There's never been a shortage of Cole Porter (1891-1964) tunes on Broadway, off Broadway, and in regional shows around the country, but choreographer Karen Stewart's Black Door Dance Ensemble may put the most innovative spin on Porter yet: an all-minority cast dancing to Porter's work en pointe. Black Door Dance Ensemble's performance Red Hot & Cole trades the standard character shoes for the technical precision of toe shoes. Porter's smooth sound will also get a jazzy jolt via a live trio accompaniment directed by musician Brian Murphy. "I like to take on shows that don't have dance, so I can incorporate my own vision and create something truly original," explains Stewart, the company's choreographer and founder, about her unconventional adaptation. "With Red Hot & Cole, I am taking classically trained dancers and having them move within the jazz vernacular en pointe -- and I mean rapidly en pointe."
Founded in 1991, Black Door Dance Ensemble, Miami's first African-American dance troupe, usually presents two shows a year. This year Stewart has poured resources only into Red Hot & Cole to bring in the caliber of dancers necessary to meet the project's stringent technical requirements. All of the dancers are nationally recognized professionals, with the two principals, Duncan Cooper and Caroline Rocher, coming from New York's highly acclaimed Dance Theatre of Harlem. The real prize, however, is two-time Tony Award nominee Vivian Reed, who will star and direct. Critically acclaimed in Broadway hits like Sweet Georgia Brown, Reed has studied with tap dancing great Honi Coles and shared the stage with Bill Cosby, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Patti LaBelle. Stewart took her time and eventually found the right project to share with Reed, her friend of many years: "I have always wanted to work with a bona fide Broadway actress, and Vivian shares my vision for this show. She really wants to jump in and make it swing. This is not going to be your typical Cole Porter sit-back-and-relax show."
As director of dance at Miami-Dade Community College's North Campus, Stewart is dedicated to training and nurturing aspiring dancers, and one of Black Door's primary missions is to offer dancers of color more opportunities to perform. "Things have changed, but they haven't," Stewart notes. Two of Stewart's former students, Christopher R. H. Robinson and Michelle Murray, who went on to dance and tour nationally and internationally, will also perform in Red Hot & Cole.
Artistic innovations aside, the show is still all about the author of standards such as "I Get a Kick Out of You," "You're the Top," and "Witchcraft," widely considered one of America's greatest songwriters. It chronicles the sophisticate's music and life, portraying his performances across the globe, his marriage and friendships with the luminaries of his time, and the calamitous riding accident that incapacitated him midway through his career. It may be sassy and staccato, but Red Hot & Colewill still be pure Porter. -- Mia Leonin