Cole Porter's Pro-Immigration Ballet Gets A Trump-Era Revival Within the Quota criticized the restrictive immigration laws passed by Congress after World War I. Now the Princeton University Ballet has brought the show back — with a few updates.
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Cole Porter's Pro-Immigration Ballet Gets A Trump-Era Revival

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Cole Porter's Pro-Immigration Ballet Gets A Trump-Era Revival

Cole Porter's Pro-Immigration Ballet Gets A Trump-Era Revival

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With songs like "Anything Goes" and "I've Got You Under My Skin," Cole Porter was one of America's greatest songwriters. But unlike those classics, Porter's more political work is rarely performed. Nearly a hundred years ago, he wrote the score for a ballet that took on U.S. immigration policy. The work is called "Within The Quota." And now a U.S. dance troupe has teamed up with the British ensemble Penguin Cafe to bring it up to date. NPR's Deborah Amos reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF COLE PORTER'S "WITHIN THE QUOTA")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: One, two, three, four.

DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: That's Cole Porter. He was practically unknown when he wrote the music for a ballet designed to protest the restrictive immigration laws passed by Congress in 1921.

(SOUNDBITE OF COLE PORTER'S "WITHIN THE QUOTA")

AMOS: Then, it was a backlash to European migrants, says Simon Morrison. He's the Princeton music professor who rediscovered the score two years ago in the Porter archives. Now, he says, this revival is an act of resistance against President Trump's anti-immigrant stand.

SIMON MORRISON: And when the election took place, which for a lot of people, was very devastating - and looked again at this score and thought about its context and thought, oh, my God. You know, this is actually what it was about. These things were real. And actually we're feeling them again now.

AMOS: Today, the focus is on security and economics. Morrison sees parallels between the anti-immigrant climate of the 1920s and 2017.

MORRISON: What set it off was the same things that are happening now. It was this kind of fear about people losing their jobs, fear about American culture being diluted or watered down or disappearing.

AMOS: So these were Germans and Greeks and Italians.

MORRISON: And Irish and Australians, yeah - and on boats that were frequently turned away.

(SOUNDBITE OF COLE PORTER'S "WITHIN THE QUOTA")

AMOS: The original production tells a story and dance. A newly arrived immigrant meets various American characters - an heiress, a movie star, a jazz musician - and dark forces who want to kick him out.

(SOUNDBITE OF COLE PORTER'S "WITHIN THE QUOTA")

AMOS: In the revival, the heiress is Ivanka Trump. The Lady Liberty character now takes selfies, and the musical finale, "Sweetheart Of The World," hints at Porter's style decades later.

(SOUNDBITE OF COLE PORTER'S "WITHIN THE QUOTA")

AMOS: The Penguin Cafe, a London-based orchestra, perform the musical update, interpreting the complex syncopations, Cole Porter's only score for dance. Daren Berry plays percussion, violin and ukulele.

DAREN BERRY: There are still the melodies, and they would stay with you all day. It's an incredible piece of work. It makes sense when you watch it. And it's not designed to be listened to. It's designed to be watched.

(SOUNDBITE OF COLE PORTER'S "WITHIN THE QUOTA")

AMOS: A packed house watched a student dance company perform the update of Cole Porter's "Within The Quota" this month at a Princeton University auditorium. Again, Professor Morrison.

MORRISON: And the lesson of this piece is that, you know, he's dead, but his works are ours now. And this work, which was nothing but a bunch of yellow manuscript paper, is back and is very, very relevant. I think there's something really magical in that.

AMOS: He says the production will tour the country as it did in the 1920s. Deborah Amos, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHARLIE PARKER'S "I GET A KICK OUT OF YOU")

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