Best Bets: Smuin’s ‘Christmas Ballet,’ Dickens Fair, Los Cenzontles, Silkroad Ensemble, Jupiter String Quartet  

Brennan Wall performs with the “world’s largest feather boa” in “Santa Baby,” a work that’s part of Smuin's “Christmas Ballet." (Courtesy Chris Hardy/Smuin Contemporary Ballet)

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.

Christmas dances (with boa): One of the Bay Area’s most beloved Christmas dance traditions returns this week for a five-week run at several area venues. We’re talking about Smuin Contemporary Ballet’s annual “Christmas Ballet” program, a joyous mix of works ranging from elegant to sassy and silly and touching on styles including traditional and contemporary ballet, jazz, tap, swing and more. This year’s show includes world premiere numbers by company artistic director Amy Seiwert and former Smuin choreographer Nicole Haskins. Also in the program are classical dance favorites by company founder, the late Michael Smuin, including “Bach Magnificat,” “Gloucestershire Wassail,” and “Licht bensh’n,” as well as some of Michael Smuin more playful works, including “Christmas Island,” “Droopy Little Christmas Tree” and, of course, “Santa Baby,” a work that features what the company bills as the “world’s longest feather boa.” The program lands at Walnut Creek’s Lesher Center for the Arts for performances at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Future performances include Dec. 1-2 at the Sunset Center in Carmel; Dec. 7-10 at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts; and Dec. 14-24 at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. A LGBTQ+ Night performance on Dec. 19 at YBCA features popular San Francisco drag queen Lady Camden (a star of Season 14 of “RuPaul’s Drag Race”). Tickets are $25-$119. Find a complete schedule, tickets and more information at

The charmingly silly chimney sweep, Jim Chimney, is among the large cast of characters populating The Great Dickens Christmas Fair & Victorian Holiday Party running Saturday through Dec. 17 at the Cow Palace in Daly City. (Courtesy Zoart Photography/Great Dickens Christmas Fair)

The Dickens, you say: We have a hunch that living in a Dickens novel would probably be nowhere near as fun as hanging out at the annual Daly City holiday event the legendary author has inspired. The Great Dickens Christmas Fair & Victorian Holiday Party, to use the event’s proper full name, returns to the Cow Palace this weekend, with its large and bustling re-creation of Victorian-era London. It’s chock full of attractions for adults and kids. The older set can enjoy port and chocolate tastings, sip their way through a high tea, tackle a Sherlock Holmes Experience mystery, knock back a pint or two at the Jekyll and Hyde Pub or somewhat naughtier Mad Sal’s Dockside Ale House, and marvel at the wide array of performances on seven stages, from Irish singers to Bedouin belly dancers to comedians and jugglers to actors portraying scores of Dickens’ characters. For the young ‘uns, there is a self-guided Children’s Tour of London, as well as opportunities to meet Father Christmas and the popular Punch and Judy puppet shows. Most of the entertainment and interactive stuff, for that matter, is suitable for both kids and adults. Of course, there are all kinds of British delicacies to sample, from fish and chips and bangers and mash to meat pies and all manner of cookies, chocolate and other sweet treats, as well as a full range of liquid refreshments. And, yes, there are knickknacks and other items for sale for holiday shoppers. The fair opens Saturday and runs 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays (plus the Friday after Thanksgiving) through Dec. 17 at the Cow Palace, 2600 Geneva Ave., Daly City. Daily tickets run $25-$45 ($18-$30 after 3 p.m.), with kids under 5 admitted free. A full-run pass runs $160. Go to

Los Cenzontles recently released “Son Con Son, En el Suelo Americano,” a collaboration with Grupo Mono Blanco. (Courtesy Los Cenzontles) 

