Best Bets for the Weekend | December 19 – 22

The Oakland Ballet gets into the swing of things with its production of “The Nutcracker” at the Paramount Theatre. (Photo by John Hefti)

The Bay Area is a hub of artistic expression, attracting artists, writers and musicians from around the globe to live, work and create. We highlight some of the offerings here.

Oakland Ballet: Artistic director Graham Lustig has been credited with bringing great leadership and financial stability to this venerable dance company over the years. He’s also brought his own distinctive “Nutcracker” to the mix. His adaptation of the classic ballet is a faithful rendering of the original E.T.A. Hoffmann story, and it will be on display at the Paramount Theatre again this weekend, with accompaniment by the Oakland Symphony. Performances are 1 and 5 p.m. Dec. 21-22; tickets are $24-$99;

A witch trial comedy: Acclaimed playwright Sarah Ruhl is no stranger to the Bay Area, with works like “Eurydice” and “In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play)” getting produced on several local stages. And now Berkeley Repertory Theatre is presenting the world premiere of her latest work, “Becky Nurse of Salem,” a sharp comedy inspired by the Salem witch trials as well as more contemporary feminist themes. The play opens Dec. 19 and runs through Jan. 26 at Berkeley Rep’s Peet’s Theatre. Tickets are $30-$97 at

Windham Hill’s ‘Winter’: Bay Area record label Windham Hill is best known for popularizing an evocative form of acoustic music that weaves together folk, jazz and classical sounds. It’s annual holiday show — “Winter’s Solstice” — returns this weekend, featuring guitarist Will Ackerman, the label’s founder, along with talented multi-instrumentalists Barbara Higbie and Todd Boston and cellist and vocalist Mia Pixley. Performances are at 3 and 7 p.m. Dec. 21 at Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga ($50-$56;; and 8 p.m. Dec. 22 at Uptown Theater in Napa ($35-$55;

Lavay Smith and her Red Hot Skillet Lickers will perform this weekend at the SFJazz Center. (Photo courtesy of SFJazz Center)

• A swingin’ holiday: Jump/swing singer Lavay Smith is a Bay Area treasure who’s been a beloved fixture on the local music scene for years. This weekend she brings her excellent backing band, the Red Hot Skillet Lickers, for a series of holiday-themed shows at SFJazz Center in San Francisco. Expect to hear some seasonal favorites wrapped up in jazz, blues and swing styles and delivered with a stocking full of sass. Performances are at 7 and 8:30 p.m. Dec. 21, but tickets are going fast (the two Dec. 22 shows are already sold out). Admission is $35-$40;

• ‘Christmas with Anne Sofie’: Who wouldn’t want to hear the inimitable mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter sing an aria from Bach’s famed Christmas Oratorio this holiday season? You have three chances to catch the celebrated Swedish soprano performing with the New Century Chamber Orchestra in the coming days.  Under the direction of violinist Daniel Hope, the ensemble and soloist will also perform an aria from Vivaldi’s “Giustino” and traditional songs, such as “O Tannenbaum,” “A Child is Born,” and even Irving Berlin’s beloved “White Christmas.” Hope will take center stage as soloist for the “Winter” section (naturally) from Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons.” Performances are at at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 18  at the First United Methodist Church in Palo Alto; 7:30 p.m. Dec. 19 at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in San Francisco, and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 20 at the First Congregational Church of Berkeley. Tickets, $30-$67.50, are at 415-392-4400. Find more information at

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