San Francisco Ballet: Program Two How does the presence of AIDS affect the confined world of the ballet studio? How does it change dancers' relationships, their motivation and hopes for the future? With The Dance House, David Bintley attempts to answer these questions with a hallucinatory situation comedy on pointe (set and costumes by Robert Heindel). Seven ballerinas take their first position at a neon red barre. Stripes of thick crimson slice the middle of their leotards from throat to crotch. The backdrop floats overhead with an amorphous sketch of a house, its colors vibrantly out of kilter with the costumes. In comes (what must be) Mr. HIV, his face and limbs painted blue, his head covered by a black fright wig. It's not exactly clear, but his presence seems to make the dancers either embrace, smile or accelerate. Joanna Berman clutches Ashley Wheater; one leg of Berman's tights is drenched in red dye and hangs down like a piece of bloody meat. The moody jump-cuts of the Shostakovich score highlight more bathos than pathos, and by the time Christopher Stowell and Kristin Long (dressed in what look like striped baby bibs) do their stunning, youthful, don't-let-it-bring-you-down pas de deux, it's hard to take anything in this crazed dance house seriously. Also on Program Two: The return of Mark Morris' Maelstrom, a study in how to dance Beethoven with precision but without passion, and Val Caniparoli's Pulcinella, a playful romance about hellos and goodbyes in a train station. Plays Thurs-Fri 8 pm, Sun 2 pm (ends 2/26). War Memorial Opera House, 401 Van Ness, S.F. $7-80, 865-2000.
What's My Mantra? Veteran standup comedian Mick Berry takes a thoughtful jaunt in the way-back machine to Transcendental Meditation's late 1970s heyday in this engaging autobiographical solo show. Berry begins his humorous saga as an intense, neurotic New Orleans high school student with a passion and talent for drumming. Introduced to T.M., the earnest lad embarks on the equally single-minded pursuit of total bliss (a paradox that does not escape him). Instead of the familiar teenage sex-and-drugs coming-of-age saga, Berry paints an endearing portrait of youthful idealism and amazing self-discipline leavened with a wry dash of adult self-mockery. Berry wrestles with his destiny in episodes amusing and poignant, from his father's Big Easy ice factory to the bizarre campus of Maharishi International University, but the show lacks a turning point or dramatic peak that would raise the stakes. Along the way the actor showcases a rubbery face that Jim Carrey might envy, a gift for mimicry and a sure touch on the drums and hammer dulcimer. His background as a comic notwithstanding, Berry disdains easy targets and cheap guffaws -- to his detriment. His honest, even reverent, approach to his personal history is admirable, yet unavoidably reduces the show's laugh quotient. Dan Chumley directs with a greater emphasis on blocking than pacing. Plays Mon 8 pm (open-ended). Cable Car Theatre, 430 Mason, S.F. $12, 956-8497.