For ladies night, the feelin’s right 

Comic cowgirl Karen Quest wisecracked — and cracked her whip — to highlight the opening of the Women on the Way Festival, a three-week Mission district event putting the spotlight on a wide of variety female performers. The seventh annual event began over the weekend with circus arts as the theme for the first four shows; this week’s upcoming performances are dedicated to dance, theater and music, while the closing weekend, from Jan. 25 to Jan. 28, focuses on "guided" installations.

Sunday night’s presentation, a special family night show on the eve of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, was packed with kids, in the audience at Dance Mission Theater, who appeared to love the audience participation and the grab-bag, anything-goes, tone of the event, even maintaining excellent attention throughout the slightly too long (pushing three hours) show.

First, there were the crazy ladies Gladys and Madge in Sucker Punch!, who handled a clairvoyance shtick ("We have ESPN," they said) with aplomb.

The double-personality Susan Voyticky followed with provocative stunts on an aerial hoop set to the song "Broken" by Bjork. Her hook was that she was dressed in a costume that was split down the center vertically — half ballerina, half prize-fighter.

A trio of strong, able-bodied young women apparently from SF Youth Circus did some thrilling Chinese hoop diving, particularly their final trick — all three diving through the hoops backward after being piled on top of each other — which took four tries to execute.

The evening’s most polished performer, hometown cowgirl Karen Quest, did some cool rope tricks — something not seen too often in the Mission district — keeping up a playful patter the entire time.

The show’s only male performer, Paul "Dizzy Hips" Blair, did amazing things with a hula hoop, the best being his opening bit, an apparent tribute to "Women on the Way" in which he came out swathed in fabric, like a woman from India or the Middle East, and unfurled it as the hoop whipped around.

The SF Youth Circus came back on, with some cool teeterboard work and an athletic aerial hoop performance set to a live vocal performance of music from "La Boheme." Classy!

Circus Finelli, a Bay Area-based four-female clown troupe, closed the show with silly antics that went down well with the little ones in the crowd. Although too long, the clown act did feature a few real inspired bits, particularly a goofy contortionist routine about which they advised, "Yes, do try this at home."

Women on the Way

Where: Dance Mission, 3316 24th St., San Francisco

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays

Tickets: $15-$20 sliding scale

Call: (415) 289-2000 or visit

Note: Different performers are featured each night

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Leslie Katz

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