Kettly NoŽl and Nelisiwe Xaba
by David Mead
October 19, 2009 -- The Place, London
Through text and dance, “Correspondences” is a lively, frequently witty, sometimes intimate look at the friendship of two women reunited after a long time during which they only corresponded. As Haiti-born Kettly Noël and South African Nelisiwe Xaba explore their friendship, they tell stories, exchange opinions, fight and laugh. We see the initial awkwardness of being in the same space, and maybe even a certain amount of jealousy, develop into deep friendship. Their conversations and observations are sometimes funny, but always revealing; and they move as passionately as they speak.
The couple introduce themselves through two monologues that seem to have more than a hint of autobiography about them. Xaba focuses on the everyday task of getting ready for work. But she makes it sound far from mundane. As she stretches, twists and turns her leggy frame, we learn much about her bathroom and its many mirrors, and the shoe and hat collection in her closet. Noel is more exuberant, arriving from the back of the auditorium with a battered suitcase, perhaps an autobiographical touch reflecting her journeys and time spent in Benin, Mali and France. After hugging and kissing several members of the audience as if they were friends, a sizeable part of her text centres on money. In a political reference again drawing on her experiences, she says, “In Africa I am a queen. With money in Africa, I can buy anything and everything. I can buy a country, I can buy a continent, I can buy boys, I can buy girls… With money in Africa, I am a queen!”
Several scenes follow, the best and most amusing of which is one that features Xaba, lying under a large table, giving instructions in the form of ballet steps or positions to Noel, on the table. After been prompted by one to remove her underwear, on ‘jeté’ she drops them on the table, and on ‘grand jeté’ throws them at the front row, who, in this performance, hadworked out what was coming. “Try harder”, yells Xaba, “you’re not doing RAD you know!”
Finally, having really got to know each other, and now clad only in leotards, they shower together in milk, which arrives in surgical gloves from above. Now fully relaxed in each others’ company, they play, sliding around the floor as the music gets ever louder, and their opening texts scroll across the floor and back wall.
If there is a weakness in “Correspondences,” it is the lack of connection between some scenes. Not until the end, when the barriers are finally down and the couple play exuberantly does the work make sense. What really made the evening was not so much the choreography or dramaturgy, but the engaging personalities of the two performers, their natural approach, and the very evident chemistry between them. They really did seem like two friends.