exhibition is in conjuction with her book Portraits In-Eyes, which includes 58 portraits of film directors Binoche has worked with as well as characters she's played. "These portraits are a way of being in touch with my past, of keeping memories alive and discovering what remains," she says. "I've always painted from the time I was in school, and my mother took me to a lot of museums. I painted a lot when I was making Lovers on the Bridge, often during the middle of the night. It was a way of preparing, and by staying up, it helped me look tired on film, which was important for the role."

Binoche admits she almost gave up acting after the completion of that film, and it's not for certain that urge won't pop up again. She also claims she's done with dancing after In-I. Still, anything could change tomorrow. "To me, life is just about exploring what's out there; whether it's acting or dancing or painting or being a mother to my two children, it's all interesting," she says. "I dont believe in having a career plan. I live by intutition."

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