Ballet Theatre San Luis Obispo is starting the new year swinging.
On Jan. 31, the dance company will team up with local gypsy jazz band The Tipsy Gypsies for a benefit concert at its new studio home.
“We’ve moved three times in one year,” said Theresa Slobodnik, artistic director of Ballet Theatre San Luis Obispo.
After its longtime location, Dance Obispo, closed its doors in downtown San Luis Obispo, the company spent two months sharing a Bonetti Drive space with Aikido of San Luis Obispo and an eight-month stay in University Square at Foothill Boulevard. The School of Ballet Theatre San Luis Obispo and performing company moved to the business park at 3655 South Higuera St. in September.
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“When change comes, you need to embrace it because it’s usually for the best,” said Slobodnik. “We’re experiencing a lot of freedom, a lot of ability to do everything we want to do.”
For instance, she explained, “We’re changing the types of work we’re doing. It’s still theatrical ballet storytelling, but it’s not (in) the big theaters with the heavy props.”
Her new piece “Forever Midnight” brings to life a 1940s street scene “back East” where school teachers and gangsters intermingle.
“Somehow they all end up at this night club where all kinds of illegal things go on,” said Slobodnik, who described the piece as “light and gangstery and sassy.”
Led by dancers Lily Campbell and Justin McMillan, the ensemble includes Zach Arend, Amy Daniels, Blair and Shae London, Michelle McLaughlin, Julian Rossi, Hayley Seitz and Slobodnik herself. Swing dancers Josh and Keri Wilmore will provide a lindy hop exhibition.
Providing the soundtrack are four selections from the Tipsy Gypsies’ 2013 album “Little Victories.” In addition to the ballad “In Your Arms,” "Forever Midnight” features three instrumental songs – “Chartreuse Dreams,” “Flying Low” and the title tune.
“To be able to do something like this, with the band playing (the music) live, is super fun,” Slobodnik said.
In addition to watching “Forever Midnight,” audience members can cut a rug during two sets by the Tipsy Gypsies.
“What we didn’t want was for people to just sit there. We wanted them to be able to dance,” Slobodnik said.
The Jan. 31 fundraiser marks the second time in recent months that the Tipsy Gypsies have teamed up with a local dance group. In October, CORE Dance Company performed a modern dance piece set to “In Your Arms” as part of their annual recital “Become” at the Performing Arts Center in San Luis Obispo.
“Playing for dancers is so fun because they give something back,” said Tipsy Gypsies vocalist Hilary Langdon. “Your energies feed off each other.”
However, she added, performing with live dancers requires “serious musicianship” and discipline.
Because those performers have choreographed their movements precisely based on recorded songs, “We have to be really careful about tempo, lyrics (and) vocal cues,” Langdon said, and not indulge in the improvisational flourishes the band customarily makes. Even the slightest change can slip dancers up.
“Fortunately,” guitarist Forrestt Williams said, “we’ve assembled a group of really talented musicians. We can do disciplined things. We can do tight arrangements.”
The Tipsy Gypsies, which includes violinist Allan Dick, drummer Daryl Vandruff and double bassist Brian Lanzone, has regular gigs at Creekside Brewing Company and Novo Restaurant & Lounge in San Luis Obispo. The band also performs at the annual San Luis Obispo Lindy Exchange, sponsored by the Cal Poly Swing Club.
Williams said the band is drawn to “really cool, fun gigs to play, and really fun gigs that give back,” such as fundraisers.
The Tipsy Gypsies will be joined Jan. 31 by two backup vocalists — singer-songwriter Melody Klemin and Kara Pecson of the San Luis Obispo Vocal Arts Ensemble. (“‘In Your Arms’ needs those harmonies to really work,” Langdon explained.) Another guest artist, Ben Arthur, will play rhythm guitar.