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Heavy lifting

Only one weekend left for Shimmy

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PHOTOS BY SANDRA CORTEZ, ROBERT TERRY, OR CLAIR EDMONDS
  • PHOTOS BY SANDRA CORTEZ, ROBERT TERRY, OR CLAIR EDMONDS
Choreographer Suzy Miller is smart. I’m on the phone with her to talk about her show at SLO Little Theatre—Shimmy, Shake, Shine!—and after I tell her I plan to go to the pool this afternoon, instead of doing a phone interview she suggests we just meet at the pool. Crafty, this one.

I’m about medium rare when she shows up, and again, smart girl, she thinks we should do the interview in the bar. A white wine spritzer for the lady, and a Miller Lite por moi.

“So, what’s the concept behind Shimmy, Shake, Shine?” I ask.

- LET’S (WATCH) DANCE:  Emmy award-winning choreographer Suzy Miller presents a song-and-dance-filled event that visits the pyramids of Egypt, the court of Marie Antoinette, a gospel revival, a gothic lair, and Alice's rabbit hole. See Shimmy, Shake, Shine! at the SLO Little Theatre through Saturday, July 31. Call 786-2440
 or visit slolittletheatre.org for ticket ($35 to 50) info. -
  • LET’S (WATCH) DANCE: Emmy award-winning choreographer Suzy Miller presents a song-and-dance-filled event that visits the pyramids of Egypt, the court of Marie Antoinette, a gospel revival, a gothic lair, and Alice's rabbit hole. See Shimmy, Shake, Shine! at the SLO Little Theatre through Saturday, July 31. Call 786-2440
 or visit slolittletheatre.org for ticket ($35 to 50) info.
Suzy’s compact; a tightly coiled spring waiting to be sprung. She launches into an explanation of her new show, saying how it started in a completely different place than it ended up, something about AG High theater teacher Robin Metchik and how she trained Zac Efron, then the words “hodge podge” and “35 years of choreography to draw from.”

Suzy talks fast, covers a lot of ground, and only pauses long enough to tell me she tends to go on and on. From what I can glean, Shimmy, Shake, Shine! is the culmination of all her years of experience, all her influences, and one life-altering event.

“My mom passed in December right in the middle of planning the show, and I suddenly found myself in a much darker place,” Suzy admits, as she rearranges her brunette tendrils of hair and sips her spritzer. “The show ended up being much deeper, going to a deeper place than I intended.”

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Her 32-member cast, from age 15 to 54, started to feel the change too, and Suzy mentions that the evolving experience helped the cast bond in a “palpable way.” She also mentions that the thing audiences keep telling her over and over is how emotional the experience of seeing the show has been for them.

Yet, when she describes the show, saying how it moves from Alice in Wonderland to a gothic vampire lair and then to Bollywood and beyond, it seems more whimsical.

“It’s about what it means to be human, laughing at ourselves, loss and transformation, family—and that’s sort of what happens between the cast and the audience over two hours: They become like family.”

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OK, this is getting heavy, so I decide to throw one of my patented curve balls: “Let’s say you have an audience of Arthur Murray, Martha Graham, George Balanchine, Paul Taylor, Bob Fosse, and Agnes De Mille. Who would like it most?”

I think Suzy actually squeals with delight. Seriously! A little squeal, but a squeal nonetheless. Then instead of picking one, she talks about how each of the various choreographers would like certain parts of the show.

“Paul Taylor is the most creative, so he’d like the unpredictable nature of the show. Agnes De Mille never hung up her toe shoes; she was still choreographing from her wheelchair. She’d love seeing dancers who sing, singers who act, seeing the beauty of people who weren’t

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necessarily trained dancers. Bob Fosse was notoriously prickly, but if I could talk to him about it before he saw the saw, I think he’d enjoy the homage to his legacy—the isolations and the clumps. Martha Graham would like the humanity of the show and its thematic content. Arthur Murray would appreciate the tango.”

Finally Suzy begins to talk about her cast and how she discovered Jimmy Thornton when he was working on her house.

“I was playing a Sam Cooke CD and he was singing along. ‘Holy crap you can sing,’ I said. ‘Can you lift me over your head?’ And he picked me up and bench-pressed me. I cast him in Vegas, Baby! Then I met Travis Nefore when a few dancers and I went to The Library after the show for a little post mortem. We were dancing and he came up and said, ‘Are you theater geeks?’ We’re, like, ‘Yes!’ ‘My people,’ he said.”

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“One last question, Suzy,” I say. “You’ve seen me in a swimming suit. Got any dancers as fat as me?”

“Well, first, I wouldn’t call you fat,” she says diplomatically. “You’re built … sturdy. And you know my audition process: Can you lift me over your head?”

We’ll leave that questioned unanswered.

Glen Starkey takes a beating and keeps on bleating. Keep up with him via twitter at twitter.com/glenstarkey, friend him at Myspace.com/glenstarkey, or contact him at gstarkey@newtimesslo.com.

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