Sure, The Nutcracker's costumes are gorgeous, its plot sweet, its Tchaikovsky score eminently hummable. But after more than a century of annual stagings we're all sick to death of the venerable ballet. The late British dance critic Richard Buckle pegged that ennui perfectly, opening one year's review with a sardonic line: "Well, we are all one Nutcracker nearer death."
It took a dance world iconoclast like Mark Morris to reinvent the holiday ballet. The Hard Nut premiered in 1991, winning immediate praise for its witty tweaks to the original plot. In Morris' version, the sedate opening Christmas party is transformed into a bacchanalian revel with drunken disco-dancing guests, while the fight between the giant mice is broken up by tough G.I. Joes. Feats of further postmodern prankery revolve around the abundance of drag roles and Nut's satiric take on the exceedingly non-PC "ethnic" dances in Nutcracker's second act.
See The Hard Nut Thursday at 8 p.m. (it runs through Sunday) at Zellerbach Hall, Bancroft & Telegraph, on the UC Berkeley campus. Admission is $32-56; call (510) 642-9988 or visit www.calperfs.berkeley.edu.
– Joyce Slaton
Good and Good for You
There are many, many reasons to attend the "Middle East Children's Alliance/ Wheels of Justice" benefit -- and supporting a couple of rock-solid humanitarian efforts is only the most obvious. The show's organizer, Jason Broome, has put together a winning combination: political speakers you should hear and music you shouldn't miss. A lot of people try to make this scenario work, but this particular event has unbeatable pull. If only for Fojimoto, Broome is likely to get audience members right where he wants them: This is a band so good even its most staunchly apolitical fans won't mind the speechifying or the intelligent conversation swirling around them. The group's sweet vocal harmonies and psyched-out guitar work balance a talented drummer and some kicks at country twang; and the songwriting manages to be both musicianly and instantly lovable. Also playing are Gilding the Lily, Earrotator, and the Singing CIA Agent, starting at 9:30 p.m. at the Starry Plough, 3101 Shattuck (at Prince), Berkeley. Admission is $10-20; call (510) 548-0542 or visit www.starryploughpub.com.
– Hiya Swanhuyser
O Holy Night
The Nativity gets a gospel injection
Religious reverence aside, the traditional Nativity play is a tad -- how shall we put this? -- boring. No matter what church group enacts Jesus' birth, it always ends up in a barn with sheep (played by 8-year-olds) and shepherds (8-year-olds in their fathers' bathrobes) looking on while Mary and Joseph tenderly cradle the baby (a Betsy Wetsy doll). Just how many times can you see it before secretly wishing Steven Sondheim would swoop down and create Bethlehem: The Musical?
Maybe poet/icon Langston Hughes was heeding these silent cries when he penned Black Nativity in the last years of his life. Concerned that most depictions of the Christian moment didn't speak to his people, the Harlem Renaissance's bard combined biblical language with seasonal and folk songs and his own verse, creating a gospel musical that's more a raise-the-roof hoedown than a somber sermon. Black Nativity was an immediate success upon its 1961 Broadway premiere, and toured for years in both the United States and Europe, with performances attended by tens of thousands of African-Americans, who caught a whiff of their own struggles for equal rights in the story of an extraordinary infant born into a hard, unfeeling world.
The play had fallen out of fashion by the 1970s, but thanks to a late-'90s European revival, Nativity has been running locally since 1998. Catch hot Alvin Ailey dancer Algernon J. Campbell as Joseph and gospel artist Arvis Strickling Jones on lead vocals Thursday at 8 p.m. (and through Sunday) at the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, 620 Sutter (at Mason), S.F. Admission is $25-30; call 474-8800 or visit www.lorrainehansberrytheatre.com.
– Joyce Slaton
The Holidays Mean Dueling Ukuleles
It may be cold outside, but dynamic duo Petty Booka is here to thaw frigid digits and holiday doldrums as the two adorable gals from Tokyo wield their ukuleles with yuletide enthusiasm. Playing infectiously festive tunes off its latest album, Christmas Is Everywhere, Petty Booka blends its Polynesian-hued sound with an eclectic mix of country, punk, and exotica at 9 p.m. at Biscuits & Blues, 401 Mason (at Geary), S.F. Admission is $10; call 292-2583 or visit www.biscuitandblue.citysearch.com.
– Sunny Andersen
A Boogie Down Production
Hip hop's insistent rhythms generally fall flat on the dance floor. But just one listen to O-Maya's exuberant self-titled debut CD proves that an infusion of Afro-Latin beats transforms typical rap into danceable orchestral confections. The band plays the Boom Boom Room at 9:30 p.m. at 1601 Fillmore (at Geary), S.F. Admission is $12; call 673-8000 or visit www.boomboomblues.com.
– Joyce Slaton