Wednesday, December 26, 2007

"Habitat" engages and thrills with grace, strength and skill

By Stephanie Wright Hession
Arts and Culture Writer

Audience members ambled up a creaky set of wooden stairs, its banisters wrapped in vivid blue tulle, to the second floor Dance Mission Theater in San Francisco. They appeared eager to attend the December 14 opening of Sweet Can Productions' "Habitat," a mixture of circus arts, dancing and theater, written and directed by Rob Rodgers.

Inside the petite theater's ebony walls and on an uncomplicated set with props such as a free standing door on wheels and a step ladder, Rodgers presented a series of vignettes dealing with the themes of public and private personas. He demonstrated how each character possessed one face for others and another for the privacy of his or her abode. He also addressed the longing for personal connections and the process of letter writing with all the emotions that come with it, as mailboxes levitated and massive envelopes appeared on the stage.

Mirthful, poignant and enchanting “Habitat” didn’t disappoint, thanks to the grace, strength and skills of local theatrical circus artists Beth Clarke, BeeJay Joyer, Kerri Kresinski, Jeremy Sheets, Daniela Steiner and Matthew White, who portray the Inhabitants. Live music performed by musicians Dan Cantrell, Peter Jaques, Patrick Kaliski, Alex Kelley and Pawel Walerowski added to the ambiance with an eclectic array of tunes, composed by Cantrell and Kelley and under the musical direction of Kelley.

A particularly flirtatious scene featured all six characters waiting for a bus, as each one tumbled, twirled and danced from a bench, backgrounded by gypsy style music that reached a manic level. Each also mirrored one another's movements in a delightful way, including crossing legs in unison. Choreography by Kresinski, Clarke, Sheets and Natasha Kaluza added richness to this scene and others in "Habitat."

Each member of the cast captivated both the adults and the younger set in the audience and brought the production wonderfully to life.

Acrobat Matthew White demonstrated his comedic skills, amazing strength and balance when he played a man surrounded by two beige and ivory striped walls and a floating window. Each time he hung his sweater up it fell down, with it eventually becoming absorbed into the wall. Suddenly, White flipped and spun off the walls. Then he crawled up the walls and topped each with a dramatic handstand.

Kerri Kresinski exhibited grace and fortitude during her solo performance on pale blue, aerial silks. In moves that included dangling upside down by her wrapped feet and dramatically whirling from the ceiling to the floor, with the silks wrapped only around her waist, she thrilled the audience.

Beth Clarke demonstrated her physical agility as the woman who attempted to retrieve a letter-only to end up bent in half inside a large, metal garbage can with her head and feet poking out. She also executed a superb routine on the slack rope. And she and White were touching and romantic when they paired on the aerial silks for a supple and sensual performance.

When Daniela Steiner spun in the darkened theater from the trapeze she proved truly stunning and exhibited a powerful command over her body, which looks like a fine sculpture.

Jeremy Sheets’ balletic performance on the German wheel was both poetic and fluid. He was also charming and endearingly funny in several other scenes.

Juggler Beejay Joyer portrayed an overly confident juggler with wonderful comedic timing as he kept a trio of white orbs airborne behind his back, making them seem weightless.

It all made for a refreshing and alluring evening of theater.

Sweet Can Productions "Habitat" through Jan. 6. Dance Mission Theater, 3316 24th Street, San Francisco. For tickets ($12-$20) or more information call (415) 273-4633 or visit

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