'Nutcracker' and beyond

Dates to mark on your holiday dance season calendar

Graham Lustig's acclaimed Nutcracker for Oakland Ballet Company is one of the highlights of this month's dance lineup

You don't have to be into winter solstice, Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa celebrations to realize that there's something about December — the end of another decade this time around, the darkest part of the year — that calls out for treats either for yourself or a friend or two. Here are a few dance-related suggestions between now and the end of the year that won't bust your budget.

Born in Imperial Russia, The Nutcracker has become a peculiarly American institution. Almost against my will, it pulls me in every time. Though bifurcated, the masterful music — no matter its commercialization — pulls together the story of a brave little girl and her adventures. Reasonably priced options exist. San Francisco Ballet's (through Dec. 27; War Memorial Opera House, SF) starts at $32. Take binoculars, you'll be fine. The Oakland Ballet Company's highly acclaimed version by new Artistic Director Graham Lustig (Dec. 23-26; Paramount Theater, Oakl.) starts at $15. Berkeley Ballet Theater's (Dec. 10-12 and 17-19; Julia Morgan Theater, Berk.) has a one-price ticket for $26. After 20 years, this will be former ODC dancer Brian Fisher's last Fritz.

If you like your Nutcracker to have sharp edges, the Dance Brigade's mashup of politics and fun, The Revolutionary Nutcracker Sweetie (Dec. 11-12; Brava Theater, SF; $15–$17), has been reimagined by another generation of grrrl dancers and friends. The Dance Along Nutcracker (Dec. 11-12; Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, SF; $16–$50) was a hoot the first time around and continues to be a splendid mix of circus, dress-up, and community celebration. This year the revelers have invited the Twilight Vixen Revue. The SF Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band does the musical honors — fabulously.

Stepping outside of Nutcracker territory into original holiday fare, Kirstin E. Williams' all-female Strong Pulse company hooks up with CCSF students for Be Cool, (Dec. 10-11; CCSF Performance Theater, SF; $10–$15) a jazz/ modern dance/hip-hop concert that is guaranteed to resonate all over the Phelan Avenue campus.

If you have never seen ShaSha Higby work her magic with phantasmagoric concoctions of human-made and natural materials, be prepared to being pulled into a world as dreamlike as it is tangible. In Folds of Gold (through Dec. 10-11; Noh Space, SF; $12-20) examines deep winter issues surrounding life, death, and rebirth.

The circus-based Sweet Can Productions newest show, Candid (Dec. 17-Jan. 9; Dance Mission Theater, SF; $15–$60), is sweet but not saccharine-sweet. These performers juggle and subvert cherished concepts as well as objects — brooms, dinner plates, hula hoops — to stretch credulity and the imagination. It's what happens when life meets art.

With Lo Clásico, (Dec. 17-19; Cowell Theater, SF; $15–$35), Caminos Flamencos — 22 dancers and musicians — are performing Spain's two major historical dance forms. There is, of course, flamenco, including Yaelisa's breathtaking Soleares, but also examples of lesser-known Spanish classical dance choreographed to Ravel and de Falla.

WestWave Dance (Dec. 13; Cowell Theater, SF; $22–$68) closes its season with another quintet of new choreography by Pam Gonzales (from L.A.), Alyce Finwall, Christy Funsch, Carolé Acuna, and Ingrid Graham. The festival curates promising work by artists who can't on their own afford the professional production values WestWave offers.

How about insight into dancers' thought processes? For free? Chime Live (Dec. 11; Margaret Jenkins Dance Lab, SF; free) offers conversations and showings of work from Margaret Jenkins Dance Lab's mentoring program. In the monthly program "2nd Sundays" (Dec. 12; CounterPULSE, SF; free), artists show pieces-in-progress and invite feedback. "Dancemaker's Forum" (Dec. 19; SF Conservatory of Dance, SF; free) workshops new choreography by Manuelito Biag.

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