Binoche bows in Britain

The U.K. government may be in almost as much turmoil as the U.S.’ thanks to the vacillations of the financial markets. But gratifyingly, that hasn’t halted funding on a new initiative for building theater audiences.

Culture secretary Andy Burnham announced Sept. 23 that beginning in February, a £2.5 million ($4.6 million) program will allow 95 publicly funded venues across England to offer a portion of theater tickets gratis to anyone under 26. The initial goal is to provide a million free tickets by March 2011.

No participating venues have been confirmed yet, but a likely candidate is the National Theater, which already has its own “Entry Pass” initiative for attracting younger auds.

Started just over five months ago, the free membership program allows 15- to 19-year-olds to pay just $9.25 for tickets to anything in the National’s repertoire. More than 2,500 members already have joined.

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Among current National offerings available to those young theatergoers is Juliette Binoche‘s U.K. stage debut in the world premiere “in-i.” Binoche not only performs but also co-devised and directed the dance-theater duet with celebrated choreographer Akram Khan. Sadly, the piece is as self-conscious as its lower-case title.

Khan is a spellbinding dancer — his economy of movement is precisely controlled and immensely expressive — but here his choreography is hidebound by Binoche’s inexperience. Her dedication is evident, especially in the opening section, where she and Khan dance in perfect synchrony. But she never reaches a level where the piece takes on dramatic life.

“In-i” fashionably fuses movement and text in monologues about the difficulties of relationships. Sincere though these are, they badly need a writer, and neither performer has the vocal chops to energize the wide, almost empty Lyttelton stage. Long before the 70 minutes are up, the show becomes predictable and deadeningly repetitive.

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Those twin enemies of theater are even more dismayingly present in the West End’s “Flamenco/Flamen’ka.”

According to the program, this dance piece has a narrative inspired by Jorge Luis Borges’ stories concerning two brothers murdering the prostitute they love. But the resulting mess — tame when it wants to be torrid — is impossible to follow even with plot points intoned monotonously by narrator and leading dancer Karen Ruimy.

Four times we get her doomy pronouncement, “All it takes to die …” (interminable pause) “is to be alive.”

Despite the efforts of flamenco and tango bands and hard-working dancers sporting over-gelled, piratical hair, the entire farrago would quickly vanish if not for the phrase above the title, “Directed and Staged by Craig Revel Horwood.” As the loved/hated Simon Cowell-like judge on BBC ratings sensation “Strictly Come Dancing,” he’s a potential box office draw.

Audiences, however, are unlikely to be fooled. It’s billed, hubristically, as “A Stampede of Wildly Passionate Music and Dance.” But this stampede has the excitement of stamp-collecting.

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There’s far more authentic Spanish passion on display in the three-week, near sell-out season by Les Ballets Trockaderos de Monte Carlo. The drag ballet company may be 34 years old, but its technical finesse and the dancers’ infectious joy proves the joke hasn’t worn thin. And the really shocking thing about their Spanish “Majisimas,” a zesty display of high-19th century technique? There are no jokes. It’s just men in women’s roles dancing up a storm.

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