Spin Cycle Over 70 whirling dervishes and musicians from the United States, Canada, and Turkey will step to Allah and surrender themselves to divine love when the Mevlevi Order of America, a spiritual group dedicated to the teaching of Sufi practices, presents the sacred Sema ceremony. The tall felt hats the whirling dervishes wear represent the tombstone of the ego; their long white flaring skirts, called tenures, are meant to be the ego's shroud. Before the dervishes begin whirling, they take off their black cloaks to signify that they are spiritually reborn. The dancing, which isn't usually open to the public, has been done for over 700 hundred years on or near Dec. 17 to commemorate the day of the death of the Middle Eastern poet Rumi, who started the devotional and meditative ritual in Turkey after his encounters with a wandering mystic. Dervishes spin from left to right, toward the heart, and the secret of not getting dizzy or sick is evidently to lead with the heart rather than the head or the gut. Telling, no? The show, which features classical Turkish music, poetry, singing, and whirling, begins at 8 p.m. at the Scottish Rite Center, 1547 Lakeside, Oakland. Admission is $10-15; call (510) 594-4020.
Stocking Stuffers Forget about dancing sugarplums and dueling mice at the Smuin Ballets/S.F. show The Christmas Ballet. Choreographer Michael Smuin forgoes the story ballet for a series of 26 divertissements infused with comic overtones and a jazzy sensibility. Traditionalists get Palestrina and Mozart; balletomanes who like their holiday concerts with a twist get Eartha Kitt and Elvis. This year's edition of the two-part show, which divvies up over two dozen short dances into "The Classical Christmas" and "The Cool Christmas" sections, offers an earful of new music, including the 16th-century Spanish piece "Riu, riu, chiu," the Ray Charles/Betty Carter duet "Baby It's Cold Outside," and Jimmy Durante doing "Frosty the Snowman." The show opens at 8 p.m. (and continues through Dec. 30) at Center for the Arts Theater, 700 Howard (at Third Street), S.F. Admission is $25-30; call 978-2787.
Noh Way Ebenezer Scrooge becomes "Sukurooji Ebizo" (go ahead, sound it out) in Theater of Yugen's Noh Christmas Carol, a revision of the Charles Dickens tale that moves the action from Victorian-era London to rural northern Japan in the 1890s, and uses elements of traditional Japanese theater -- noh, kabuki, kyogen, butoh, Japanese folk dance, puppetry, and masks -- to deliver the essential message of the original. Sukurooji is whisked off on an unnerving journey through his life by three ghosts who show him the pitfalls of avarice and the benefits of compassion through a series of creatively costumed movement-based scenes. Butoh dancer Kinji Hayashi plays the ghost of Mashima Jakubei (Jacob Marley) and Mikio Hirata, who appeared most recently in the Yugen production of Salome, is Sukurooji. The show opens at 8 p.m. (and continues through Dec. 28) at the Lorraine Hansberry Theater, 620 Sutter (at Mason), S.F. Admission is $12-22; call 474-8800.
Revival of the Fittest If it is the job of a film festival to screen the best work submitted to it each year, the Multicultural Film and Video Festival takes the process a step further by showing the best of each festival's best. Representatives from Cine Acción, the American Indian Film Institute, the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame, the Jewish Film Festival, and other local fests handpicked works to represent their festivals at this four-day screening blitz, which is broken down into themed programs like "Love, Death, and the Spaces in Between." A random survey of the contents turns up the following: Two or Three Things But Nothing for Sure, the story of author Dorothy Allison's rough life, and Raymond's Portrait, a documentary on Raymond Hu, a teen-age artist with Down's syndrome who has exhibited his work nationally (both films at 9 p.m. tonight); Sunflowers, a documentary on gay life in a small Filipino farming community (Friday 6:45 p.m.); and Badass SuperMama, a young African-American woman's search for identity set against clips from '70s blaxploitation films (9 p.m. Sunday). The festival begins tonight at 6:45 with the program "Exposing the Negative and Positive," which includes Aaron Woolfolk's Rage, about a young man and a police officer whose fates have reversed since their first meeting, and Blacks and Jews, Alan Snitow and Deborah Kaufman's documentary on relations between the two groups. Programs begin each night at 6:45 and 9 p.m. through Sunday at the Center for the Arts Media Screening Room, 701 Mission (at Third Street), S.F. Admission is $3-6; call 978-ARTS. In addition, the festival program "Mixed Matches" begins at 8 p.m. Friday at Artists' Television Access, 992 Valencia (at 21st Street), S.F. Call 824-3890.
