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Using the material of one of the 20th-century’s greatest songwriters (one who happens to be a native Hoosier) as fodder for an evening of dance may seem like a no-brainer for a modern dance company.
But there are hidden challenges in the material, the largest of which is that many of these numbers are branded by other forms of dance. Try to picture anything but crazed tap dancing accompanying “Anything Goes,” for instance. Or shake the image of Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell owning the stage dancing to “Begin the Beguine.”
In “Cole!,” its season-closing production at the IRT, Dance Kaleidoscope wisely doesn’t bother competing with its iconic stage and screen predecessors. Instead, it makes its own amiable way through the Porter catalogue, briskly offering 16 numbers sans showstoppers but also free of duds.
The first act respectfully uses early versions of Porter recordings and the thin sounds seems to have had an effect on the dancers, who don’t pop as well as they do in the second half, featuring a more modern sound (by which to say the likes of David Byrne and The Thompson Twins are mixed with Sinatra, Armstrong and Fitzgerald).
There was a disconnect between the lyrics and the choreography for “Miss Otis Regrets,” but the number stood out as a crowd-pleaser. As did the Act 1 closer to a choral “Wunderbar.”
In the midst of the playful spirit of the show, Liberty Harris danced a moving solo to Annie Lennox’s version of “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye,” made more powerful by the combo of lighting and choreography that boldly left her face largely hidden. And Brandon Comer and Timothy June’s “It’s All Right With Me” was an appropriate pairing for Pride Week.
Much of the spotlight in the show seemed to be on Comer, a 2nd year DK dancer poised to fill the space left by last season’s departures, Kenoth Shane Patton and George Salinas. During a Q&A during intermission (a plus during DK’s Thursday evening shows), artistic director David Hochoy responded to a question about Patton, pointing out that the life of a dance company comes from retiring dancing making room for new ones (I’m paraphrasing). He noted that more than 60 dancers have come through the company since he took over 21 years ago.
That’s a remarkable legacy. And one of the pleasures of a resident company—of which DK is a rare breed in this town—is seeing it evolve, constantly morphing.
One of the reasons we love sports so much is that we care about the players. A resident arts company can invoke the same loyalty while, in essence, creating its own long-form dance piece. Within that, some games are forgettable. Some are spectacular. Others are just entertaining.