Arts & Culture

A JOURNEY THROUGH TIME

‘Shimmy Shake Shine’ features a variety of music and dance styles.
‘Shimmy Shake Shine’ features a variety of music and dance styles. PHOTO BY SANDRA CORTEZ

Choreographer Suzy Miller is back with another of her song-and-dance spectaculars, showcasing a multitalented cast, many of them familiar from her earlier shows.

“Shimmy Shake Shine!” is “a more nonlinear journey down the rabbit hole,” Miller said.

Her previous shows had a particular focus — like “Fosse,” zeroing in on Bob Fosse choreography; “Vegas, Baby!” and “Hollywood”—but this time the theme is more esoteric.

Miller lost her mother recently, and “it really shook me,” she said, “and left me with existential questions about how precious and fleeting time is, and how to cherish the moment.”

The theme of the show is really time itself, she said. “It’s a journey through time, about seizing the day, the power of music, the power of love. We sing, ‘Let the music make your body shimmy, let the music make your body shake, let the music make your spirit shine.’ “

The pieces encompass an eclectic variety of genres, styles and worlds, spanning time and geography. From rap to ballet, gospel to goth, and with aerial performances and numbers with flavors of India, Africa, Egypt and Argentina. Several pieces feature a cappella singing. The 16 pieces segue smoothly from one to another. Mark Robertshaw is music director.

The 30-member cast of singer-dancer-actors ranges in age from 15 to 54— “from innocence to maturity,” Miller noted. Half of them are alumni of her earlier shows, making them easy to work with. “They understand my shorthand in rehearsals,” she said.

Miller has been in the business for 35 years and has won Emmys and television’s Peabody Award. She has been on the Central Coast for 15 years and has high praise for what she calls “the family tree of talent” that produces her performers.

The dance studios, high schools and colleges are a rich resource, and community theater groups such as San Luis Obispo Little Theatre, where some of her shows have premiered, help young talent develop. Many students go on to professional theater careers. Some local clubs have also begun to nurture talent, Miller said.

“Native Lounge and MoTav (Mother’s Tavern) incorporated dance and choreography into their shows and brought us in to do creative things — not necessarily G-rated.”

She said the experience made her grow and added to her body of work, from which the pieces in “Shimmy Shake Shine!” have come. Many of the dances, including one which has been in her repertory for 30 years, had their beginnings in other venues. Dancers in the cast have had creative input in the development of the pieces in the show, Miller said.

“Because of TV shows like ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ and ‘Dancing with the Stars,’ the audience has a more sophisticated approach to dance and choreography,” giving her more creative leeway, the director said.

The wide variety and 16 numbers in the production were a costuming challenge. In addition to more traditional ways of building costumes, Miller developed what she calls “deconstructed” costuming, “using spit and glue, scissors, tying and shredding.”

She has gathered tribal and exotic fabrics for some of the pieces, and used curtains and old T-shirts. A third of the costumes are from her own closet, saved from when she was on TV in the 1980s.

“We’ve had a smorgasbord of sources,” Miller said.

Many in the cast are very strong performers, the director said, noting the wealth of talent in the area. Dancers and singers come from American Dance, Class Act, Hancock College, Cuesta, Cal Poly, and high school theater programs. Miller can think of at least a dozen young Central Coast men and women who could be capable of Zac Efron-type successes as professionals, she said, “if they sustain their passion and have the patience to pursue it.”

“Shimmy Shake Shine!” is a San Luis Obispo Little Theatre fundraiser and includes Martini Nights on Saturdays with a light supper.

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