Toy Soldiers Something about singer/songwriter Victoria Williams rallies people together. Maybe it's her girlish voice, which listeners loved on the Lilith Tour. Or maybe it's the homespun melodies she performed on banjo, Wurlitzer, dulcimer, and harmonica on her recent album Musings of a Creekdipper, attracting such unlikely collaborators as former Prince bandmates Wendy and Lisa, who set Williams' stories about change and loss to a burbling dance beat. Maybe it's both, because when the uninsured Williams was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a few of her best friends -- Lou Reed, Matthew Sweet, and Soul Asylum -- recorded Williams' own songs for the benefit album Sweet Relief, which paid her hospital bills. Now Williams is playing a benefit herself: the Toys for Tots Holiday Concert, at which J.C. Hopkins will fire up a seven-piece band to back Williams and multi-instrumentalist Jon Birdsong, who's returned from playing coronet and trumpet on tour with Beck. The show begins at 9 p.m. at Cafe Du Nord, 2170 Market (at Sanchez), S.F. Admission is $5 and an unwrapped toy or book; call 861-5016.
Take a Load Off What is meant to be a festive and spiritual time can be a heavy time as well, what with family and social obligations and all their attendant anxieties. Fortunately, two good opportunities to relieve yourself, metaphorically speaking, present themselves this week. At the seventh annual "Juried Luggage Show: Psychic, Spiritual, Physical, and/or Emotional Baggage," a group of artists investigates what we carry with us and why, and what happens if we let it go. Look for the charred remains of artist Edgar Maxion's studio, which recently burned down, and for a pair of heavy blown-glass platform shoes. The exhibit (which gallery co-founder Laurie Lazer describes as "therapy, social work, and art") is juried by S.F. Art Institute and UC Berkeley Art Museum personnel and opens with a reception at 6 p.m. (it runs through Jan. 30) at the Luggage Store, 1007 Market, S.F. Admission is free; call 255-5971. Meanwhile, a roomful of people in long white skirts and tall felt hats will attempt to release themselves from earthly constraints and get closer to Allah with "Sema of Emptiness: Sacred Dance of the Whirling Dervishes." Over 50 dervishes from the U.S., Canada, and Turkey will participate in the 700-year-old Sufi spiritual tradition founded by mystic/poet Rumi, turning in unison accompanied by poetry and live Turkish music featuring Hamza El Din. The dancers remove their black cloaks (representing falseness) and set their white skirts (representing the spirit's shroud) whirling as they surrender themselves to a spiritual illumination said to mesmerize viewers as well. The dancing begins at 8 p.m. at the Scottish Rite Center, 1547 Lakeside, Oakland. Admission is $10-25; call 289-2113.
Art Stuff Former Hamburg Ballet dancer Tomi Paasonen and former Bonn State Ballet dancer Yannis Adoniou chose a German name for their new joint venture: It's Kunststoff, which translates roughly as "Art Stuff." These guys have got all sorts of art stuff planned, including the futuristic fantasy story Tube 58 in March and Americana for Aliens, a Fourth of July rock opera featuring a slew of local bands. But first their debut, notable not only because they're fine dancers themselves (both absorbed Alonzo King's aerodynamic classicism dancing for Lines Contemporary Ballet) but because they've rounded up an intriguing cast, including leggy Lines dancer Nora Heiber and tea shop proprietress Mad Magda, for an evening of dance as well as art, music, and experimental film. Paasonen offers a technological zoo with MegaHz and an "urban scary-tale" in Destination Dreamland, while Adoniou studies basic human emotions in 4 Short Pieces. Afterward, DJs Trava and Captain Quazar spin an eclectic mix of music as viewers peruse films, painting, photography, sculpture, and video installations by local artists in the gallery salon, nibbling snacks from the Mardi Gras Cafe. The show begins at 8 p.m. (also Saturday and Sunday) at Brady Street Theater, 60 Brady (at Market), S.F. Admission is $6-16; call 559-9355.
Like a Bowlful of Jelly Dirty-dancing Santa and sexy elves bearing cocktails host the funky little fund-raiser that is the Artists' Television Access Holiday Bash and Benefit. As with other ATA events, this one should be just off-kilter enough to entertain. Craig Baldwin concocts found-footage film collages, Gravity Goldberg gives a holiday Hanukkah puppet show, and Popcorn Theater -- a group of renegade performers whose theatrical exploits usually take place outdoors, at night, in a location unknown to police -- perform indoors for a change. The rest of the night is devoted to food, beer, the Holidex art and photo show, and the screening of films by ATA staff members. DJs and the Oakland-based electronic music duo Donkey Boy deconstruct carols for your dancing pleasure. The party begins at 8 p.m. at ATA, 992 Valencia (at 20th Street), S.F. Admission is $5-50 donation; call 824-3890.
For a Song The American Composers Forum emphasizes the "muse" in music with the Salon for Composer/Choreographer Residencies. But in these three modern music and dance collaborations, the sound didn't always come before the steps. In the case of choreographer Robert Moses and composer Alexis Alrich, the narrative preceded both, when Moses asked a group of kids at Potrero Hill Middle School to describe a difficult moment in their junior high careers. Their tales led to Fuse, a work about life's struggles, set to a score for percussion, strings, piano, and woodwinds played by an eight-person orchestra in which pros mix it up with S.F. Conservatory students. Nesting Dolls choreographer Cid Pearlman and composer Erling Wold held workshops with writers and based their piece Baring the Names, about the tension between men and women, on poetic images, set to an atmospheric score containing snatches of '30s and '40s dance tunes. Their work, along with the collaboration between Moving Arts Collective members Anandha Ray and Sarah Michaels, opens with a reception at 7:30 p.m. at ODC Theater, 3153 17th St. (at Shotwell), S.F. Admission is $7.50; call 863-9834.