Distinguished by its music — performed, and almost entirely written, by Porter and Jason Moran, the pianist, composer and Kennedy Center artistic director for jazz — the evening also featured two brief and underwhelming world-premiere dances, choreographed by Alonzo King, artistic director of LINES Ballet, and executed by New York City Ballet dancers Roman Mejia and Tiler Peck. A socially distanced audience of 80 attended, seated on the Opera House stage, where the art also unfurled — a setup the Kennedy Center has used previously during the pandemic. The proceedings were live-streamed, and an on-demand version is available through Aug. 1.
Taking your seat, you found yourself contemplating a piano silhouetted against the brilliant red upholstery of the traditional Opera House seating area. Those empty crimson furnishings made for a stunning backdrop.
With Moran at the piano and Porter in front of it, sometimes rising on his toes at moments of intensity, the sounds glistened and seduced. One standout was the evening’s opener, Porter’s “Painted on Canvas,” whose lyrics about hues and brushstrokes — reflecting metaphorically on identity and life choices — seemed to mirror the poignantly shifting colors of the music.
Vocals and instrumentals shared the spotlight. In a striking section near the end of “Revival,” Moran unleashed a tumult of notes, which resolved in keeping with the song’s confident vision.
In comparison with the music, the dance seemed busy and abrupt. “Swift Arrow,” deftly interpreted by Peck and Mejia, comes with an epigraph from the Greek philosopher Heraclitus: “The harmony of the ordered-world is one of contrary tensions, like that of the harp or bow.” To Moran’s music, each dancer first barreled through a lithely agitated solo, with wheeling and retracting arms and twitchy changes of direction. Strong and moody, a sequence of tussle-laced partnering followed. All in all, the contrary-tension idea came through clearly in “Swift Arrow”; the harmony, less so. (The swimsuit-style costumes, by Robert Rosenwasser, were not an asset.)
Set to music by Porter, a solo for Peck, “Child of Sky and Earth,” showed why she is a dance luminary. With loose hair, in an off-white dress (Rosenwasser again), she brought flair and theatricality to the now-nervy, now-willowy movement, at one point teetering on one leg as if matching wills with gravity. Still, the choreography often had a churning feel.
But live performance remains a thrill. In “Revival,” when Porter sang, “I lost the feeling/But you give me meaning again,” he could almost have been expressing grief for a lost year of so much in-person art, and appreciation for what the future could bring.
An Evening of Jazz and Dance. About 50 minutes. $15. Available on-demand through Aug. 1 at kennedy-center.org/digitalstage/plus.