Freebie of the week: Los Cenzontles, the nationally renowned East Bay band that specializes in performing and recording traditional and original Mexican roots music, has been busy of late. (Of course, that’s nothing new for the group associated with the San Pablo cultural arts center and school of the same name.) You can enjoy the fruits of their labor streaming online. Last month, it released a new album that marked a reunion with Grupo Mono Blanco, the famed band from Veracruz, Mexico. The two began collaborating in the late 1980s when Los Cenzontles (“cenzontles” translates to mockingbirds) was getting its start as a youth band composed of students at the cultural academy. Their results helped spark a revival of the Mexican folkloric music known as son Jarocho. Earlier this year, Los Cenzontles, which has forged musical bonds with iconic artists ranging from Linda Ronstadt to Los Lobos and many more, reunited with Grupo Mono Blanco and brought in acclaimed Cuban musician Kika Valera, a master of the cuatro, a guitar used in a variety of Latin music styles. The result was the album “Son Con Son, En el Suelo Americano,” which is streaming on Spotify, YouTube and other sites. If you want to buy it (we’re sure Los Cenzontles would appreciate it), it sells for $12 on the group’s website. Meanwhile, Los Cenzontles continues to post songs, music videos and music films that you can enjoy for free on its site, as well as on YouTube and Vimeo. Go to

Silkwood Ensemble, including artistic director Rhiannon Giddens, brings the tour of its “American Railroad” project to Berkeley on Friday night. (Courtesy Adam Gurczak)

Westward, ho! – in music: What a stellar convergence of musical forces is taking place Friday night on stage at Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley!  Cal Performances, as part of its series “Illuminations: ‘Individual and Community,’” is presenting the Grammy-winning Silkroad Ensemble and its current artistic director, the Pulitzer Prize-winning singer, composer and multi-instrumentalist Rhiannon Giddens, now on tour with their “American Railroad” project. Conceived as a way to illuminate the multiple communities and cultures that contributed to the westward expansion with the building of the Transcontinental Railroad, the program features African-American, Chinese, American Indian, American folk and Irish traditional music, including a piece commissioned from Grammy-winning composer and vocalist Cécile McLorin Savant. Participating Silkroad Ensemble members are Giddens, on banjo and voice; Mazz Swift, violin and vocals; Wu Man on pipa, Sandeep Das on tabla;  Haruka Fujii, percussion; Shawn Conley on bass; Karen Ouzounian, cello and vocals; Kaoru Watanabe, on Japanese flutes and percussion and Michi Wiancko on violin. Joining them are guest artists Francesco Turrisi, frame drums and accordion; Niwel Tsumbu on guitar; Pura Fé Crescioni, lap-steel guitar and vocals and Yazhi Guo on suona. Performance time is 8 p.m., with a panel discussion taking place in the mezzanine lobby first at 6:30 p.m. and a community conversation following the program. Find tickets, $38-$90, at and (510) 642-9988.

The Jupiter String Quartet plays music reminiscent of great unrest at a recital Sunday evening at the Kohl Mansion in Burlingame. (Courtesy Todd Rosenberg)

Turmoil in the strings: “Upheaval” is the theme the Illinois-based Jupiter String Quartet has chosen for Sunday night’s recital at the Kohl Mansion in Burlingame, as most of the pieces to be played were composed in times of great unrest. Beethoven’s powerful Quartet No. 8 in E minor, one of the famed “Razumovsky” quartets, anchors the program, and it will be preceded by the Quartet No. 3 by Irish-English composer Elizabeth Maconchy, inspired by her support of the Republicans fighting off Francisco Franco’s forces in 1930s Spain. Guggenheim Fellow Nathan Shields’ new quartet, “Medusa,” follows, with references to the unsettling paintings by Caravaggio that evoke themes of social and political violence. Carlos Simon’s “Elegy” pays homage to the Black American victims of police violence, and the first half of the program concludes with William Bolcom’s wistful rag, “The Graceful Ghost,” originally written for piano in the 1970s in memory of the composer’s father. Performance time is 7 p.m. at 2750 Adeline Drive in Burlingame. Find tickets. $25-$58, at

The post Best Bets: Smuin’s ‘Christmas Ballet,’ Dickens Fair, Los Cenzontles, Silkroad Ensemble, Jupiter String Quartet   appeared first on Local News Matters.

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