nytheatre.com review by Heather J. Violanti
January 9, 2011
Correspondances pushes the boundaries of theatre and dance, mixing elements of both forms until it shatters the very idea of form itself. A startling meditation on gender, power, and personal experience, its ultimate meaning is difficult to fathom—but Correspondances is never less than mesmerizing.
Choreographed and performed by Kettly Noël and Nelisiwe Xaba, who have revolutionized modern dance in Africa, the piece has a loose framework inspired by their own experience. Two women, presumably based on themselves, meet after a long correspondence. They embrace, they talk, they dance. Boundaries are broken. The piece begins not with dance but with a monologue, in which a woman (Xaba) explains her morning ritual of getting ready for the day “so that when a man turns around, he has something worth looking at.” She dances as she talks, stretching her body in impossible poses while balancing on six-inch heels. Then, the house lights come up and another woman (Noël) enters through the audience, kissing random people on the cheek and girlishly waving as she bounds up to the stage with a suitcase. She playfully kisses Xaba on the cheek and then all over her body, until the kissing becomes seductive, then aggressive. A duet follows, in which the two women perform a dance of seduction and anger. They push, pull, arabesque, slow-dance, climb, and crawl as they traverse the stage.
And so the evening goes. Dance melds with dialogue. Provocative statements are tossed out at random, toying with concepts of politics and gender. Xaba says she wants to “go forward…like Obama” instead of going backward “like Mugabe.” She says she wants to be “first world.” Noël delivers a monologue in French about being a sexy and sensual woman…then burps. Xaba dances an eerily beautiful duet with a white puppet. Both women dress up in frilly skirts and underpants to dance a girly routine to “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” on top of a table. Then Xaba climbs under the table to drill Noël in basic ballet and modern dance steps, while Noël performs her own subversive choreography. Then comes the startling unforgettable conclusion (a surprise I won’t reveal here), at once a visual meditation on the nature of womanhood and the limits of language. It’s a suitably provocative end to a genre-pushing work.