Best Bets: ‘Nutcrackers’ galore, Kitka, ‘Velveteen Rabbit’  

Mark Foehringer Dance Project|SF's popular "Nutcracker Sweets," a 50-minute production aimed at younger viewers, is playing at Fort Mason through Dec. 23. (Courtesy Mark Foehringer Dance Project|SF)

“Nutcracker” times 4: If composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky could somehow flash himself to present day, he’d no doubt he amazed at how many different versions of the “Nutcracker” have been spun off his original ballet composition (OK, he’d probably be most amazed that he could time travel, but that’s a different story).

The name of the “Nutcracker” game these days is adaptability, as in, finding a version that adapts to your needs and time commitments. Four options are this weekend.

San Jose Dance Theatre has been staging its classic “Original San Jose Nutcracker” for a half-century or so, and, backed by the Cambrian Symphony, it’s presenting the acclaimed production Friday through Sunday at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts (tickets are $30-$99 at

The Valley Dance Theatre’s popular, full-length production has been around for more than 40 years. With the Valley Dance Theatre Pit Orchestra and many of the ballet’s traditional elements, it’s playing at the Bankhead Theater in Livermore Saturday through Dec. 17 (tickets are $25-$45 at

Mark Foehringer’s “Nutcracker Sweets,” created 15 years ago by Bay Area choreographer Mark Foehringer, is a 50-minute streamlined version aimed at children (and their grateful parents). Foehringer and his Dance Project|SF company present the show through Dec. 23 at Cowell Theater at Fort Mason Center, San Francisco (tickets are $23.50-$49.50 at

Peninsula Ballet Theatre serves up three versions of the ballet: a full-length “Nutcracker,” an abridged “Nutcracker Sweet” and a “Hip-Hop Nutcracker Sweet,” which keeps the story and music but applies some different footwork. The productions are being offered through Dec. 17 at the company’s studio in San Mateo and the Fox Theatre in Redwood City. Tickets are $25-$75; find the schedule at

Kitka invites Bay Area fans to a free Community Sing as part of its annual Wintersongs Tour, which includes performances in Santa Cruz, Oakland, San Francisco and Menlo Park. (Courtesy William Wayland)

Freebie of the week: In the generous spirit of the season, the Bay Area’s renowned vocal women’s ensemble Kitka is making one of its stops on its annual Wintersongs Tour a free event — and all you have to do is register to attend.

Calling the program “sonic sustenance for the holiday season,” the group will perform from a wide variety of Eastern European music and invite audience participation as well in a Community Sing. Kitka’s executive artistic director Shira Cion promises the program will “express wonder and gratitude for the miracle of creation, the diversity of life on Earth and the mysterious influences of heavenly bodies.”

It takes place at 4 p.m. Saturday at Nile Hall, 668 13th St., Oakland. Donations are encouraged. For more information (including additional stops on the tour in Santa Cruz, Oakland, San Francisco and Menlo Park) and to register, visit

Editor’s note, 12/8/23: The free concert has sold out on Kitka’s website, but additional concert options are still available.

A holiday spectacular: The forces are massing for “Christmas at the California,” a family-friendly celebration of the season that will feature both the Symphony San Jose, conducted by Elena Sharkova, and the Symphony San Jose Chorale performing carols and holiday favorites. The evening also includes performances by the New Ballet, Timothy Hankewich’s “Kickin’ Kringle” and the Cantabile Youth Singers in a “Home Alone” suite of Christmas songs by John Williams. The audience is invited to sing along and will also be treated to the Silicon Valley version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” As the title implies, it takes place at the California Theatre, 345 S. First St., San Jose at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Find tickets, $55-$115, at 

B Noel Thomas as the Ghost of Christmas Past and James Carpenter as Ebenezer Scrooge perform in American Conservatory Theater’s long-running take on “A Christmas Carol.” (Courtesy Kevin Berne/American Conservatory Theater)

Scrooge times 3: Ebenezer Scrooge is such an iconic figure in literature and holiday tradition that his return to stage and screen at this time of year is always welcome. But “A Christmas Carol” is not just a story about a cranky miser spooked by a trio of ghosts into suddenly becoming the nicest dude in Victorian London.

As Dickens created him, Ebenezer is a product of so many sorrows — a dark family history, poverty, heartbreak, fear and bitterness, societal pressures, personal mistakes, loneliness — that he no longer recognizes how far he has sunk. It takes three ghostly visitors representing the expanse of time and the breadth of humanity to pull him back. That’s what makes his redemption so vast and so moving, it is a story of how painful modern life can be and how love and community can keep us afloat.

A worthy production “A Christmas Carol” gets that the show is more than stage effects and ghostly costumes. Fans of the story have three acclaimed “Christmas Carol” options to see this year, two traditional and one immersive.

American Conservatory Theater is serving up the beloved production created by Paul Walsh and former artistic director Carey Perloff, that’s been going nearly 20 years, but this is the show’s final run. Next year, ACT will offer a new take on the classic. The current production runs through Dec. 24 at Toni Rembe Theater in San Francisco; tickets are $25-$130 at Also serving up an acclaimed classical take on Dickens’ tale is Center Repertory  Company, which stages “A Christmas Carol” Thursday through Dec. 21 at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek; tickets are $45-$70 at

For a different, immersive take on Scrooge’s journey, head to the Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga, where Silicon Valley Shakespeare is staging a walk-through “Christmas Carol” through Dec. 17; tickets are $40-$70 at 

Dolls come to life in ODC/Dance’s “The Velveteen Rabbit” at Blue Shield of California Theater at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco through Dec. 10; the show also will be in Hayward on Dec. 16-17. (Harika Maddala/Bay City News/Catchlight Local)

Bunny-bliss: Another holiday dance classic for kids is “The Velveteen Rabbit,” a beloved production that ODC/Dance Theatre has been presenting for nearly 40 years.

The story line is faithfully adapted from Margery Williams’ 1921 tale, which remains such a classic American children’s book that many people assume Williams was American (she spent most of her career in England) and a children’s author (most of her works were aimed at adults). It revolves around a boy’s stuffed bunny who dreams of becoming real (spoiler alert: his wish comes true).

Choreographed by KT Nelson, with a score by Benjamin Britten, “Velveteen Rabbit” is a lively yet gentle production full of bright sets and costumes and engaging characters. The heartfelt story speaks to kids and parents alike. The show runs through Sunday at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco ($30-$125) and Dec. 16-17 at Douglas Morrisson Theatre in Hayward ($40).

Tickets, the schedule and more information are at

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