If you like dance, then you've heard about the Oakland Ballet. Probably read raves about the group, maybe even vowed to go see a show. Someday. Like when Yoshi's, the Alice Arts Center, and the rest of Oakland move to the other side of the bay.
Luckily, the much-lauded East Bay dance company is finally crossing the bridge. After 26 years of estrangement from San Francisco, the Oakland Ballet appears at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts for four performances, in a program rich with the work of some of the best local choreographers. A main attraction is Thirsting/La Femme au Puits (The Woman at the Well), a ballet conceived by dancer, playwright, and choreographer Robert Henry Johnson, which includes East Indian and West African dance (and African-Belgian a cappella music) and is loosely based on a New Testament story. Works by Robert Moses, Margaret Jenkins, and Gloria Contreras round out the bill. Catch it all this weekend starting at 8 p.m. (2 p.m. on Sunday) at the YBCA Theater, 700 Howard (at Third Street), S.F. Tickets are $15-38; call 978-2787 or visit www.oaklandballet.org.
-- Karen Macklin
Do you go to plays? If not, maybe you're intimidated by people in fancy costumes and heavy makeup. Or perhaps you're plagued by the eternal question of the theatergoer: "How did they remember all those lines?" Either way, "First Look" is here to hold your hand through those initial shaky steps to living a more dramatic life. The script-in-hand performances are lightly costumed, subtly staged, and more casual than the average production. The acting and directing for this brand-new series are top-shelf, though; the texts are, as the name suggests, being performed for the first time. Playwrights are on hand, as ACT's press materials tease, "potentially making changes in the text from night to night that the actors and director will incorporate into the very next performance." Victor Lodato's Slay the Dragon is this weekend, and Cindy Lou Johnson's The New Americans comes later this month. Each play gets only four performances. "First Look" begins Friday at 8 p.m. at Zeum, 221 Fourth St. (at Howard), S.F. Admission is $7-10; call 749-2228 or visit www.act-sf.org.
-- Hiya Swanhuyser
A Deeper Hue
Yellowman gets under your skin
Though people of other races generally aren't keyed into it, African-Americans know that there remains a wide streak of color bias in their community. Those who are light-skinned might be praised (or resented) for their "high-yellow" coloring; those who are darker may be criticized and ostracized -- subtly or blatantly (as in the infamous "brown paper bag" test of some black sororities and fraternities, which refused to admit anyone with a complexion darker than a paper sack). Playwright Dael Orlandersmith tears into this racism with a vengeance in Yellowman, a drama so vivid and moving that it won Orlandersmith a 2002 Pulitzer Prize nomination.
Yellowman's dual protagonists, dark-skinned Alma and her relatively pale pal Eugene, are trapped in a dilemma: Though they've been friends since childhood, falling in love exposes them to the prejudices of family, neighbors, and co-workers. Throughout their South Carolina upbringing, both were condemned for their coloring. Alma's mother castigated her daughter for not being lighter, while Eugene's father insulted his boy by contemptuously labeling him "yella." As children, Alma and Eugene derived comfort from their shared uneasiness in their own skins. But now that they have grown up and discovered their mutual attraction, the couple's differences have been thrown into sharp relief by societal disapproval. Shame, resentment, passion, and fear intermingle, until it's only a matter of time before their self-hatred is transformed into calamity.
Previews for Yellowman begin at 8 p.m. on Friday (the play runs through March 7) at Berkeley Repertory's Thrust Stage, 2025 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley. Admission is $10-55; call (510) 647-2949 or visit www.berkeleyrep.org.
-- Joyce Slaton
Bombs Hit S.F.
It's one thing to be a good rock 'n' roll singer, but to be considered the best by a jury of your peers is the highest honor. Such is the fate of Mick Collins of the Dirtbombs. He paved the way with the Gories, and now his Motown-grade pipes carry this rock outfit above and beyond the constraints of the genre. The Sights and Killer's Kiss open at 8 p.m. at the Great American Music Hall, 859 O'Farrell (at Polk), S.F. Admission is $13-15; call 885-0750 or visit www.gamh.com.
-- Kevin Chanel
If you love uptempo, early-20th-century blues piano, there's one place for you this weekend: The San Francisco Boogie Woogie Piano Summit celebrates the style with performances by locals like Steve Lucky (the Rhumba Bums), Mitch Woods (the Rocket 88's), and Caroline Dahl. 9 p.m. at Jazz at Pearl's, 256 Columbus, S.F. Admission is $15; call 291-8255 or visit www.jazzatpearls.com.
-- Ron Nachmann