by Richard Dodds
The current Cirque du Soleil show Kooza is filled with world-class acrobatics, bolstered by state-of-the-art technology, and housed in an enormous tent. Yet in the considerably more humble circumstances of a funky walk-up space at the corner of 24th and Mission, a tiny new troupe calling itself Sweet Can Productions has somehow managed to make more from considerably less.
In habitat, a cast of six performs various circus tricks and acrobatics, the basics of which you have certainly seen before. But the performers often bring an invention to their skills that make them seem new again. Part of the pleasure comes from innovations in technique, but there is also an emotional through-line sustained during the show's 90 minutes that simmers the displayed talents in recognizable feelings.
In writer-director Rob Rodgers' production, we are introduced to the characters one by one, as they reveal their contrasting personalities during an opening number in which they each pass through a doorway into different parts of the stage set up as little pieces of individual homes. Mailboxes are an integral part of each habitat, as the various characters eagerly await mail or nervously send out missives of affection. The cast plays a kind of getting-to-know-you game of Twister on a park bench, before pulling apart to dwell, without speech, on issues both individual and dealing with coupling.
As Matt White, playing a kind of awkward everyman, settles down into his cubicle of space, the walls literally come alive, and he is forced into an acrobatic dance to keep them at bay. Kerri Kresinski, as the self-appointed star of the evening, envelops herself in aerial silks in ways I've never seen before, including a downward roll that is enthralling.
BeeJay Joyer plays a character who imagines himself a suave ladies man, but whose lame hand tricks drive off any perspective connections. But his skill turns out to be juggling, and he, too, brings some fresh movement to a familiar talent. Daniela Steiner, as the resident neurotic, is the trapeze expert; Beth Clarke, as the perky one, does a lovely aerial-silk duet with Matt White; and Jeremy Sheets, who alone seems bereft of an identifying persona, still gets to impressively display his talents on the German wheel.
Not everything works as well as it should, including a package-juggling production number at the end of the show that still needs work. But the energies are always positive, and are greatly abetted by the versatile four-piece band that ventures into many musical worlds with confident gusto. habitat is definitely worth an evening's residency.
habitat will run at the Dance Mission Theater through Jan. 6. Tickets are $12-$20. Call 273-4633 or go to www.sweetcanproductions.com.