Worth the Weight Now that the airlines are limiting holiday travelers to one carry-on item, the Luggage Store Gallery's sixth annual juried exhibit picks up the slack with "Psychic, Spiritual, Physical, and/or Emotional Baggage." The artists of this group show work with all media and a vivid emotional palette to expound on the idea that folks are schlepping more than just a suitcase when they go home to Mom. Expect to find Val Russell's self-portrait with chocolate raspberry syrup, Sandra Ortiz-Taylor's small shopping cart, M.D. Stutz's recycled Budweiser head, and Andrew Phares' mangled rubber duckie. Performances related to the theme will be presented throughout the six-week run, and cash and prizes will be raffled off when the exhibit opens with a reception tonight at 5 p.m. at the Luggage Store, 1007 Market (at Sixth Street), S.F. Admission is free; call 255-5971.
It's a Horrible Life Joan Crawford's star turns in This Woman Is Dangerous and Berserk must seem painfully ironic to her daughter, Christina, who described Joan as a boozer and a bruiser in her famous tell-all book Mommie Dearest, which inspired the over-the-top film of the same name. Most people don't think of Mommie Dearest when they think of Christmas movies, but most people aren't Marc Huestis, the man who organized the "John Waters X-Mas" at the Castro. Huestis smacks us out of It's a Wonderful Life-induced inertia at "Christmas With Christina Crawford," as reporter Erik Lee Preminger interviews Christina onstage about the wire hangers, the new edition of her book, and so forth, while the cast of Christmas With the Crawfords performs and drag queens dressed as Christina or their favorite Joan character compete for a $100 prize in the "Christmas Cavalcade of the Crawfords" promenade. This dysfunctional family show begins at 7 p.m. (Friday night is sold out) at the Castro Theater, 429 Castro (at Market), S.F. Admission is $15 (partial proceeds benefit Project Open Hand); call 863-0611. (A matinee of Mommie Dearest screens at 1 p.m. and a rare screening of the Crawford film Torch Song is held at 3:30 p.m. at the Castro; Christina will autograph new copies of her book after Mommie Dearest screens. Fax questions for Christina to 863-0611 or e-mail them to email@example.com.)
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Pablo and Albert, Together Again Steve Martin's gift for sweet-tempered comedy (think Roxanne or L.A. Story) extends to Picasso at the Lapin Agile, an imagined meeting between the young Albert Einstein, a patent office worker awaiting the publication of his Special Theory of Relativity, and the young Pablo Picasso, pre-Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. Martin delivers a brisk and witty exchange between the theorist (played by Mark Nelson, who won an Obie Award last year for this role) and the painter (played by Paul Provenza) as they spar over art and science in trying to win the same young lady's affections and each other's respect. The action takes place in faux Paris bistro the Lapin Agile (or "Nimble Rabbit") as regulars look on. The play opens at 8 p.m. (and runs through Jan. 4) at the Herbst Theater, 401 Van Ness (at McAllister), S.F. Admission is $34-60; call 392-4400.
Biff! Pao! Henny Youngman, the vaudeville and borscht belt veteran who coined the phrase "Take my wife, please," is still on the comedy circuit at the ripe old age of 91. He'll be cracking wise and playing the violin when he headlines the fifth annual "Evening of Kung Pao Kosher Comedy," a stand-up show where the comedians are Jewish, the food is Chinese, and the fortune cookies are stuffed with Yiddish proverbs. Youngman will be joined by comedian/character actress Judith Sloan, of the one-woman show Denial of the Fittest, and humorist Charlie Varon, of Ralph Nader Is Missing! "Kung Pao" creator Lisa Geduldig, a local comic who claims her mother unintentionally writes most of her material, serves as mistress of ceremonies. There are two shows per evening, through Dec. 26: The dinner show, with a seven-course banquet, begins at 6 p.m.; the cocktail show, with Chinese hors d'oeuvres and a drink, begins at 9:30 p.m. at the New Asia Restaurant, 772 Pacific (at Grant), S.F. Admission is $30-45 and partial proceeds benefit the Charlotte Maxwell Complementary Clinic and Shalom Bayit; call 522-3737.
Like a Candle in the Wind A crowd will gather at dusk tonight for the 23rd annual menorah lighting in Union Square, where they will light their own small candles by passing a flaming torch from hand to hand. That first indelible image will be followed by a second, as Mayor Willie Brown and Rabbi Yosef Langer are crammed into a cherry picker barely big enough for two and hoisted to the top of the 22-foot gas-powered public menorah, which they will try to light together with the flaming torch in recognition of the first day of Hanukkah. San Francisco's menorah lighting, the first such public ceremony outside of Israel, spawned over 160 similar ceremonies internationally. This year's event, which promises live Jewish soul music by Rabbi Asi Spiegal and Bruce Berger of Rebbe Soul, precedes Bill Graham Menorah Day Dec. 28, which begins at 12:30 p.m. and dishes up potato latkes and presents Jane's Addiction singer Perry Farrell on menorah-lighting duty. Tonight's festivities begin at 5 p.m. at Union Square, Powell & O'Farrell, S.F. Admission is free; call 362-6355.